Putter Materials: What's the Difference? Guest Blog!
We often get asked what the major differences are between our carbon steel and stainless steel putters, and to take that step further German stainless steel. Many of the differences relate to the player's personal preference in regards to their perceived feel of the different materials and what they are ideally looking for in a putter. Others prefer one material over another when it comes to the level of maintenance required to maintain the look the customer desires. The idea of how a putter feels is very subjective and takes into account not only the material itself, but the depth of the face milling, pocket depth, weight, shaft, grip material, ball choice, etc....Through testing, we have found that sound really is the #1 determining factor of what makes a putter feel different to the player. With that being said, each player's interpretation of how putters of differing designs sound varies drastically.The general consensus is that if you look at what we have dubbed a ''feel spectrum'', with carbon steel being at one end of the spectrum and standard 303 stainless at the other end, players typically will gravitate towards one end or the other, as to what they consider to be the better feeling material. From a manufacturing standpoint, the chemical makeup of carbon steel, should yield what would be considered a softer putter, but again that term is so relative to the other factors built into the putter, so it's hard to make a steadfast rule when it comes to declaring a putter softer over another.
One category clear distinctions exist between carbon steel and stainless is when it comes to overall maintenance. CNC milled carbon steel putters come off a mill essentially acting as a sponge for moisture, humidity and oxidation. While some players like the look of a rusty putter (think Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley,) depending on your local atmospheric conditions, the rate at which raw carbon putters will oxidize varies greatly. Most players prefer some sort of protective coating (oil can finishes) or plating (nickel) to keep their putter from oxidizing over time. These options can create a different feel than the putter originally had in it's raw state as well, so there are many things to consider with carbon steel putters.
On the flip side is stainless steel. These putters come off a mill in a raw state, similar to the carbon putters, but their chemical makeup is designed to repel the effect of oxidation and will be effected very little by atmospheric conditions (hence the 'stainless' part of their material name.) From a molecular level, this material has very little carbon makeup and therefore is considered a harder material. One advantage however is there is no need to apply any sort of protective coating to stainless to keep it from oxidizing. A light bead-blasting will go a long way to protecting a stainless putter, while reducing glare at the same time (think Rickie Fowler's putter.) The wild card of the bunch is German stainless steel. Typically used in surgical and dental tools, this variation of stainless steel has become popular over the years. Since Tiger Woods used a German stainless putter to win so many majors, the idea of this strain of stainless being the end-all, be-all of putters has continued to rise into mythical proportions.
From a molecular standpoint only, the German stainless we use has a slightly, I'm talking minute, amount higher carbon content. The feedback from our customers that have tried both regular 303 stainless prototypes and our German stainless versions of identical models, have preferred the German stainless almost hands down. In reference to the feel spectrum we discussed earlier, most players place the German stainless models about 3/4 of the way towards the regular stainless end, while representing the best of both materials. Now, that may be the placebo effect at the highest level or not. What we do know is the disparity of cost between the two stainless offerings is not that dramatic, so we choose to use German stainless with all of our stainless steel models. We feel like this gives our players the option of trying a material that has been deemed unattainable for the general masses prior to us offering this option.
To summarize, we feel like the preference of our players is not so much a factor of the material the putter is made of, but more so all the factors that contribute to the perceived sound a putter creates when it makes contact with the ball, and to classify one putter over another as being softer is a tough determination to make on behalf of a player. It's important for us, as a manufacturer, to do player testing in real world conditions to make sure that when we produce our retail putters, we feel like we've put in the time to make the correct design decisions, resulting in what we feel are the best putters available.