“You choose your partners carefully. I chose mine carefully. I chose my son.” – Bob Bettinardi

Family businesses are funny things. Whether it’s a 4-man plumbing and heating business or a billion dollar outfit like Wal-Mart, there are dynamics at play that just don’t exist in non-family businesses.

On the plus side, studies show that family businesses tend to take a longer term approach to measuring success and focus on the next generation, not the next quarter.

Studies also show that values such as loyalty, pride, ethics, and cohesiveness are openly discussed with employees and customers much more so than in non-family businesses.

Also, innovation improves when more generations of the owning family are involved. Family businesses tend to invest in their employees, have lower turn-over and, according to Forbes Magazine, generate over 50% of the Gross National Product in the U.S.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however.

Studies also show that family businesses have a tendency to get stuck doing things the way they’ve always done them and that founding generations can hold on too long before passing control on to their children. Nearly half the family businesses out there don’t have a succession plan and those that fail usually fail due to problems with communication, trust or lack of a properly prepared next generation.

There are studies indicating only 30% of the family businesses survive through the second generation, but take that number with a shaker-full of salt grains. It’s an old and industry specific study, and keep in mind that two generations could stretch out over 60+ years.

In the whacked-out world of golf equipment, family businesses are most definitely the exception. Other than PING, which is well into its second generation of Solheim ownership, you won’t find a large OEM that’s family run.

But about 45 minutes south of Chicago, the second generation is learning the ropes at Bettinardi Golf.

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This Dog Will Hunt

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when a one-piece milled putter was an oddity.

The reason? It was hard to do. It would take one craftsman many, many hours on a hand-operated Bridgeport milling machine to make just one putter. And the overall quality of the putter depended solely on the skill, and the mood, of that craftsman.

Bob Bettinardi changed all that in late 1991.

“I’m a manufacturing engineer. I honed my craft on how to make things out of metal. I’m also a passionate golfer. One day in a Pro Shop I saw a poster for a Callaway putter that said it was milled on a Bridgeport machine – very, very old technology. We had CNC milling at my shop, so we decided to make a putter with our machinery and it came out beautiful.” – Bob Bettinardi

“Well, maybe not the first one, but I knew we could do better.”

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Bettinardi called that first one the This Dog Will Hunt putter, and he soon started working with OEM’s such as Cleveland, and eventually with Scotty Cameron. By 1998, Bob saw that the timing was right to strike out on his own. Throughout the 2000’s, Bettinardi designed and milled putters for the original Ben Hogan company (Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open with a Baby Ben) and for Mizuno.

“We were with Mizuno for four years, and I love the guys at Mizuno,” says Bob. “They’re the nicest gentlemen you’d ever want to meet. But at the end of the day, their last names were different last names.”

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It’s a Family Affair

By 2009, Bob relaunched the Bettinardi brand and hasn’t looked back.

“We have a really, really nice shop here (Tinley Park, IL),” he says. “It’s taken us a long time to get it to where it is right now. We have very expensive, and high-quality machinery and the product that comes out of it is what you’d expect. It’s first class.”

“Everything we do we do for the golfer who wants to buy a really nice piece of equipment, something they can be proud of, something they could even hand down to their son or daughter someday. That’s the kind of equipment we build.” – Bob Bettinardi

It’s not uncommon in the family business dynamic that while the father fully expects his son or daughter to join the business and follow in his footsteps, the son or daughter has other ideas. That’s certainly not the case with Sam Bettindardi. Sam joined the company in 2012 after graduating from DePaul University with a degree in Business Management.

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“I grew up watching Jim Furyk win the U.S. Open with our putter, and Vijay Singh win the PGA Championship with our putter,” says Sam. “I grew up being around the business and around the PGA Tour, so I had a decent enough background to know that this is what I wanted to do.”

Sam is 27 now and has spent the past five years learning the sales and marketing side of the business. He’s getting into the manufacturing side now, which Bob describes as the brass tacks of his operation.

“We’re the only company that I know of, in the whole golf industry, that makes their own clubs,” says Bob. “When you go out to our shop, you’re watching Bettinardi’s products being made under Bettinardi’s roof. We can walk out 20 feet from our office doors and watch our products being made. You can’t do that if your stuff is being made overseas. That aspect of quality control is huge.”

“It’s cool that a consumer is out there buying a Bettinardi putter, or any Bettinardi product, they think of Bob,” adds Sam. “But next up, they’ll be thinking of me as the one behind that. It’s all in the family, so the consumer knows that if it has the Bettinardi name on it, Dad and I were 15 feet away when it was being made, which is pretty cool.”

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Steady Is The Word

As mentioned above, family businesses view success differently than other enterprises. The long term viability and, yes, legacy trump quarter to quarter performance. Growth and profitability are important no doubt, but you tend to look at bumps in the road differently when you share DNA.

“Sam has grown the business double digits every year since he’s been here,” says Bob. “It’s been nice and steady growth, not like one of those growth curves that goes straight up. I don’t like those because eventually those curves are going to come straight back down. I like nice, steady growth, otherwise you get overextended, and you lose control of it.”

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“We’re focusing on the branding aspect of Bettinardi Golf, who we are and who we’re striving to be to consumers,” adds Sam. “We’ve opened up more markets – we’re in 39 countries – but it’s not like we’ve just gone out and bought commercials on Golf Channel. You’ll rarely see a Bettinardi ad.”

Bettinardi can be found in all the usual retail outlets: PGA SuperStore, Golf Galaxy, and Worldwide Golf outlets. You’ll also find them in custom fitting studios such as Club Champion and 2nd Swing, and at as many as 85 of the top 100 club fitters in the U.S. Sam says they’re also focusing on higher end country clubs and other premium outlets.

“We want knowledgeable sales people telling the Bettinardi story, and knowledgeable fitters fitting customers into the right product.”

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Family Feuds? Not Here

I pressed Bob on a couple of occasions for any of those “what’s wrong with that boy?” moments typical of most Father-Son relationships, but none were forthcoming. Lesson 1 in any family business, of course, is that business is business and anything else is none of your business.

“Sam is a gentleman, and he realizes this is a great, great business,” says Bob. “He’s a 0 handicap and knows the game very, very well. I’m an 8 handicap, but I do have 30 years experience, and now it’s my turn to train Sam to become that manufacturing expert.”

There was a slight glimmer of Father-Son rivalry when it came to their golf games. I asked Bob if Sam gave him any strokes when they play.

“Oh, gosh yes. We don’t play even up,”

Almost simultaneously Sam chimed in.

“Yeah, probably too many strokes.”

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Then came the inevitable discussion of what happens when it comes time to pass the torch to the next generation. Both Bettinardi’s know it’s going to happen, but Bob, at 56, and Sam, at 27, don’t seem to be in any hurry.

“At some point – now I’m not ready to retire – but at some point, I’ll want to either take it easy or relax a little. Sam will be able to run the whole business,” says Bob. “That not even a question in my mind.”

When that day does come, Sam will undoubtedly face the occasional “yeah, but you’re not your Dad” comparisons. Any misgivings about following in the Old Man’s legendary footsteps?

“I don’t think it’s daunting at all,” adds Sam. “He’s arguably the best putter-maker in golf. He’s the one who started making the one-piece milled putter, so yeah, there are some big footsteps, but with everything we’re doing now, we’re on the right track. If we continue to follow the recipe for success that we’ve set up the last 18 years, I see no reason why we can’t continue to grow.”


Fathers & Sons

I was talking on the phone the other day with a good friend who has a 3-year-old son. During the conversation, the kid climbed on his Dad’s lap to ask a question. He apologized for the interruption but didn’t have to. My youngest boy is 21, and it’s been years since he’s wanted to sit on my lap.

If you have a son or daughter that’s 7 years old or older, your time in that unique parent-child relationship is more than half over. By the time the kid reaches 12 or 13 they’re heavily involved in sports, school activities and, especially, hanging with their friends. Parents become more or less a nuisance.

And when they’re adults, you’re lucky if you see the kids a couple of times a month, or maybe even a year.

Running any kind of a business isn’t easy, and I know from personal experience that running a family business has its own kind of challenges. But when a Father and Son can share not only an office but an enterprise with the family name on it, the rewards go beyond the bottom line.

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“Nobody is going to protect the name Bettinardi better than Sam or myself,” says Bob. “If it was in the hands of Joe Smith and I’m off somewhere else and not involved? I’d feel really, really bad about that.

“That’s why you choose your partners carefully. I chose my partner very carefully. I chose my son.”