Grooved putter faces have emerged in the last few years to open up yet another option when choosing a putter.
Yes! Golf was perhaps the first to use grooves on a putter face and were quickly followed by the likes of Guerin Rife and the TaylorMade Rossa line. Proponents say the grooves get the ball rolling much more quickly off the putter face thus reducing skidding and hopping that can cause the ball to wobble off line.
GEL (Groove Equipment Ltd.) entered the U.S. market at the 2007 PGA Merchandise Show with a line of six putters all featuring a grooved aluminum insert and named for precious stones. For our review, we chose the Ruby model. It's an Anser-like head with a plumber's neck. Here's what we think after using it awhile…
If you've ever closely watched a really, really good putter - say, Tiger Woods - you'll notice that he gets the ball tracking on a very tight end-over-end roll that makes it look like the ball is hunting the hole. The quality of the roll you can achieve is key to helping the ball hold its intended line even over irregularities in the green.
My PGA pro friend Marty Strumpf was amazed when he saw a super slow motion close-up of Tiger striking a 90-foot putt on TV. Even stroking the ball as hard as he had to at that distance, the ball came off the face with no hop and began rolling almost immediately.
Given Tiger's enormous talent and a lifetime perfecting his stroke, it's easy to understand why he may not need groove technology to achieve optimum performance. In his case, technique trumps technology.
It's also worth pointing out that noted putter designers like Scotty Cameron, Bob Bettinardi, and Bobby Grace have so far steered clear of grooves. Cameron has even bluntly asserted they make no difference in roll.
But I think for some of us, grooves may make a difference. And, as I'll explain later, it's sometimes more than just the grooves in grooved putters that can improve the quality of the roll you achieve.
Alec Pettigrew is a Hong Kong-based entrepreneur who, at one time, was the CEO of Yes! Golf Asia Pacific that handled distribution of Yes! putters in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He sold the company to Yes! last year and immediately formed GEL. While with Yes! he came up with the idea for their distinctive black, white, and yellow grips. Based on what I've seen in the Ruby putter, he brought a lot of the same concepts with him to his new venture.
All of GEL's putter heads are cast in 431 stainless steel and feature what's called a black nickel finish. It's a rather dark metallic look. The top surfaces are somewhat of a matte finish while the sole and edges are quite shiny. It's a thoughtful design, I think, because it avoids reflections in the playing position.
The grooved insert is milled of aluminum. Unlike some other inserts I've seen, it doesn't appear to be embedded in any sort of polymer, even though there is a white border around it.
The Ruby model we tested has 10 grooves milled into the aluminum. They're cut at something of an angle. Running my thumb down the face, I can feel more ridges than when I do it in the opposite direction. Unlike the patented Yes! semicircle grooves, the GEL grooves run horizontally.
The shaft is a step-less steel and the grip is a Winn AVS model. I think Winn putter grips are OK, but I can't help but scratch my head over the way they seem to show up in so many putter lines these days.
Before I go into the craziness, let me say a few words about the shape of the head. Virtually every major putter maker has produced this style in countless variations over the years. In this iteration, GEL has done a particularly excellent job in design.
The head is somewhat blocky in comparison to some others of its ilk and that contributes to a very solid, square look with a nice thick top line with an assistive sight line. The curves are all nicely proportioned. While it doesn't have the jewel-like quality of a milled Cameron or Bettinardi, it's a very good-looking Anser-like head.
Now for the colors and graphics. I think they're awful. Then again, I wouldn't wear Ian Poulter's or Jesper Parnevik's clothes. Playing off the black/white/yellow scheme he devised for Yes! putter grips, Mr. Pettigrew has chosen something of an aqua and goldenrod yellow motif for his GEL putters.
I'm sure he's trying to make them instantly recognizable on the course or should they ever find their way onto television coverage of the tours, but in my opinion the net effect is to cheapen the look.
I will say he was thorough and consistent with the theme. The grip is yellow and aqua, the insert is aqua, and the headcover is yellow with aqua stitching. He also found it necessary to adorn the head with no less than three GEL logos plus a "roll" logo he's also using on his web site and promotional materials.
The pictures say it all. Of course I must report that every time I used the putter when playing with someone new, they invariably asked about the "ugly" putter. So maybe Mr. Pettigrew's strategy is working. I just know that if I were to ever put this in my bag, it would be with a different grip and the paint stripped off.
One short note on the headcover: instead Velcro, it has a silent magnetic closure that's very nice. Unless, of course, gamesmanship is part of your repertoire and you time your rips for appropriate moments.
Buried in the specifications is where I think you'll find what truly makes this putter different beyond its grooves. In short, it's a very heavy head with very little loft.
The head weighs 360 grams, which is definitely on the heavy side. At 35 inches, this results in a swing weight somewhere around E3. That's heavy. By comparison, a 35-inch Cameron putter head usually weighs 330 grams. It's only in a 33-inch Cameron you'll find so heavy a head (and even then they top out at 350g).
Looking at the entire line, all the GEL putters have heavy heads, including two that top out at a hefty 390 grams.
What these weights accomplish, though, is to give the putter a lot of head feel. Some will like that sensation; others will prefer a more one-piece feel.
The loft is also interesting in that there's so little of it. All the GEL putters come with 2° of loft. Again, for comparison, Camerons are standard at 4°.
Still, I've seen low lofts before in the Yes! line. Their standard loft is 3°. I'm guessing that the low loft in grooved putters is because the grooves help lift the ball on impact so building in more loft isn't necessary. But that's just my guess.
The lie, by the way, is a very standard 71°.
The GEL Ruby has tremendous feel. The grooved aluminum insert delivers a very pleasing sound and feels very solid. It's a softer feel than Cameron carbon steel putters but a little firmer than the Odyssey putters deliver. I quite liked it.
In the address position, the bold graphics got in my way a touch. Even with so little loft, the bright aqua insert was a bit distracting even seeing just a sliver of it. And the aqua sight line? Well, I think a Sharpie could take care of that in short order.
The Ruby's performance on the course was very good. The head is a little too heavy for my taste, but the excellent feel of the putter at impact more than made that up for that.
Do the grooves work? Well, in my experience, the Ruby does put a very good roll on the ball. I've used a Yes! putter in the past and I would say the roll is comparable. But right now I'm using a groove-less Cameron that seems to be putting just as good a roll on the ball.
How can that be when the loft and face design are so different? I really think it has to do with technique. The dynamics of your stroke dictate your effective loft and face angle at impact. Storied putters like Ben Crenshaw, Dave Stockton, and Andy North all succeeded in achieving a very tight-rolling putt with widely different styles and putters.
Like Yes!, Rife, and TaylorMade before them, GEL presents independent testing to show the superior roll achieved with their particular technology. I think tests like this are all well and good, but are a long way from proving a particular putter superior for a particular golfer.
So are grooved putters just a bunch of hooey? I don't think so. I think the lower loft and grooves represent another option in putter choice that could be perfect for some players' strokes. For instance, if the dynamics of your stroke result in the putter coming to the ball at too much of an upswing for an ideal impact, a 2° putter with grooves may help keep the ball from being launched into the air.
Furthermore, grooves impart a very unique feel. Even Yes! putters without an insert have a softer feel due to the grooves. The feel of the GEL Ruby was very, very satisfying to me. So much so that I wouldn't care if the grooves were giving me a better roll or not. Interesting in this regard is that Bob Bettinardi is introducing a putter line for Mizuno that, while not grooved, has a sort of slotted/perforated face to enhance feel.
Price and Availability
The entire line of GEL putters has a manufacturers suggested retail price of $165. They're being distributed in the U.S. by Jack Jolly & Sons in Moorestown, NJ, but I had some trouble finding even an online source via a quick Google search. Plus I've yet to see an example in a pro shop or golf store. Thus, I presume they're still in the process of building a dealer network.
Once you get past the loud colors and graphics, this is a very solid putter. It has very good feel and the touch with the grooved aluminum insert is superb. At a MSRP of $165 it is moderately priced. If you can find one to try, I definitely recommend you see if GEL grooves improve your roll. In the end, the only way to know is to try it yourself.