The Evolution of Putters

By M.L. Rose
This putter evolved from PING founder Karsten Solheim's original design, which focused the club head's weight at the heel and toe.
This putter evolved from PING founder Karsten Solheim's original design, which focused the club head's weight at the heel and toe.

Technological advances have changed all golf clubs over the years, including putters. With putters, however, the changes have come almost exclusively within the club head. Since golfers will never need to generate maximum club head speed for a putt, golf shaft innovations have minimal impact on putting success. But focusing on the club head still leaves plenty of room for tinkering, as evidenced by the variety of shapes and sizes you’ll find among 21st century putter club heads.

Early Putters

In golf’s early days all clubs were made from wood, and putters were no exception. The original putters -- known as “putting cleeks” -- had heads made from woods such as beech, holly, pear and apple, while ash or hazel were typically used for the shafts. With the advent of the more durable gutta-percha balls in the mid-19th century, iron heads became more popular among putters, according to ThinkQuest.org.

Putter Shafts

Steel golf shafts were used in the late 19th century and were officially legalized by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Scotland after the Prince of Wales used them at St. Andrews in 1929, according to the Golf Europe website. Steel shafts soon became the standard in putters, and they remain so in the 21st century. With the advent of the iron and wood numbering system in the 1930s, the term “cleek” was dropped in favor of the simpler “putter.”

Center-Shafted Putters

For most of golf’s history, putter shafts were attached to club heads at about the same point at which shafts were attached to wood and iron heads – at the club head’s heel, or, in the case of some putters, very close to the heel. But the center-shafted putter -- with the shaft attached approximately midway between the heel and toe -- was legalized by the R&A, the governing body of golf worldwide, in 1951. A variety of bent and offset shafts have since been manufactured.

Cavity-Back Putters

Karsten Solheim began what became the PING company by manufacturing an innovative putter that focused the club head weight at the heel and toe. The distinctive “ping” sound the club head created when striking a ball gave his company its name. Solheim followed up his initial design with the Anser, the first cavity-back putter, which was designed to be forgiving of mishits.

Modern Putters

Modern putters run the gamut from conventional blades to mallet heads to wild-looking club heads that feature a variety of attachments behind the club face. The attachments are generally designed to prevent the club head from twisting if the golfer doesn’t stroke the ball in the center of the club face. Mallets are designed to work the same way.

About the Author

M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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