Butler irons

March 10, 2008 2:26:40 PM PDT
Congratulations to my friend, David Butler (a.k.a. Dr. Grip) of Half Moon Bay. After more than half a century of building and perfecting other brands of clubs, he has designed his own. Based on early results, his 'Butler' irons are already big winners.

David's son, Robert, christened the first official set by scoring a hole-in-one on the 218 yard, par 3, 17th hole on the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay. It was his first round with them. He used a 5-iron. Two days later, David and Robert won their flight in the club championship.

David designed his irons for one specific shaft---the extremely light and stable, M80, from True Temper's Tour Concept Division. "Most other clubs accommodate a range of weights from 50 grams to 130 grams, but require compromises. In making these heads for that 80 gram shaft, and only that shaft, I was able to fine-tune them, moving the center of gravity towards the toe, with a bigger sweet spot in the middle of the face."

At address, Butler's double nickel, double chromed, cavity back irons look like blades, with a thin top line. The soles are somewhat wider, but not unwieldy. They have one degree of progression, allowing good players to take divots, even on hard ground.

I, too, have begun using the irons, even though I never thought another set could push my beloved Mizuno MP-60's onto the shelf. Butler built those clubs, too.

As one of those typical golfers who misses towards the toe, I am hitting straighter, more pure shots. I have also gained distance, due partially to higher swing speeds from the lighter shafts, but also because Butler forged the heads from 1035 carbon steel. Most irons use 1020. The 1035 steel has more density, with a greater rebound factor.

In combining all of those elements, Butler has created a higher sense of fidelity when swinging. "Most players, with other clubs, never feel the head," says David.

Not anymore. As Joanne Lee describes it, she can actually feel the shaft's spine snap into place just before hitting the ball. I would agree with that description, and add that never has an iron felt more buttery and responsive. With these irons, I am like a country fiddle player trying to figure out a Stradivarius.

"It's a real pleasure to put these in people's hands, and to see their reactions," says Butler, who spent his college years playing football for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. "I'm almost 70. I don't hit the ball like I used to. But, I love the satisfaction of building clubs, and watching people play well with them."

Fitting and Building the Set:

None of that happens by accident. A Ferrari in pieces on a garage floor will never perform as designed. The magic happens later on, in the fitting and building to exact specifications.

As with any other customer, Butler spent hours with me, looking to identify the correct combination of shaft length and flex. I must have hit four-hundred balls in front of his launch monitor, into the range.

David estimates fifteen steps in assembling each club. If you multiply that by eleven, it adds up to a tedious, day-long process. I know this from experience, because Butler made me do much of the work in putting together the set. "Sometimes, I'm in here until 3:00 in the morning."

"Why bother?" I asked him. "Supposedly, you retired."

"That's why I see only two customers a week."

In what amounted to my first immersive club making lesson, we began by weighing each individual club head, then the shafts, and also grips. Yes, even the grips. We searched through eighty of them, seeking eleven grips at exactly 59.5 grams. "You're serious about this?" I asked.

"If you make one small mistake, it can resonate through an entire set," Butler lectured. "I even weigh the weights."

It's the difference between throwing a set together, and creating something that becomes larger, and more impressive, than the sum of its parts. If pictures can tell you thousands of words, then the ones below document just a few of the details.

Maybe it's like building a Ferrari. While the pieces may look nice, they only function well when assembled properly. Same case, here.