Golf's Fort Knox
PING sets the gold standard with its tradition of rewarding top performances
July 21, 2015
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
PHOENIX — From the outside, the single-story office building on West Peoria Avenue doesn't have any distinguishing features, its tan facade blending in with the desert landscape and nearby North Mountain.
It seems fitting that the most expensive putter collection on the planet would be hiding in plain sight. While the location of PING's gold putter vault is fairly nondescript, what's housed inside is anything but.
That's evident from the moment you step inside an office and come face-to-face with an enormous vault door that features a classic PING logo and the words "For those who want to play their best" etched on the outside.
Once inside the vault, you're greeted by a one-of-a-kind sight — nearly 2,800 gold-plated putters, all in alphabetical order, stacked in neat rows on a shelving unit that covers every wall in the room.
Welcome to golf's version of Fort Knox.
Most of today's TOUR stars weren't around when PING founder Karsten Solheim came up with the gold putter program. In search of a way to commemorate every victory with a PING putter, Solheim started giving out gold-plated putters in the 1970s that were built to the exact specs of the winner's model. One putter is built for the champion while the other is placed inside the vault.
"It's one of the coolest things in professional sports," six-time PGA TOUR winner Hunter Mahan said. "After a TOUR win, you're usually thinking about getting to go to the Masters and everything that usually comes with a victory. But then you realize you get a gold putter as well.
"Usually they give it to you some time after the win, so when you get it, it brings back good memories from the week. Getting to see your name and tournament win engraved on the face gives it a personal touch that I really like. It's just so unique."
When Solheim started the tradition, the "vault" was housed in a converted closet in his office. However, the gold-plated putter tradition became so popular over the years that Solheim eventually had to transfer the collection and build a larger vault. That vault has since been retired with the collection moving to another location at PING headquarters.
Of course, the size of the vault isn't the only thing that's changed over the last 40-plus years. John Solheim, Karsten’s son, modified the program when he became president in 1995, giving every major winner a solid gold replica for their achievement. Only one solid gold version is made for the winner; a gold-plated version is then placed in the vault in honor of their win.
Bubba Watson received a solid gold PING Anser 1 Milled for winning the 2014 Masters. The putter had a head weight of 24.7 ounces and was valued at roughly $30,000 based on the current price of gold.
"As a young kid, I heard about the gold putter vault and the gold putters," Watson said. "I knew it was something cool that you wanted to see. The history of Karsten (Solheim) and him making the putter, you think about all that and the wins — it's something you want to see and be a part of. You want to have at least one putter or a wedge in here, so it's pretty neat to be associated with it now."
The leader in the clubhouse with the most gold putters is Lee Westwood, who boasts an impressive 57 from wins, career milestones and Ryder Cup appearances. The late Seve Ballesteros, a five-time major winner, is second on the list with 46 gold-plated Anser models.
As you'd expect with nearly 50 years' worth of gold putters — the oldest belongs to John Barnum, who won the 1962 Cajun Classic with a model 69 — golf royalty is well represented inside the vault.
In fact, over the years, PING has awarded 58 gold putters -- 28 of which are solid gold -- and two gold-plated wedges to winners of various major championships.
Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart and Lee Trevino are just a few of the high-profile names that used a PING putter to win at least one major championship. Tiger Woods also has two PING Anser2 putters celebrating his 1994 and 1995 U.S. Amateur victories.
Although the vault is comprised mostly of putters, there are a handful of gold-plated clubs in the collection. The 52-degree PING Tour-W wedge Bubba Watson used on the second hole of a playoff to pull off a gargantuan, 40-yard hook from the pine straw to win the 2012 Masters is one of the big draws.
So, too, is the PING Eye2 sand wedge Bob Tway relied on to win the 1986 PGA Championship with an improbable hole-out from the greenside bunker on the 18th hole.
Louis Oosthuizen's PING S56 4-iron also sticks out in a sea full of gold putters. While the South African finished second to Bubba Watson at the 2012 Masters, he received a gold-plated 4-iron for recording one of the most memorable hole-outs in Masters history, when his ball found the bottom of the cup from 253 yards for the first albatross on No. 2 at Augusta National.
Ryan Moore shows off his gold PING putters
Everywhere you look inside the vault, there's a story to be told about each and every glimmering, gold club. Most of the stories have to do with a particular shot that allowed the winner to earn his piece of gold-plated history. But there are a few stories that go beyond the shots executed on the course.
Hunter Mahan never won the 2013 RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, but that didn't stop PING from giving him with a gold Scottsdale TR Anser2 for his decision to withdraw from the tournament as the 36-hole leader to return home when his wife, Kandi, went into labor.
In honor of Mahan's daughter, Zoe Olivia, PING had two gold-plated putters made to celebrate her birth (the putter has her name, birthday and vital stats inscribed on the True Roll insert).
"I never expected them to do that for me," said Mahan, who returns to Glen Abbey this week for the RBC Canadian. "I still remember when they surprised me with the putter. I was blown away. You expect to get a putter for a win, but to get one for the birth of our daughter was special beyond words. It's something I'll cherish forever."
And then there's Antonio Maldonado's 30-inch PING Moxie Craz-E, which is without a doubt one of the most interesting clubs in the vault. Struggling with his putting, Maldonado decided to borrow his son's 30-inch putter -- it was part of PING's junior set at the time -- in the hopes of finding a spark on the green.
What he didn't see coming was a win shortly thereafter at the 2005 Mexico Open — with the junior putter.
It's just one of the many stories that makes PING's gold putter vault such a special place.
"If you use a PING putter, you want to be in that vault with some of the greatest golfers to ever play the game," reigning FedExCup champion Billy Horschel said. "I still remember going in the vault for the first time and seeing my putter next to the likes of guys like Seve (Ballesteros) and Tom (Watson). It's one of those moments where it almost doesn't feel real.
"As a pro golfer you get to do a lot of really cool things, but seeing that vault door and getting an opportunity to step inside to see your gold putters never gets old."