Form vs. function is an age-old debate in golf.
We like to think that all we care about is functionality and performance because we’re all serious, no-nonsense golfers, right? But form, style and looks often trump functionality, as in “I’d never play that ugly-ass whatever.” Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and any club that aggressively seeks the pin or a putter that routinely finds the bottom of the cup is going to start looking awfully sexy to whoever beholding it.
Bettinardi is among the league leaders in putter eye-candy. Its standard products are high-end millings, and its premium offerings? Well, to quote Terri Hatcher on Seinfeld: they’re real, and they’re spectacular.
Bettinardi’s core competencies are metals and machining, so the next logical step is to extend that competency a little farther away from the cup with wedges. The new H2 303 SS wedge looks like your basic, low-tech wedge – and in many ways, that’s exactly what it is – but as with anything bearing the Bettinardi name, there’s a bit more to it than that.
You probably don’t connect the name Bettinardi with wedges, but the first Bettinardi wedge – the H2 – came out in 2014 – after 14 years of on-again, off-again effort.
“Back in 2000, my father wanted to start making wedges,” says Sam Bettinardi, Bob’s son and heir to the throne. “He milled it out of a solid block of steel on our CNC machines. At the time it was crazy. Between his engineering skills and our milling experts in the shop, they were pulling their hair out trying to get it right.”
Bob tried again in 2010, but with the same results.
“We have some of the best engineers and CNC people in the country,” says Sam. “The shape of a wedge does not lend itself to milling. It can be done, but we had a lot of scrap.”
Ultimately, Bettinardi chose the forged steel route for the original H2. For the new H2 303 SS, well, the name should give you a hint.
“It’s still a forged wedge, but we changed the material,” says Sam. “The new wedge is 303 stainless steel. It’s a different metal than carbon steel. 303 stainless is more durable, has a softer feel and is good for machining.”
So good, in fact, that Bettinardi is able to machine its signature honeycomb pattern into the face as a spin-enhancer.
“It’s a Bettinardi thing,” says Sam. “We made quite a few prototypes to get to this stage. The first batch we made was not approved by the USGA – the honeycomb pattern was a little too thick. But we’ve modified it enough to make it legal, but we are pushing the limits as far as spin goes.”
The idea, of course, is to add more friction to the face. The idea isn’t new or particularly innovative, but the look is distinctive and pure Bettinardi.
Keep It Simple Bettinardi
Earlier this week we showed you the new XW-1 wedges from Bridgestone, and the overriding message was simplicity – five lofts with one bounce per wedge. The Bettinardi H2 303 SS follows the same recipe, so you won’t have to navigate your way through a maze of sole grinds.
“There are companies out there with eight to ten different grinds and eight to 10 different bounce options,” says Sam. “It may be confusing to golfers. What we wanted was a wedge that would fit better players, but also appeal to a good amount of consumers.”
The new H2 features a simple C grind for versatility, and chrome is the only finish. Sam says they may explore more bounce and grind options down the road, but for right now the plan is to keep it simple, with lofts in two-degree increments from 50- to 60 degrees.
The Wedge Conundrum
Wedges are funny things. We all know the big guys dominate drivers and irons, and when it comes to wedges, Vokey, Cleveland, and Callaway are the market leaders. Excellent wedges, no doubt. But they are also the safe choices.
“If you’re a consumer whose not that into the golf industry, you’re going to gravitate towards to top brands,” says Sam. “If you’re a hardcore golfer, you’re probably going to do a little more research. If you’re a Bettinardi guy, you’re going to be more likely to try a Bettinardi wedge.”
“If you’re not the type of player that follows the masses, and if you’re looking to spice up your bag with something different and maybe have a conversation starter, we’re a little more exclusive. If you want a club-fitter type product and not a big box type product, then I think a Bettinardi wedge might be right for you.”
Bettinardi is showing its new wedges to Tour players, and there were reports that Patrick Reed did put some Bettinardi’s in play at last year’s Doral, much to the chagrin of Callaway. Tour validation is important to Bettinardi, but much more so for putters.
“We had 5 wins last year,” says Sam. “Two for Lexi Thompson, two for Fred Couples and one for Eduardo Molinari on the European tour. Wedges aren’t that visible in the bag, so we haven’t made as much of an effort to get players into our wedges. But players still ask about them, and we’re not going to say no.”
Performance, Availability, and Pricing
Limited distribution is pretty much the name of the game for Bettinardi – you don’t find their putters just anywhere, and the same holds true for their wedges. It won’t be a big box product, and retail will be fairly limited – some of the specialty PGA Tour Superstores and some of the GolfTown shops in Canada for starters. Your best bet will be a custom club fitter.
“It’s a boutique product,” says Sam. “We’ll be at all 26 Club Champion outlets, True Spec, Carl’s in Michigan – the guys that are really into club fitting. We’ll also be at the more elite, top 100 clubs out there, with the PGA pros that really get the Bettinardi brand.”
Specialty fitters will be outfitted with heads only, so if you go that route, you’ll be able to get the shaft you want. Otherwise, the stock shaft will be the KBS Hi-Rev, with the DG S200 as an option. The stock grip is a Bettinardi-branded Lamkin Cord.
We’ve had only limited on-course experience with the H2 303 SS wedge, but so far it has all the requisite wedge-ness one would expect. The C-Grind sole is versatile enough, and the forged 303 stainless steel has silly-good feel on full shots. Spin-wise the honeycomb grooves provide more than adequate spin around the green, easily on par with Cleveland’s Rotex face and zip grooves.
Make no mistake; this isn’t going to make you a better wedge player. If your goal is to hit short shots in the general vicinity of the hole while maintaining a positive feet-from-the-hole to dollars-spent ration, you can buy a $30 wedge from Hireko that’ll do the job just fine.
At $165.00, we’re not talking about a bargain basement wedge. It’s a Bettinardi and is priced accordingly. There aren’t many 303 Stainless Steel wedges out there – the Italian company Mati is the only one that comes to mind, with pricing upwards of $200.00. Bettinardi’s brand is Premium with a Capital P – this is the company that sells $200 cigar trays and $95 cell phone cases, remember – so this wedge is priced right in the Bettinardi aficionado’s wheelhouse.
The Bettinardi H2 303 SS wedge will be available through Bettinardi specialty accounts, select green grass accounts, Club Champion, and the Bettinardi website starting January 18th.