North Dakota's 'father of golf' invented the popular Bulls Eye putter
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen explains how John Reuter Jr. came up with the innovative design that was being used by 40% of tour players in the 1960s.
North Dakota "is far and away the best served state in terms of course availability," according to GolfBlogger , with a golf course for every 5,468 people.
Also, Golf Magazine has ranked North Dakota second in terms of “avidness” for golf. This is remarkable, since golf is only a seasonal sport in North Dakota because snow often covers the courses during several months each year.
North Dakota has been home to a number of people who have made a name for themselves in golf, including players like Beverly Hanson, Amy Olson, Scott Peterson, Mike Podolak, Tom Hoge, Mike Morley, Shane McMenamy, Jim Werre, Paul O’Leary, Paul Cook and Ralph Kingsrud. One of the most celebrated designers of golf courses is Jim Engh, from Dickinson.
However, I believe the North Dakotan who made the biggest contribution to golf is John Reuter Jr. He has been called “the father of golf in North Dakota” and was the designer and inventor of a very popular putter.
Reuter, who lived in Dickinson from 1907 to 1929, began his career in golf in 1900 when he, on occasions, served as Harry Vardon’s U.S. caddy. Vardon is often recognized as “golf’s first superstar.” In 1915, Reuter contacted other golf enthusiasts around the state and “spearheaded the formation of the North Dakota Golf Association.” He was also successful in politics, being elected and reelected six times as county treasurer of Stark County.
As a golfer, Reuter participated in the state amateur tournaments and “won four consecutive state amateur championships in 1916-1919.” When the state championship was scheduled to be held in Dickinson in 1920, he withdrew to give other golfers an opportunity to win.
In the early 1920s, Reuter turned pro, but his major focus was on creating a dependable putter that golfers could use with confidence. In 1949, he registered his trademark for the “Bulls Eye” putter.
John Reuter Jr. was born Sept. 6, 1888, to John and Augusta (Limpgetzki) Reuter, in Blue Island, a city adjacent to the South Side of Chicago, where John Sr. worked at a brick factory. According to newspaper editor Clement Lounsberry, Reuter “attended the public and high schools at Blue Island and also pursued a course in the Chicago Business College.”
Just to the west of Blue Island was the Midlothian Country Club, where young John would often go to caddy for golfers during the summer months. Reuter was fascinated with the game of golf, and in the fall of 1904, he traveled to Dayton, Ohio, in hopes of finding employment at the Crawford, McGregor & Canby Co., later renamed MacGregor Golf, the first American manufacturer of golf clubs.
Despite the fact that the company was not hiring, the manager of the company was impressed with Reuter’s desire to work there, and found things for him to do, until he learned the skill of making good golf clubs. After three years, Reuter left Dayton to supervise the running of the country club in Richmond, Ind.
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In 1909, his parents moved to Stark County in North Dakota where his father purchased a farm. Stark County was “dominantly German populated,” and since Reuter Jr. was fluent in both English and German, his services were needed in Dickinson, the seat of Stark County, and he was hired as a clerk in the office of the county treasurer. In 1914, he was elected county treasurer, and he was reelected every two years until 1928.
In 1913, Reuter organized the Dickinson Country Club and, in 1915, he “spearheaded the formation of the North Dakota Golf Association (NDGA).” After winning the state amateur championship the first four years it was held, Reuter withdrew the next year when Dickinson hosted the tournament. He said “he would have an unfair advantage over the other golfers.”
In 1916 and in 1921 Reuter participated in the U.S. Golf Association Amateur Championships, and in 1922 he “turned pro, and was a journeyman golf pro most of his life,” although he did qualify for the British Open in 1926.
Much of his time was spent on building a better putter, which is the golf club used for relatively short strokes, usually when the ball is on or just off the green. Putting accounts for 43% of all strokes, and many golfers agree that “putting is the most important part of the game.”
On Jan. 18, 1927, Reuter “registered his first patent for a better hickory-shafted mallet putter.” He said he reduced “the possible hitting surface on the mallet putter clubface.” He felt the 4-inch flat surface extending from the heel to the toe of the putter caused players to mishit their putts if they struck the ball near the heel or the toe. To eliminate this, Reuter reduced the hitting surface from 4 inches to 2 inches. He knew he had made improvements, but he also had ideas on how to make it better.
In 1929, Reuter left Dickinson and moved to Elk Grove, Ill., 20 miles northwest of Chicago, where he served as the golf professional at the Rob Roy Country Club.
In the early 1940s, he became the assistant golf pro of the Sault Sainte Marie Golf Club in Michigan, where he began work on developing his “Bulls Eye” putter. Reuter said, “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.”
The original club was a simple design with a brass head that golfers could putt the ball left or right-handed. Much of the focus of Reuter’s new putter design had to do with the shaft. “The Bulls Eye featured an unusual — for its time — center-shafted design.” Reuter believed that “centering the shaft centers the weight, just as a pendulum, creating a measured rhythmic swing.” The center shaft eliminated torque when the ball was struck.
Reuter got his Bulls Eye putter trademarked on July 1, 1947, registered it March 15, 1949, and began selling his putter at his shop in Sault Saint Marie. When he saw that golfing customers really liked his new design, he moved to South Phoenix in 1950 where he established his production facility, which was actually his garage. Reuter’s big breakthrough came when a member of the staff of the Acushnet Co. (manufacturer of Titleist golf balls) picked up one of his Bulls Eye putters at a local Phoenix pro shop. “He liked the balance and the feel of this new design.”
Acushnet contacted Reuter and, in 1956, he signed a contract with Acushnet giving them the sole marketing rights to his putter. The company ran their first advertisement for the Bulls Eye putter in the January 1957 issue of Golf Digest, and sales for Reuter’s putter began to boom. Noted golfers like Gene Littler and Gary Player began to rely on the Bulls Eye for tournament play.
During the 1960s, “tour statistics showed that 40% of the tour players were using the Bulls Eye putter .” Reuter said, “I was so full of pride from the first exhilarating taste of success that I was fit to bust.”
Reuter was one of the five charter members the North Dakota Golf Association (NDGA) chose when they began inducting people into the NDGA Hall of Fame . Paul Reuter Jr. died on Feb. 26, 1974.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.