THE RAY COOK PUTTER COMPANY
From Tuning Fork to “Vi – Bra – Grov “ Putter
After conducting a search of the web for information regarding Ray Cook and the Ray Cook Putter Company, one concludes Ray Cook cut the lines on the top of his putters to assist the player to align the putter head for the putt. In fact, one site claims Cook was the first to do this. By researching Cook Company advertising in the USA and Great Britain, it appears the marketing strategy for the Ray Cook putter changed in 1974. This closely corresponds to the sale of the company from Ray Cook to Bob Olson. Was alignment Ray Cook’s original philosophy behind his putters.? This article reveals Cook actually had another thought in mind. .
This investigation tracks the Ray Cook Putter Company history for the decade (1963 – 1973) while Cook owned it. The local newspaper, The San Antonio Line became fixated on the local success story. The reporters followed every step of the company’s development. The local gossip reporter, Bruce Wilson, provided weekly updates, who won on the PGA Tour using a Cook putter manufactured in San Antonio. “He’s No. 1 in Mallets.” “Three in a Row a Record”. Ray Cook, through his famous putter, certainly placed San Antonio on the world stage. Fortunately on three occasions, Cook reminisced about his life and his putter. In particular, Ray shared his initial steps leading to the production of the world’s most successful mallet putter. This article describes how Ray utilized the basic principle of a tuning fork experiment, he saw in boot camp, to create his famous putter. He believed the vibrating metal idea could be used in the design of the perfect putter.
Born in Hill, Texas in 1926, Rayburn “Ray” Cook lived his entire his entire 88 years in Texas. His parents farmed in the region their entire life. His parents John and Mattie had seven children: six boys and one girl. During the difficult Depression years the boys typically had chores on the farm. Ray’s world changed from farming to office work to manufacturer after the War.
“Rayburn (Ray) departed his earthly home on Thursday September 18th, 2014 after a prolonged illness in Abilene , TX.
Ray produced the most successful mallet putter ever produced. He travelled the world to sell his famous putter, but he basically spent his entire life within two hours of Hill, TX his birthplace.
While serving in boot camp in 1942, Ray showed how a simple problem inspired him to create a solution. His first patent showed his ingenuity, his practical nature, and his dedication to solving a challenge . Like all GI’s Ray smoked. While lying on his bunk bed with his ashtray next to him, his cigarette fell from the rim onto his bed. The cigarette burnt a hole in the blanket costing him $6.65. With this penalty as an incentive, he set about to invent an ashtray that prevented the cigarette from falling off the rim. Soon he had his first patent – a double rim ashtray- solving the dilemma and saving his fellow GI’s money.
After the War, Ray worked as a government stenographer writing letters. This constant writing caused blisters to form on his writing fingers. To resolve this dilemma, he patented a new type of pen to eliminate writers cramp, “including one which cannot make calluses on the finger of even a 10-houraday note taker”
Several years later around 1949, Ray returned to his thoughts regarding the tuning fork experiment he saw in boot camp. Working in his government office by day, Ray began assisting in Ed Carpenter’s driving range shop. Access to the workshop, rekindled his idea that he could expand on the tuning fork principle to create the perfect putter..
“He devoted the next fifteen years (1949 – 1964) to develop a putter utilizing the vibrating metal principle shown in the tuning fork to create a vibrating metal putter. In the workshop he began to toil night and day to add the tuning fork principle into a putter. To give the proper feel. I experimented with virtually every putter on the market, spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to prove my idea that I gathered from the tuning fork experiment showing the vibrating metal. I wanted to give the golfer better feel when stroking the putt..”
He probably purchased the Freddie Haas aluminium putter, the Claremont model, produced from 1950 – 1955. Although the Haas putter has a much lager head than Cook’s first model M-1, it is very similar in shape.
Finally in1963, he solved the challenge. By cutting a horizontal groove about ½” from the hitting face, he had the putter with the vibrating head. The vibration produced when the ball was struck by the player gave the player the best feeling putter on the market. Cook called his mallet putter – the VI – BRA – GROOV. Translated this meant the “vibrating groove putter” Initially, the lines Cook cut in the head of the putter were not for alignment. The vertical lines represented the width of the golf ball.
“How Cook’s VI – BRA – GROOV putter assists the golfer:
The GROOV parallel to and ½ inch back of the face creates a FLOATING face, which directs VIBRATIONS directly into the shaft and HANDS giving better FEEL and better judge of DISTANE. The WIDE sole makes for a smoother stroke even if the player bumps the putting surface. With the shaft attached at the sole the player FEELS all the swing weight. The putter is made of extra sensitive metals for better feel upon impact..”
Cook proved to be not only an inquisitive and investigative guy, but also he had a knack for marketing a product. Each year the PGA Tour made its annual stop in San Antonio. Ray devised a method so all the PGA players would use his putter. He offered an additional $1,000 to the winner of the Texas Open on the condition the player only had his Ray Cook Vi-Bra-Groov putter in his bag for the final round. To the pros an extra grand was not peanuts. Ray gave the players free putters. Most players instantly accepted his offer. To increase the incentive in succeeding years, Ray increased the bonus to $5,000 for first place and smaller amounts for placing second and third. Soon he had many of the top PGA players such as Billy Casper and Bruce Crampton using his putter. In 1966, his business took a giant leap when he joined the San Antonio Trade Mission to Europe. Utilizing this opportunity, Ray returned home with distribution contracts in Germany, England, France and Scandinavia. Next he was the first to sell putters to the expanding Japanese market.
“ Back home after their successful trade mission junket, San Antonio manufacturer Ray Cook has received notification that his firm now has letters of credit on file with banks in England, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.” Morris Wilson local gossip[ column in San Antonio Light Headline VI-BRA_GROOVE wins again.
Within three years he had five additional patents covering variations in his original design
“Cook’s Vi-Bra-Groov putters, which didn’t hit the market until April, 1964, now win more money on the PGA Tour and in other parts of the world than any other weapon used on the greens.” British Open Roberto de Vicenzo 1967, US Open Orville Moody 1969, Colonial Invitational at Houston Bruce Crampton 1965 and Billy Casper 1968, Texas Open San Antonio Bruce Crampton 1964 and Harold Henning 1968 Champions International de Vicenzo 1968, World Series of Golf Moody 1968.”
Ray began to maintain diligent records of the winners on the tour who used his mallet putter to win. Business began to soar. By 1969 he needed to expand. He could not supply the demand with his four original staff members. His first staff members included: Fritz Opris, foreman and Vice –President, walked out of Hungary along with his mother and Aunt into Austria during the Russian invasion in 1956. Rudy Martinez, the second of the two- man production staff originally worked as a delivery man. Ray trained him to operate the precision machine to make the putters to satisfy the world demand, Jo Anne Brotherton’s roots rested in the Cherokee Nation like Ray’s, worked as the secretary, auditor, and bookkeeper. Basically she led the operation to a world successful enterprise. “She was the glue that held everything together.”
In the new facility, he expanded to twenty employees. He always maintained his loyalty to the local PGA professionals who operated the golf shops across America. The Ray Cook putter could only be purchased in the local pro shop.
In 1973, “the total wins since 1967 is 135 major events including the US Open, the British Open, the Masters, the PGA, the World Series of Golf, and the World Cup have been won by players using his Ray Cook mallet putter. He was the number ! mallet putter producer in the world”
According to the San Antonio Line reporter Johnny Jones: Jan 19, 1973: “The small Basse Road manufacturer, Ray Cook utilizing his ingenuity to make advancements to his basic aluminums mallet putter now holds more patents for golf putters than any other person in the world.” The little operation produced 50,000 putters per year.
Ray Cook’s big break came when the Hogan Company asked him to design and manufacture a putter for them: “The putter business will be bigger than Ray could ever have imagined when he began in 1964. He has in his possession a contract to design and produce all THE putters for the famed Ben Hogan line of clubs. Within two years Cook expects his plant will be producing 70,000 putters annually. The Hogan putters will follow the T groove principle but won’t be like Ray’s regular Vi-Bra-Groov putter for his regular business”
In late 1974, at what appears to be the height of his putter business, Cook sold the operation to his long-time friend and partner Bob Olson. Ray designed the putters and marketed them. Olson actually manufactured the aluminums heads Ray created. Olson did not just purchase the most successful mallet putter business in the world he also had a vision to expand the Ray Cook Putter company to new levels.
‘Bob Olson, who holds the patent on one of the best cigarette filters ever made, has bought the Ray Cook Putter Company.” September 17th, 1974.
The sale from Cook to Olson occurred in a very unusual way. “I (Olson) had known Ray for over 45 years, manufactured all the putter heads for him. We had the same CPA firm and I found out Ray wanted to sell his business. So in two weeks I owned a putter company. Most of the putters are still the original ones designed by Ray.”
Olson immediately changed the marketing strategy for his newly acquired Ray Cook Putter Company. Under Cook, a golfer could only purchase a Ray Cook putter from their local pro shop. Olson immediately patented a putter for the retail market the “American Open” putter. These putters sold throughout the US in hardware outlets, department stores, and golf discount outlets. The pro shop models sold for about $50.00. The American Open model sold around $25. We have constructed a new factory to enable the company to expand into the retail market. As mentioned at the outset of this article, Olson also began advertising the lines on the putter head assisted the player to align his body parallel to the putter line. The also changed the company markings on the putters.
In !975, Bob Olson patented a new model of the original Ray Cook putter. Olson called the new putter “Two Heads are better than One.” The patented Ray Cook Vi-Bra-Groov separates the blade from the mallet to combine the feather touch sensitivity of a finely balanced blade putter with the confidence building stability of a mallet.”
When Bob purchased the Cook operation, Ray had representatives in 43 states and ten countries including Japan. After two years Olson advertised he had sales people in all 50 states. Proudly Olson told the San Antonio Light newspaper on May 23, 1976: “ Only 10% of all the putters are sold at pro shops. Some of the manufacturing steps have been reduced in the American Line, but the retail model is in a highly competitive market but still has the Ray Cook quality. The company has made a profit each year since its inception in 1964. The past two years we have set records for sales and profits. The Ray Cook putters are sold throughout the US and in the Scandinavia countries, Great Britain, Europe, South Africa, and Japan. The company holds more patents and registered trademarks than any other firm”
In the 1978 interview between Paul Christian, the San Antonio Line business reporter and Bob Olson, Bob described his successful company: “Currently we manufacture 31 different models – both mallets and blades. Olson won’t divulge just how many are made each year , but representatives sell the putters throughout the US and in 15 foreign countries the biggest markets being Great Britain, Scotland, and Japan”.
In Nov 1979 Bob Olson and his partner Jim Braun sold the Ray Cook Putter Company to Bob Coleman , a University of Oklahoma graduate with an accounting major with an extensive background in computer science.
Coleman divulged one of Ray’s original errors: “Unfortunately probably because of lack of business experience, Ray made a fundamental error in the early years of the operation. Ray did not register his patents internationally. Today we suffer from that error.”
ANNOUNCEMENT BY FREEDMAN COMMUNICATIONS
“The Legendary Ray Cook Putter Brand and Assets to be Auctioned
June 8th, 2010”
“The legendary Ray Cook brand has played a significant role in the success of many golfers for nearly 50 years. We are excited to present this opportunity to potential buyers who want to leverage this established golf equipment brand. It is a perfect fit for any company looking to develop or expand a quality putter line under a recognized and respected name. The Ray Cook brand has stood the test of time, as golfers worldwide, including scores of tour players have elected to carry and use Ray Cook putters.”
Upon purchasing the Ray Cook Putter Company in September, 2010 Rock Bottom Golf , the top internet golf retailer, posted the following note on their website:
“Since 1963, the name Ray Cook, has been synonymous with success on the PGA and LPGA circuits, as the best players in the world have used Ray Cook putters. The Ray Cook putters are credited with over 200 tour wins and is the only independent putter company to notch a tour victory in every decade since the 1960’s “
The BC Golf Museum has 5 original Ray Cook putters in the collection. We are seeking to expand this collection. We do not have an original Hogan putter designed and manufactured by Ray Cook. These putters have the markings ” DBRC ” and ” SA ” .
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