By VICKI URBANIK
Richard Biggs might best be known for his violin shop in downtown Porter,
but he’s about to launch a new product that may seem worlds apart from the
fine craft of violin making.
A master luthier and bowmaker, Biggs has invented a golf putter that he said
helps remove a series of obstacles that stand in the way of a good putt.
He’s received two patents for his Palm Putter, which he hopes will not only
open the doors of golf to more people, but will also demonstrate in some
small but significant way that the American small business entrepreneur
spirit remains the backbone of our country.
“We’ll keep it mom and pop and hopefully we’ll start hiring people ... and
we’ll prove that these things can happen,” Biggs said.
Biggs became interested in violin making while a student at the American
Academy of Art in Chicago. He went to work for Inland Steel, starting off as
a millwright before his promotion to executive level, as a graphic art
manager. After retiring from Inland in 1984, he devoted his time to violin
making, becoming a master luthier at Kagan & Gaines in Chicago and studying
under master Franz Kinberg. For a long time, he had eyed the small brick
building in downtown Porter, and when it became available, he set up Biggs
Violin Shop in 2001.
About 15 years ago, he switched from violin making to primarily making
violin bows, and today he is one of only 200 or so bow makers in the world.
As such, he has had to contend with the maddening situation that the best
Brazilian wood used in bow making is now illegal to obtain, even though
acres upon acres are being destroyed each day for ranching; he also
participates in a tree replenishment program in Brazil.
The precision in crafting a bow is intense. One can have one violin and
three different bows and produce three different sounds. “The bow’s the
boss,” he said.
Which brings us to the putter.
Just as there’s precision in making a violin bow, there’s an exactitude in
making a good putt. About five years ago, Biggs grew more and more intrigued
as to why seemingly easy putts can be so elusive for so many. “I would watch
great golfers miss four foot putts,” he said.
So he began studying putting. And he studied some more. The grip, the bend
of the wrists and the elbow, and the line of the club all are critical. If
one is off, the whole putt can be wrong.
Biggs eventually designed a putter that simplifies the act of putting, with
a ball handle and a cylindrical head. The ball makes it possible to swing
the club in a pendulum motion, getting the ball rolling without snubbing the
grass. Components are made up of brass, which he notes “rings” better, and
the ball is wood, which is natural to the touch. He went through repeated
designs “until we got the sound we wanted.”
Just like a bow is to a violinist, a putter needs to give the golfer a good
fit, a certain vibration. “It can’t just be static. It’s got to be active,”
When he finally got the design right, he was “thrilled.” The USGA, on the
other hand, was not. “They fought me for three years,” he said.
Biggs disagreed with the USGA, but he was determined to get the USGA’s stamp
of approval for his putter, even though it was not necessary. He sent the
association more than five prototypes, each time adjusting the details to
their specifications. Finally, the association deemed that the putter was in
compliance -- except for the ball at the top of the shaft. So Biggs offers
the putter in two versions -- one with the ball permanently attached, and
one that allows the ball to be removed for tournament play. But he also
makes it clear that the ball can be reinserted and used as a training aide.
Even with the ball off, the putter is “still a better putter,” he said.
Biggs noted that only a sliver of golfers are professionals. And that’s
where he feels his putter has a noble purpose: By helping golfers putt
better, they will enjoy the game more, and the game as a whole is better
Unlike other sports, Biggs notes that amateurs can putt just as well as the
pros do. He strongly resents going backwards in the golf world and returning
the game to a highly elitist sport. His view is that if technology can help
the game and bring in more players, then it should be embraced.
It was, in fact, technology that got Biggs re-interested in golf. After many
years of not playing, he one day borrowed a seven iron. He was amazed at how
the design of the club had improved over the years. “ I couldn’t believe
what happened,” he said. “I thought, my God, I can play golf again.
Technology brought me back.” (Incidentally, Biggs said he can no longer
swing so he doesn’t play golf. But he does putt.)
His palm putter has another purpose. “We refuse to go to China,” he said.
Most golf club manufacturers have “sold out,” and only one company still
makes American made clubs. He is adamant that his Palm Putter will always be
manufactured at home, with all American made parts. It’s currently
manufactured in a small machine shop in Michigan City and assembled in
For now, the Palm Putter is a small family endeavor, with Biggs serving as
CEO and his wife and four children working in other capacities. His dream is
to expand the business so that he can branch out by actually hiring paid
employees. He’s particularly interested in hiring disabled veterans, giving
them solid, well paying work.
He’s not phased by his competition in the golf world. “Our strength is
always going to be two things: One, nobody else can ever call theirs a ‘Palm
Putter.’” he said. And with a broad smile, he added: “And they won’t be able
to say theirs was made entirely in America.”
Biggs will officially launch the Palm Putter this weekend, first at The
Brassie in Chesterton from 7 a.m. to noon, followed by a stop on Sunday at
Centennial Park in Munster from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each Palm Putter costs
$250 and comes with a DVD, a removable head, and a counterbalance. Orders
placed at the official launches will receive a 10 percent discount. For more