ENCINITAS, CALIFORNIA | Picture this: You are seated in a renovated old surf shack on the California coast. You are waiting for that noted golfaholic and surfaholic, Mr. Don T. Cameron, who is widely known as Scotty.
This is a true golf story. It all started when Scotty Cameron – 10 or 11 years old at the time – began making full-size adult putters. This was before he became a model of maturity. He was far, far ahead of his time.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” Cameron said.
Today, Don Thomas Cameron has been permanently re-rooted with the nickname Scotty. That moniker came from his mom (mother knows best), and it stuck more than she could have imagined. “Scotty” has become a one-word phenomenon, a brand, the golf equivalent of what Orville Gibson became with guitars.
Of the 15 major championships captured by Tiger Woods, 14 were won with his trusty Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS putter. Troll the putting green at any PGA Tour event and you will see more Scottys than you can count in one sitting.
Ironically, Cameron swears he was a lousy putter, a shortcoming that stopped him from becoming an extraordinary amateur player. He never even turned pro.
“What’s the point?” he said with irony. “I could design great putters, but I couldn’t putt. So I am happy playing with my buddies at The Bridges Golf Club (in northern California), trying to win their money.”
Which putter models does Cameron use? He switches back and forth every Wednesday, experimenting all day with his own different creations. He doesn’t get serious until Saturday, when The Bridges members bring their best stuff. That’s when Cameron turns into a ferocious competitor for $5 or $10 bills.
“I feel like an old-time golfer, playing for a few dollars,” he said. “I’m a junkyard dog.” By the way, he has won three club championships at The Bridges.
He admits that he sometimes feels like a formidable, old-fashioned golfer from another era, especially if he is seen driving his vintage convertible or old-time bicycle.
The irony in his golf game is evident. Whether he is Don T. Cameron or Scotty Cameron, he is the Putter Man, the most prominent putter designer in the world.
Please sum up your life, he was asked.
“Simply put, I was a kid with a dream,” he replied. “I guess I still am.”
A kid, yes, but also a businessman who has turned putters into legal tender. Scotty remains a Titleist staff member. Stop by the Cameron gallery, and you might be overwhelmed by $350 Scotty putters.
“We have racked up close to $100 million in sales with absolutely no advertising,” he observed quietly. Much of that revenue comes from Japan and South Korea. Asians apparently love Cameron putters and they love “crazy” putters from Scotty. In the Cameron vocabulary, crazy often refers to a never-before-seen design.
Today he has a highly trained team of fitters and is booked three months in advance.
“They even built me my own museum (in Japan),” he said. “Every year, they expect me to put some cool stuff in there.” So, Scotty introduced a sweeping flow neck on some of his putters. He chose the word elegant to describe it. The design was immediately popular.
Walking his dog every morning, Cameron kept looking at the abandoned surf shack here in Encinitas. Eventually he paid a visit to Wally Uihlein, CEO and president of Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist.
“Why don’t I open a putter shop?” he asked Uihlein. The response was an immediate OK, so Cameron proceeded with plans for an updated gallery on the boardwalk. Today he has a highly trained team of fitters and is booked three months in advance.
Before Titleist, Cameron created putters for several companies, notably the Ray Cook line.
It was Uihlein who won the war for Cameron’s full-time services. “Wally is brilliant,” Scotty said. “He has this gift for recognizing the talent in golfers.”
Scotty also gives credit to instructor Peter Kostis for promoting the Cameron line. Early converts included Loren Roberts, David Graham, Lee Trevino, Dave Stockton and Arnold Palmer. Cameron and other putter makers also benefited from the experience of Ping’s Karsten Solheim when the patent on Ping’s popular Anser putter expired.
“Karsten and T. P. Mills were an inspiration,” Cameron reflected. “After they were gone, the time was right for a whole new generation of putter designers.
Scotty and Kathy, his wife-to-be, started dating regularly when they were 13. Today they are one of golf’s endearing couples. Kathy learned to sew at an early age with no idea that she would, as a married adult, single-handedly create a lucrative market: putter headcovers.
It started with Bernhard Langer, who won the 1993 Masters with a red Wilson Staff bag and a matching red Cameron putter cover.
Before Scotty was famous, some California amateurs were lucky enough to find him in a garage workspace in San Marcos, Calif., where he often presented friends with new personally initialed putters. Those are worth thousands of dollars today. But Cameron doesn’t think of himself as an icon. Ask him and he’ll describe himself as something of a cheerleader for golf. He is not reluctant to praise clubs or club designers from other companies.
Callaway is a major competitor for Titleist, but that didn’t stop Scotty from praising the three young sons of Callaway CEO and president Chip Brewer. “Just look at Chip’s three boys (Oliver, Ben and David). They are well-mannered and friendly. It is always a pleasure to be with them. It makes me happy to see them enjoy golf so much.”
Meanwhile, Titleist wedge maker Bob Vokey has created an impressive family of wedges to complement Scotty’s family of putters. Cameron, of course, was quick to praise Vokey as well. “Bob is a brilliant guy,” Scotty said. “I feel very fortunate to be with him at Titleist.”
Cameron the Putter Man is 57, while Vokey the Wedge Man is 80. Seldom is there any conversation about their age, because golf is a pursuit that unites many different people with many different ages and talents. The search for the perfect golf club goes on.
Regardless of age or environment, they look young and energetic. Even if they create golf clubs in an old surf shack.
Top: Scotty Cameron in front of his collection of headcovers. Photo: Courtesy of Scotty Cameron
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