Black Lab Golf – A New Beginning

Black Lab BL-2 Proto 9

Introduction

Years ago, when I started down the slippery slope of boutique putters, I happened upon a company called C&L Putters and went so far as to visit with one of the founders during a family vacation that brought me to Savannah, Georgia.  That man I met was Chip Usher – one half of C&L and owner of Usher Golf.  My first impression of Chip Usher was that he’s a regular guy that genuinely loves what he does and likes helping people.

Chip has always enjoyed working with tools and building things, so when he took up golf at 15, it was only a matter of time before he started working on his own clubs in his parent’s garage.  As a teenager, his family dog was a Black Lab, and her doghouse was built-in under the work bench in the garage, so Chip spent many a night working away on golf clubs while the dog slept under the bench.  Over time, guys from his club started noticing Chip’s work which led to him building custom Persimmon drivers and component irons for them.  Eventually, Chip turned this hobby into a profession and started Usher Golf which would be a full service repair and equipment shop.

In time, Chip’s love for golf and tinkering with equipment would lead to starting a couple of putter companies and opening his eyes to a whole new sector of the golf industry.  His company, C&L, would have a run of about seven years and would eventually give way to his new putter company, Black Lab Golf.

C&L Putters

It’s always interesting to learn how people come together and start a business.  In the case of C&L, Chip Usher started the company with Lee Harville in early 2007.  As you can probably tell, the name was derived from their first initials being put together.  Chip and Lee started C&L after working together to value an impressive Scotty Cameron putter collection.  From there, Chip asked Lee if he’d be interested in starting a company to make putters in smaller runs.  Lee agreed, and they started looking for vendors to mill single-piece, 350 gram putter heads.

After finding the right vendors, C&L designed some traditional head shapes and custom stamped and finished each putter based on customer specs.  This truly made for a one-of-a-kind putter for each customer at an affordable price point.  C&L had some success and definitely established themselves as one of the better names in boutique putter industry.  They were even featured in a Golf Digest article some years ago about boutique putter makers that were “must-see.”  They developed a strong cult following and really proved to be a special little company.  What was nice with C&L was that you could get a single-piece milled putter head in either stainless or carbon steel, hand finished to your custom desires, and it didn’t break the bank.

After a couple of years, and a little buzz in the industry, C&L started to slow down and seemed to be working toward an end.  Chip and Lee decided to call it a day and move on to new projects in early 2015.

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Black Lab Golf

When I first reached out to Chip, I asked about C&L and doing a review.  I remembered my trip to his shop in Georgia years ago and thought it would be a good opportunity to promote one of the good guys in the game.  Long story short, Chip informed me that C&L was no more but that Black Lab Golf was in the works.

In early 2015, Chip Usher bought out his business partner, Lee, and relaunched his brand as Black Lab Golf.  I mentioned Chip’s Black Lab sleeping under the work bench earlier, and he’s had multiple Black Labs since, so they hold a special place in his heart which is why he chose to go that way with the Black Lab branding.  This is a company that Chip launched not to take the industry by storm, but because of a love for the game, craftsmanship, and working with people.  His bread and butter will always be what he does with Usher Golf, but Black Lab gives him the ability to connect with his customers in a different way and leave his customers feeling like they have a truly one-of-a-kind putter that is special to them.

Chip is looking to make very high quality one-piece milled putters with traditional designs and finishes for his customers.  He likes to do custom builds and hand stamps for each of his customers and really give them something they feel connected to.  Chip told me, “I want people to enjoy their putters and feel that they are more personal than other clubs in the bag.”  Some of this has to do with the person buying the putter, but a lot of this has to do with the man making them and Chip seems to understand that.

I think what I find most appealing about Chip’s effort with Black Lab Golf is the value in the product.  Chip’s repeated to me numerous times that he does this for fun and isn’t looking to sell a billion putters a year.  He also doesn’t feel like it’s worth his time trying to compete at an ultra high-end price point, so you end up getting a modestly priced putter that’s better than a lot of putters costing thousands of dollars.

Black Lab BL-2 Proto 7

The Putter

After a couple weeks talking to Chip about ideas on how to announce the launch of Black Lab Golf, we decided on doing a Feature talking about the companies and their history, and what Black Lab Golf has to offer.  Chip simply asked, “What do you want to make?”  I sent him four pictures of a putter from another manufacturer and told Chip “this, but better.”  Next thing I knew, a blank BL-2 putter head (Chip’s take on the classic Anser 2 head shape) was at my house, and Chip sent me an email asking me to draw on it and show him what I’d want to see in the head.  I sent the putter head back to Chip and left it at “we’ll be in touch” knowing Chip had plenty of other priorities to work on.

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Weeks later, I get an email from Chip saying “I’m working on a prototype design, and I would love your input.”  When I opened the pictures, it was the putter he made for me with everything I was looking for.  The putter itself started as a basic BL-2 head with the standard Black Lab face milling.  By the time Chip was done with it, he had softened the face milling to make it a light mill, shaved down the heel and toe by hand, and drilled three tour dots in the cavity.  All the of the handwork on this putter would be a minimal up-charge with Black Lab Golf, but it might cost you thousands with another manufacturer.

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My first trip to the course with this putter was beyond satisfying.  This BL-2 Prototype has a solid feel and amazing response, but a soft, clicky sweet spot as a result of the lighter face milling.  The construction of the putter is perfectly balanced, and the weighting is just right, so putting a nice controlled stroke on the ball is extremely easy.

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Final Thoughts

When I think of all the putters I’ve had over the years, I can think of a lot of highlights and disappointments, whether it was something super rare, expensive, extremely custom, or just plain cool.  Occasionally there’s a good story to go with it.  Throughout this process with Chip Usher, I would say I’ve developed a strong friendship with Chip because he sincerely cares about the connection he makes with people.  I also believe in what he does at many different levels, but specifically with Black Lab Golf.  Chip will admit to you that he doesn’t 100% know what the future of Black Lab looks like, but for now he’s concentrating on making really good putters for those that want them.  I can speak from experience that when you get a putter from Chip, you genuinely feel the care and consideration that Chip put into your putter, and it makes the experience worth it.  On top of that, you will be hard pressed to find a better quality putter at his price point.

For those wondering, I strongly anticipate that my Black Lab Golf BL-2 Prototype putter will stay in my bag for quite some time.  Not just because it’s an amazing putter, but because it was genuinely made from the heart of a guy who really takes pride in all of his work.  I will forever be a big Chip Usher fan, and I hope I can do my part in sharing his craft with others.

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Bill Bush

Co-Founder
Bill is a true golf gear nerd by definition who loves making custom club creations in his garage with tools like sledge hammers, blow torches, and his bare hands. By day, Bill is a technology manager living in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and kids. Bill plays Scott Readman Concepts putters and accessories.

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