Slotline…I Found You!

Almost a year and a half ago I made a public inquiry right here about Slotline, formerly a major player in the putter market. I was wondering where they had “gone.” Well…I finally have my answer. And I like it. I think you will too.

It was at that time in late 2007 that Richmond, Virginia based Dynamic Brands (who also own the Bag Boy and AMF Golf Brands) announced that they had acquired the Slotline name.

For golfers under the age of 30 your response to that assertion will likely be, “So what! And what is a Slotline?”

Let’s wind back the clock a little so we can get you up to speed.

Today’s golfer takes the term MOI (Moment of Inertia) for granted when they talk about putters, especially those of the large mallet variety that have grown so popular. Well more than two decades ago it was Slotline who effectively introduced the term to the common golf vernacular.

In the 1970’s the game of golf was on the edge of a technology and marketing revolution. A putter was, well, just a putter. Most golfers gave little thought to the look and design of their flatstick. That all changed with Slotline who introduced the concept that not all putters were created equal. Sure they were far from the first company to have a heel-toe weighted design (Slotline founder Duke Duclos said he thought he simply improved on the work done by Ping founder Karsten Solheim) but they put an emphasis on that and the effective MOI that got them some real attention. Golfers scrambled to try out their “Inertial Designs.” By the 1980’s they had become household name in golf.

But after more than 1,000,000 putters sold and many professional championships won they eventually gave way to other brands as the popular model of the day.

I had virtually forgotten about my own Slotline putter adventures until the word came down last year that Dynamic was about to revive the brand. At that time, I was not sure to make of the announcement. Can they really compete in the current market? What will the new models look like? And, how will golfers receive them?

In October the answers began to get clearer as I met with an International distributor for Slotline (Golf Trends, Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario) and looked at one of the putter models scheduled for release. I was having flashbacks as he handed me a putter that looked almost exactly like the very one I had owned in the late 1980’s. The funny part was that it did not look out of place today. The clean black head, simple alignment guide and the gathering of mass near the heel and toe of the club head made me realize all over again why this design was so good in the first place. It’s timeless.

My reunion with Slotline was brief so I eagerly anticipated the 2009 PGA Show that took place at the end of January. It was there that I planned to investigate the new Slotline offerings (three series of putters – SL-700, SL-500, and SS-300) a little further. Coincidentally, one of the first people I ran across on day one of the world’s biggest golf showcase was Chad Lehr, the Product Manager for Slotline.

My first instinct was ask him how the show’s demo day had gone the day before and the overall response to the Slotline Brand resurgence, a project more than a year in the making. “The reaction has been real positive,” Lehr told me with enthusiam. “At the demo day it was fun to see people who were familiar with the brand. They came up, recognized the logo and the badging on the putter and told me about the Slotline they used to have or still do in their basement some place. The best putter I ever had is what a lot of them told me.”

In maintaining the logo and some of the familiar Slotline designs, the response has been exactly what the company was looking for. It is the hook the creates the interest but they know it takes much more than that to sustain customer curiosity in today’s crowded marketplace. With the goal of that achievement Lehr and his team have been hard at work.

“Everybody, when they roll the product, has liked the way it feels, staying true to the technology that Duke Duclos brought to the marketplace – he was way ahead of his time. It’s all built around that technology he developed in the 70′ and 80’s which is all applicable today. We are able to use that and match it with the modern manufacturing processes.”

Even with that strong legacy Lehr says some adaptions have been made to help the three new lines of Slotline putters appeal more to the modern golfer. “These are a little larger than the original putters which were 290-300 grams (head weight) and a little skinnier.” He says the new versions of the familiar models (the SL-500 Series) are forged and then milled from a one-piece aluminium body. The 581F includes 191 grams of Tungsten blend in the heel and toe weighting.

They are not small putters by any means (compared with the average Anser design) but when you roll a ball with one, the size doesn’t seem to matter much – they feel good and the ball leaves the face smoothly. That goes for putts struck off-center as well; the effect that attracted so many golfers to the original Slotlines. Remarkably Lehr amazes doubters by striking two balls at the same time for a fifteen foot putt and people shake their head as both balls travel virtually the same distance and stay on line.“That’s a great display of MOI – you just don’t lose much when you hit it off center,” he adds.

Of course there are a lot of putter companies that can offer high performance so I asked Lehr about how Dynamic brands will work to position Slotline for consumers.

“Well, the Slotline brand has been basically gone from the marketplace since 2001 so we are a start-up putter company. But we do have brand recognition so the buyers (retail shop purchasing agents) are more willing to take it in even though, with the downturn in the economy, they may still be flush with inventory. But we’ve had good success, good feedback.”

Lehr cites a situation at the demo day as prime example of what they need to do to make their mark. Buyers for a top end country club got the product in their hand and after rolling it, immediately committed to stock the Slotline putters for 2009. “That is what we need to do, beyond the brand recognition we need people to realize how good a product it is by trying it. That is the challenge.”

In the process of redeveloping the product brand Lehr and his team looked to the market to shape the introduction and one thing he heard consistently was that they needed to prove they were serious by having a strong line-up. Having been told they needed to have at least four putters to be taken seriously, they outpaced that request by ten, coming up with fourteen models. Eight of them are available in left hand. “It’s a complete line, there are some holes but now that we have this launched we can go and start to fill in the holes.” There are fifteen more models in development.

It’s not everyday that you get to bring an iconic brand back to the market – a lot of well-estabished brands have simply withered away in recent times. But Dynamic Brands looks to be doing a fine job so far with Slotline and that makes golf product fans, like Chad Lehr himself, very happy.

“It’s been fun, a lot of fun,” he concludes. “We know what we have done and how good the new putters are, I’m sure that people will agree after they get to try them.”

I have, and I do.

You can check out the new line-up for yourself at www.slotlinegolf.com