“The inventor of the world’s second most famous putter”
In the 1840’s German settlers began occupying the Blue Island area in Cook County, Illinois. About this time construction companies discovered large deposits of clay suitable for manufacturing bricks. Within a decade, this area became known as “the brick making capital of the world” producing millions of bricks per year.
The 1880 Census returns indicate John and Augusta Reuter immigrated to the Blue Island area in 1875. The couple felt very comfortable in their new surroundings among other German arrivals. As well, John arrived with experience in the brick manufacturing process. Commencing with John Jr. born on September 6th, 1888, the couple had two other children Otto and Estella.
During his caddying career at Midlothian CC, John asked Harry Vardon if he needed a caddy. “In 1900, as a carroty-headed caddy of age 12, I approached Harry Vardon, then on one of his victorious American tours, and brashly told the great English player: I’ll caddie for you Mr. Vardon if you like.” Reuter always felt Vardon to be the best golfer he ever saw.
In 1904, again John illustrated his convincing demeanor. He persuaded the owner of Macgregor Golf Company to give him a job. “I arrived at MacGregor in Dayton, Ohio in the fall of 1904 when business was slowing down. George Mattern, the superintendent, responded: Well we’re not in heavy production at this time of the year. I don’t know whether we have anything for you to do or not. But seeing you’ve come all this way from Chicago, I’ll see what we can find.”
There Reuter Jr. began his first experience in the manufacturing process of a golf club. “Well he found something for me to do and the years I worked there were among the happiest of my life. All the time I was learning and studying what went into a golf club. It took considerable skill to finish a golf club, especially the shaft. That’s where the highest skilled workmanship was performed. One too many strokes with the plane and the shaft could be ruined. And if the feel was not right it wasn’t any good either.”
Forty-three years later, John produced his first rudimentary prototype Bulls Eye putter. But his journey before that point took him to four states and some interesting jobs before becoming the producer of the 2nd most famous putter in the world.
After three years, John left Macgregor in Dayton, Ohio. He assumed the head professional position at the Richmond C.C. in Indiana on Sept 15th, 1907. For some reason, in 1909 John Reuter Sr. moved his family, including John Jr., to Stark County, North Dakota. The family became farmers in a dominantly German populated farming area of the county. Shortly after the family’s arrival, John Jr. married Elizabeth Blank in Stark County. Then on February 10th, 1910, he made a drastic occupation change from golf professional/club maker to clerk in Stark County. It is unclear where he learned the administrative skills to do this job. Even more amazing, John Jr. ran in the 1912 election for County Commissioner. He won the Democratic nomination and subsequently the title. Cleverly, he ran on the platform: Since he spoke fluent German, his election would allow the majority of the citizens in the area being German to communicate with the county administration in their native tongue. He successfully won re-election every two years until he left Stark County around 1929 shortly after the great crash.
Although John Jr. had changed occupations, this did not extinguish his desire to play golf. Newspaper accounts credit him for organizing the Dickinson GC on May 10th, 1913. Over the next five years, he encouraged groups of like-minded citizens in Bismark, Fargo, Valley City, and Grand Forks to construct courses for their areas. Next he spearheaded the formation of the North Dakota Golf Association with a mandate to host a state championship. Because of his advanced skill as a professional, John Jr. won four consecutive state amateur championships in 1916 – 1919. When his home course Dickinson hosted the 1920 championship, he graciously declined to enter believing he had an unfair advantage over the visiting players. He actually never participated in another state championship. He did, however, play in the 1916 and 1921 USGA Amateur Championships. According to the 1920 US census returns, John Sr. and wife, Augusta, had returned to Blue Island, Cook County.
In his 1961 interview with Golf Magazine John Jr., described his golf-playing career: ”For a while I once thought I might make it as a touring pro, but I didn’t. One of the few highlights in the long procession of mostly dreary years before my putter hit, was when I qualified for the British Open at Royal St Lytham in 1926. Although I didn’t survive the cut-off, it was a great thrill for me just to play in the prestigious event.”
Utilizing his experience at the MacGregor factory, John Jr. registered his first patent for a better hickory shafted mallet putter. The US Trademark & Patent office issued a patent on January 18th, 1927 to John Reuter Jr. Dickinson, North Dakota. In simple terms, Reuter wanted to reduce the possible hitting surface on the mallet putter clubface. He felt the four-inch flat surface extending from the heel to the toe of the putter causing players to mishit their putts if they struck the ball near the heel or the toe. To eliminate these mishits, Reuter reduced the hitting surface where the ball should be struck by beveling the hitting surface near the toe and near the heel. Most putting surfaces measured about four inches. His beveled surfaces reduced the hitting surface to two inches in the middle of the hitting area.
The 1930 US Census return shows John Jr. and family living in Elk Grove, Cook County. Over the next two decades, John joined the PGA of America, held two golf club professional positions: the first at the Rob Roy CC in Illinois and the second at the Sault Sainte Marie GC in Michigan. He continued to attempt to qualify for the US Open, playing in the qualifying rounds in the Chicago District in the years 1930, 1933, and 1938.
Sometime in the mid 1930’s John and Elizabeth divorced. She moved to California to live with her son Lawrence and her brother Ben Blank.
In 1946, during his residency at the Sault Sainte Marie GC, he began the rudimentary steps to develop his “Bulls Eye” putter. “It was real hot that summer and there was hay fever going around. I had a lot of spare time, so I amused myself in the welding shop trying to turn out a putter that would swing as evenly as the pendulum of a clock. I set the shaft just a little short of center, fiddled around with the weight of the head and the balance, until I got what I wanted.
Note: Perhaps John Reuter Jr. used the Cash-In putter made popular by Spalding in the 1930’s and 1940’s as an inspiration for his Bulls Eye. Following the success of the Cash-In, in 1940 Macgregor manufactured their center shafted putters under the model names Jim Foulis and Jerry Travers. Likewise, Wilson introduced the Hol-Hi center shafted putter in1946. Reuter likely sold these popular models in his pro shop in Michigan during his development period. Reuter took this center shaft idea to transform blocks of copper into his new putter.
Believing his putter could become successful; he registered the trademark “Bulls Eye”. On March 18th, 1949 John Reuter Jr. Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan received his trademark registration # 442,260. The early models have a large Bulls Eye logo near the toe. Also the term “Patent Pending” appears somewhere on the sole. A patent search gives no indication John Reuter Jr. ever received a patent for the Bulls Eye putter design. Perhaps this explains why so many putter clubmakers were able to copy his center shaft brass head putter during the 1950’s.
Shortly after receiving his trademark “Bulls Eye”, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona to begin manufacturing his new putter. In the March, 1961 issue of Golf Magazine, he described his early years and his philosophy for the new putter.
“My goal was to create a putter so well designed that golfers would flock to buy it. I was having so many pieces of brass shaped in machine shops into rough patterns of heads that I couldn’t even begin to estimate the number. Almost every cent I could spare went into the putter project. On each successive one I would go to work with files, emery clothe, and drills during whatever spare hours I could mange from my assistant golf professional job at a local Phoenix public golf course.
I never had any engineering training, of course. At first I worked mainly by guess and by God. But gradually I learned and slowly the final shape emerged in my mind and then under my hands. When I had the final one done, I knew I had a putter that would match my dreams. I can’t describe why I knew, but I did know.
Whenever I had a few putters finished I would put them in pro shops within driving distance of Phoenix. I mailed some to friends who were pros at some of the big courses around the country. Within a few months the putter was selling so well that I began expanding the manufacturing process to different rooms in my house. I bought some additional second-hand tools and a couple of machines that took over the parlor. Business increased. I moved my car to the street parking in order to expand the operation into my garage. By this time I had two employees: one full time and one part-time. I was so full of pride from the first exhilarating taste of success that I was fit to bust.”
Reuter’s big breakthrough came when George Abrams, a member of the Acushnet Company’s promotional staff, picked up a Bulls Eye putter in a local Phoenix pro shop. He liked the balance and the feel of this new design. In fact, his enthusiasm concluded with John Reuter Jr. signing a contract with the Acushnet Company in 1956 giving Acushnet the sole marketing rights to his putter. Acushnet’s first advertising for their new product appeared in the January 1957 issue of Golf Digest. In 1960, Acushnet purchased John Reuter’s putter enterprise. The following year they Acushnet a new putter plant for the Bulls Eye putter with John in charge. John commented: “The high point for me personally was when we built and moved into this new plant. It has the finest precision equipment available for manufacturing putter.”
John Reuter’s Desirable Characteristics for a good putter.
Before the Bulls Eye putter came along most putters were L-shaped with the hosel holding the shaft connected to the end of the putter head. In fact, the British outlawed centre shafted putters after Walter Travis demolished his competitors in the 1904 British Amateur Championship. This ban existed until 1953.
Reuter’s Bulls Eye putter head is rounded on all possible surfaces so it will pass over the surface smoothly even when there are irregularities in the grass. Reuter felt: “ The center shaft eliminates torque when the ball is struck unlike the L shaped putters. Centering the shaft centers the weight, just as a pendulum, creating a measured rhythmic swing.”
With regard to loft on the putter face, Reuter did not follow the normal belief of manufacturers. Reuter experimented with various degrees. “When there is a slight loft on the blade, it skims or slides the ball over the first few inches and starts it on a very steady path. I think five or six degrees makes for an ideal putter.
With regard to the putter shaft, again Reuter broke ranks. “The shaft must not be too soft. When the shaft vibrates too much, it is difficult to control the path of the clubhead.”
No two-putter styles are the same. “The putter head should be designed to allow for the fact that not everybody putts alike. There are tall people and short people; some play the ball at a flatter angle, some with an upright style. And the same player doesn’t use the same angle or line every day. He may change, may like to get his hands closer, the clubhead out a little further. Then I conceived the idea of making this same model in different lies, or angles – a medium lie; an upright lie, where the putter head is brought closer to the player and the shaft more perpendicular, and a flat lie, which extends the head further away.”
The original Bulls Eye had two basic grips. “When it came to designing the grip, I chose a flat top in order to allow the thumbs to lie comfortably on it. The standard grip is a medium flat top. For larger hands, we have a larger paddle grip where the flat portion is about ¼ inch wider. “
Reuter believed there was a championship in every putter that left his factory in 1961. The percentages likely favoured this assertion. The Acushnet factory in Phoenix, AR manufactured about 4,000 Bulls Eye putters each year. Touring professionals using his putter during the 1960’s included Gene Littler, Peter Thompson, Gary Player, and Jack Fleck to name the most prominent. Tour statistics show about 40 percent of the tour players used a Bulls Eye putter.
In 1967, John Reuter had a new competitor in the putter business. Solheim Karsten opened his factory in Phoenix AR. Quickly Karsten’s “Ping Putter” became the most popular putter on the PGA Tour. One could argue the Ping Putter is the most successful putter ever produced. Perhaps Reuter’s “Bulls Eye Putter” will be the second most popular putter ever produced.
Mr. Bull’s Eye died in Phoenix, Arizona on February 26th, 1974. After joining Acushnet in 1957 he summed up his life very simply.
“All I ask is to be sure of being around for breakfast in the morning. There is something so wonderful about each new day nowadays that I get the most intense pleasure just waking up and thinking of the day that stretches ahead of me, in contrast to so many other kinds of difficult days I’ve Known.”
john Reuter Jr.’s legacy probably lies in the fact he could be given the title “father of golf in North Dakota”. Also his innovative design for the Bulls Eye putter made golfers aware of the importance the putter played in their success on the golf course.
Other Patents issued to John Reuter Jr.
1961 June – Issued patent for golf club iron Here he carved a triangular portion from the clubface next to the hosel. In his description he describes the club: “The dominant feature of my design resides in the beveled portions at the heel and toe of the clubface to provide a tri-planar appearance.
1967 August 28th offset putter patent issued to John Reuter Jr. Here Reuter altered the appearance of the standard Acushnet mallet putter by truncating the rear toe causing the rear portion of the mallet to be shorter than the front portion.
March 28, 1972 Golf Putter Head with hollow toe and heel portions. Reuter’s description from the patent is: “To produce a putter head with a large mass at the ball striking area of the putter face and the loft of a long iron. The increase in the weight at the ball striking area is compensated for by making the heel and the toe of the putter hollow.”
John Reuter Jr.’s Putting Tips
1. Read greens carefully. If you have to play a break in the putting surface, make sure that if you miss, you miss on the high side of the hole. A ball will never drop in if it is mishit on a line below the hole.
2. Address the ball in a relaxed and natural attitude – free of contortions and strain.
3. Sole your putter firmly and evenly on the ground; avoid tilting it.
4. Putt with your fingertips, with a soft touch. You don’t squeeze a cue in stroking a billiard ball, so don’t squeeze your club in the analogous action of putting.
5. Keep your arms straight and swing them loosely from the shoulders.
6. Keep your head motionless until after impact.
Dating and Identifying Bulls Eye putters.
OS – (Old Standard), STD – (Standard),
L – (Light), H – (Heavy), MH – (medium heavy)
FL – (Flange)
F – (Flat)
M – (Medium)
U or UP – (Upright)
Length 4, 5,6, (for 34”, 35”, 36”)
S – (Standard grip)
P – (Paddle grip approximately ½’ wider than standard)
Trademark Bulls Eye issued on 1949
Patent pending appears on Bulls Eye until 1957 when Reuter signs a distribution agreement with Acushnet.
Prior to their affiliation with Reuter golf magazine advertisements show Acushnet sold two models of aluminum mallet putters.
From 1957 – 1960 Markings include John Reuter Jr. Design and Bulls Eye trademark
After 1960 when Acushnet purchased John Reuter’s business the Acushnet Company were issued a putter trademark. Because Reuter never obtained a patent for his Bulls Eye putter many copies appeared on the market after him. To authenticate their Bulls Eye putter Acushnet added the putter trademark.
From 1960 – 1974 two marks appear
“Designed by John Reuter Jr. “ or “John Reuter Jr. Made in the USA”
1967 – Acushnet introduced the Flange Bulls Eye model.
1969 – Acushnet introduced the L-shaped Bulls Eye with a flange herd.
After Reuter’s death in 1974 putters appeared without his name. When Acushnet purchased the Golfcraft Company in 1968 Golfcraft’s head putter designer, Frank Johnston, left to open his own factory. Acushnet inherited over 100 models of putters in the purchase. In fact the aluminum head putters designed by John Reuter closely resemble the most Caliente model, Golfcraft’s most popular model.
To recognize John Reuter’s designs after his death Acushnet placed the marking
“John Reuter Jr. Design” on the Bulls Eye putters.
In 1978 Acushnet rebranded their golf club line by eliminating the word “Acushnet” from the markings on the clubs. The word “Titleist” appeared alone. The Bulls Eye putters marked with only “Titleist” are after 1978.
When Acushnet purchased Scotty Cameron’s company in 1994 Acushnet placed “S” and “C” inside the Bulls Eye logo. The company still recognized John Reuter Jr.’s Bulls Eye with the marking “John Reuter Jr. Design”
1969 – Scotty Cameron introduced the Caliente model Bulls Eye with the “s” and “C” in the Trademark with the inscription John Reuter Jr. Design.
Golf Magazine – advertisements for the Bulls Eye
Golf Digest – advertisements
Golfdom – advertisements
Richmond Palladium and Richmond Sun Telegraph Indiana
Morning Star Rockford Illinois
Dickenson Press North Dakota
Bismarck Daily Tribune North Dakota
Daily Register Gazette Rockford Illinois
Chicago Daily times Illinois
Detroit Times Michigan Arizona Sun Phoenix Arizona
Books / Periodicals
Putters of Distinction by Dalton R. Daves 1996
Hillerich & Bradsby, Macgregor, and Wilson annual product catalogues.