Story by Thatcher Moats
Photo by Megan Spelman
George Lewitzki stands in his rustic Hilo golf shop, Golf Treasures, gently gripping a putter. The place oozes a kind of golf-bum charm, what with its knickknacks and shaggy dog named Mulligan, who’s watching her owner tap a ball across the carpet.
George explains that the head on the putter he’s using is not cast but rather milled from a solid chunk of stainless steel. (Casting—that is, pouring molten metal into a mold—can create clubs with “voids, porosity and air pockets inside of them,” he says, which compromises their balance.) In addition, the putter’s fluted shaft is rigid, which he says reduces unwanted motion during a stroke.
George is clearly enamored of this club and no wonder: He designed and built it himself. The 59-year-old is the owner of Keoki Putters, a small business he launched three years ago for one purpose: to create the elusive perfect putter. Most golfers in search of a putter don’t head for the workbench, but George is a tinkerer. His father (also named George) was an engineer who helped send satellites into space in the 1970s and ’80s. George the elder kept a machine shop in the garage of the family’s Los Angeles home, where George junior spent hours learning to make things. He went on to become a jeweler and later a carpenter in Hawai‘i.
Then came the putters. “I couldn’t find a putter that I liked, so I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to make my own,’” says George. He began building prototypes three years ago; now the steel heads are milled at a Hilo machine shop. While his fledgling company barely occupies a niche in an industry dominated by corporate titans, George believes his putters are top-of-the-line, and the price—$450—reflects that confidence. Beyond their quality, George likes his clubs for more subjective reasons. They’re aesthetically simple, he says, and then there’s the novelty of a putter with Hawai‘i roots. Ultimately, says George, it comes down to feel. “That’s why guys change putters all the time,” he says. “They’re looking for that feel.”
If the local scene is any indication, Keoki Putters are slowly making their way onto the courses of Hawai‘i. “Some Sundays I’ll be on the green with four people and three of us will have Keoki Putters,” he says. “That’s pretty cool.”