PutterZone.com recently enjoyed the opportunity to connect with golf industry legend Dick DeLaCruz, a pioneer and innovator who says his best work is yet to come.
Editor Sean Weir spent more than three hours with DeLaCruz. Following is his account of the evening:
It’s twilight in Carlsbad, California and I’m hanging out in the garage of Dick DeLaCruz.
At one point, Dick starts rummaging around. He reaches into a bin and pulls out a classic blade putter with a wooden shaft and two ports in the flange.
He hands it to me and says, “This is the first CNC milled putter ever created.”
He hands it to me—it’s a Callaway “Bobby Jones” putter with a hickory shaft (pictured here). Surely he means this putter belongs to the first line of CNC milled putters, right?
“No,” he says. “This is the first one.”
In other words, I am holding history in my hands.
Computer numerical controlled, or CNC, milling is today the standard in crafting precision-milled putters from a single block of metal for quality, accuracy and consistency. Twenty-five years ago, however, it was unheard of in the putter industry.
The story of the first CNC milled putter begins back in 1982, when Dick was a partner in Temecula-based Hickory Stick USA, which specialized in wedges and putters with steel-core hickory shafts.
Ely Callaway had recently sold his winery in the Temecula wine country in San Diego County, making a $9 million profit in the process. Callaway became enamored with Hickory Stick USA’s clubs after seeing them at an Indian Wells pro shop, and he later paid the company a visit.
“We weren’t doing real well, to be honest,” Dick recalls. “My partner told me that a man named Ely Callaway wanted to buy into the company. I said, ‘Do it.’ I’d never even met the gentleman.”
As Callaway took over Hickory Stick USA, Dick remained busy in the golf industry, designing and producing automated machinery for several major equipment companies.
Meanwhile, Callaway renamed his company Callaway Hickory Stick USA and moved it to Cathedral City in the desert near Palm Springs. Callaway later summoned Dick for his opinion on plans to relocate to a larger facility in the Palm Desert area.
Says Dick, “I told him that there were a lot of issues to consider before building a new plant. I also told him, ‘One thing you will get from staying in the desert is a high air-conditioning bill in the summertime.’”
Dick recommended Carlsbad in northern San Diego County as a better alternative, as it was ideally situated between local suppliers in Santa Monica, overseas suppliers via the harbor at San Pedro, finishing facilities in Mexico and a new UPS shipping center in San Marcos. The area was also home to a large labor force, and the weather was mild.
He recalls, “So Ely turns to me and says, ‘Okay, Mr. Smartypants, go do it.’ And I said, ‘I don’t work for you,’ and he replied, ‘You do now.’ So off I went to establish the new Callaway plant in Carlsbad.”
To be continued…Stay tuned for part two of PutterZone.com’s story on the origins of the first CNC milled putter, and on what’s next for Dick DeLaCruz.