The History of Golf Putters

Golfers throughout history have had a love/hate relationship with their putters. They love the putter when they sink a monster 50-foot putt, but they view it in a less favorable light when they miss a simple-looking 3-footer for par. Golfers are forever experimenting with different putters to find the one that feels absolutely perfect and gives them more confidence on the greens.

Earliest Putters

Golfers in the 16th century played with wooden-headed clubs.

The putter was referred to as a “putting cleek” and would have been fashioned out of a hard wood such as beech. The putter shaft was made of ash or hazel wood. In 1618, the featherie golf ball was introduced. This ball was made of a leather cover stuffed with goose feathers. The featherie was not a durable ball, so players continued to prefer wooden-headed clubs--including putters--even though iron heads were available.

A New Ball Affects Club Design

In 1848, the gutta percha golf ball--called the “guttie”--was introduced. This ball was made of rubbery sap from a tree grown in tropical regions. It was significantly more durable and less expensive to manufacture than the easily damaged featherie, so golfers began using iron-headed clubs more and more, which greatly improved accuracy on most shots and improved feel on the putting greens. A typical putter from the late 1800s was one made by St. Andrews, Scotland, club maker Willie Wilson.

By this time hickory wood from the United States was the most popular material for fashioning shafts because of its durability. Wilson’s design consisted of a simple brass club head with a thin blade, and a grip of padded sheepskin.

The Most Renowned Putter of All Time

Legendary golfer Bobby Jones won 13 major championships--including the Grand Slam in his triumphant year of 1930--with a putter so famous that it has a name, Calamity Jane.

Actually there were two Calamity Janes, an original and a replacement made by the Spalding company for Jones after the original became too worn. The putter was relatively short, only 33 ½ inches in length. It was a goose-necked design with 8 degrees of loft on the blade and a hickory shaft.

It is believed the original was made in Scotland around 1900. The second Calamity Jane can be seen at the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. It is estimated that the putter’s worth is in the low seven figures.

The Ping Putter

In 1959, mechanical engineer Karsten Solheim invented the Ping putter in his garage in Redwood City, California. The putter was named for the slight pinging sound it makes when the ball was struck.

He moved to Phoenix, Arizona, several years later and in 1966 his company produced the Anser putter, which became one of the most popular putter designs in golf history. In the 1980s 26 of the 40 major championships in golf were won by golfers using Ping putters.

New Technology

Just as with metal woods and irons, today’s putters feature the latest technology, which allows golfers to improve their scores.

Moment of inertia (MOI) technology serves to reduce the twisting of the putter blade when it makes off-center contact with the ball. Club designers describe this as making the club more “forgiving.”