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Golfing woes inspire Olinda man’s creation

Retired engineer tinkers with putters made of bamboo and brass rods

Honu Putter founder and inventor Mitch Bradley works in his Olinda shop last week. Bradley’s trouble on the greens inspired him to create the unique putter out of bamboo and precisely bent brass rods. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

OLINDA — Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it helps if the person in need is a retired electrical engineer who has both time on his hands and a workshop full of high-tech tools.

Olinda inventor Mitch Bradley’s trouble on the greens inspired him to create the Honu Putter out of bamboo flooring and precisely bent brass rods. The club’s round shape resembles a Hawaiian green sea turtle, or honu.

As he tinkered with the shape and size of the head, as well as the angle and placement of its stainless steel shaft, Bradley’s putting improved. Twenty prototypes later, Honu Putters are drawing rave reviews and selling on the Mainland as fast as he can make them. He has also sold putters on Maui and to international customers.

“I finally retired for the final time and decided if I really wanted to improve my golf game I had to do something about my putting,” Bradley said last week in his small but well-appointed Olinda shop. “After I made this putter, I putted so great, I felt I had to put it into people’s hands. It just putted so great.”

So, he founded Honu Putters and began a small-scale manufacturing operation.

A finished Honu Putter is held over a box of prototypes. Bradley said it took 20 tries to perfect his design of the bamboo putter one Mainland reviewer calls the “best putter ever made.” — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Las Vegas YouTube golf personality, John “Mister One Putt” Evans, says he loves the way the Honu Putter does not twist off line. “I believe the Honu Putter is the best putter ever made,” he said in his review. In another review, this one filmed in Georgia, YouTube golf instructor Matt “Mr. Short Game” Fisher tries out the putter and gives it a thumbs-up. “I love the feel,” he said. “It’s a good putter.”

Haiku golfer Dave Neto also rolls with a Honu.

“That is my putter and it has been for over two years now,” Neto said Wednesday. “It was custom made to my height and the angle I wanted. I love it. My putting has improved.”

Bradley says what makes the club special starts with the smooth way the golf ball comes off the bamboo after impact and ends with perfect balance to keep the face on line. In between are a host of details only a retired engineer would sweat. Which fits, as Bradley has been sweating the details of projects for years.

Back in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, he worked as a team leader for Sun Microsystems. He is the original author of Open Firmware, a standard of defining computer interfaces later adopted by Apple and IBM. He helped develop voice recognition technology and also worked on the nonprofit initiative One Laptop per Child. That project involved designing and building inexpensive, durable laptop computers to be distributed to children in the developing world.

Bradley sands a bamboo putter head that is under construction in his Olinda shop. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“Trying to get computers into the hands of kids who couldn’t even get books,” Bradley said.

Then came retirement and his woes on the greens.

“As I had more time to play golf, I tried to practice my way out of that and I just got worse,” he said. “I practiced putting so much it hurt my back. At that point I thought, maybe it’s time to try a new approach. I started experimenting with what happens if I stand up straighter instead of bending over so much. I created a prototype that would let me stand up straighter and it had some wonderful things about it and it had some problems.”

He set about fixing the problems and “sort of stumbled upon something that was just magic.”

“At that point I was putting better than ever before and ran with it.”

He said the challenge was to manufacture something that looked good and would last.

“I already had a lot of the tools, but upgraded some of them and had to buy some new drill presses,” he said.

Most of the milling machines, routers and presses in his shop are computer controlled to allow him to make precise, three-dimensional cuts, bevels and holes. Alongside the high-tech gear are handmade templates and guides Bradley has created to make the process easily repeatable. A small, flat metal “teeter-totter” allows him to find the exact center weight of a finished head so the shaft can be affixed in the right spot to achieve perfect balance.

“I had to invent a lot of secondary things like the system I use for custom fitting people,” he said.

Watching him glide around the shop, it seems that solving mechanical challenges is what makes it fun for Bradley.

“I got that from my dad, to go out into the workshop and try to make something,” he said.

Bradley started constructing the putter heads out of bamboo flooring he glued together. Now that the flooring is hard to come by, he has switched to bamboo countertop material. He starts with blanks sized to let him cut out eight heads in one session.

Once the heads are drilled and sanded, Bradley turns them over to Haiku surfboard shaper Karl Hill. Hill uses a computer-controlled laser to etch the Honu logo on the bottom of the putters. He also applies three coats of UV-stabilized surfboard resin.

Bradley said it takes him a couple hours to make each head, but his biggest challenge lately has been sourcing materials. Grips and head covers are currently on back order. He’s concerned about keeping bamboo in stock.

If the supply vexations continue, the soon-to-be 64-year-old golfer, who carries a handicap in the “2 to 5 range” may need to substitute hours in the workshop for more rounds on the course. As long as his putts keep rolling into the cup, that trade cannot be all bad.

The Mainland price for a non-custom-fitted Honu Putter runs from $335 to $425. Kamaaina discounts are available. To learn more, log on to honugolf.com.

* Matthew Thayer can be reached at thayer@maui.net.

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