OA: Neon artist creates unique, usable glass putters

Neon artist Paul Cruz is branching out into creating handblown glass golf clubs at his studio. Each golf club is unique and comes with a certificate of authenticity, and can be used for putting on the golf course.

Walking past cantinas in Texas as a kid, Paul Cruz was fascinated by the neon beer signs: Corona, Heineken, Lone Star.

One day he worked up the nerve to go inside a bar and see the glowing signs up close.

“I had to touch it,” said Cruz, a Grand Junction neon artist. “I wanted to see if it was hot ... drove me crazy.”

The luminous glass tubes were cool to the touch. He looked for a filament, such as what is in a light bulb. There was nothing.

That memory stuck with him and when his career as a coal miner ended because of an on the job injury, Cruz decided to pursue neon art or glass bending.

These days you can find Cruz at the Neon Factory, 440 Independent Ave., with his dog Rico, a fuzzy cocker spaniel that greets visitors at the door and wags his tail so hard his whole rear shakes.

When Cruz has an idea, he feels he must follow through on it. As an artist, visionary and creator he figures out a way to make it.

In late 2006, he decided he wanted to make a set of golf putters out of blown glass.

“I didn’t just want an art piece,” he said. “I wanted a functional art piece.”

A golfer had to be able to whack a ball with the glass putter head, even though a fundamental feature of glass is to shatter on hard contact.

Cruz enlisted the help of Frank Klapal, a family friend and professional golf club maker, the glass blowers at Monument Art Glass and Steve LeDonne, co-owner of Golf Tec.

Klapal helped Cruz with the specifications needed to make a putter with the exact balance, feel and power as those made of the more traditional metals such as stainless steel or aluminum.

The Monument Art Glass closed shortly after the putter heads were completed, but the glass blowers there worked with Cruz through the trial and error process. It took a year and a half to get the glass right with no chips or cracks.

LeDonne attached the metal shafts to the putters. 

“I will not do this again. I swear on my life,” Cruz said. “The whole thing was impossible.”

He did it, though.

In his shop today Cruz has seven putters, with heads that sparkle in the light, woven with ribbons of color.

“They look like diamonds in the rough,” Cruz said.

Just to be sure they worked, he loaned the set to some of his golfer friends. Cruz said they
didn’t want to give the putters back.

He calls them The Magnificent Seven, a signature glass putter design series. Each one is different, including the one left-handed putter with a collage of vibrant shades of blue, red, orange, yellow and green. Cruz is keeping it for himself.

He found an old original poster from the 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven” and liked the theme so much that he added his glass putters into the poster with Photoshop.

Then he made custom club covers embroidered with “The Magnificent Seven.”

Klapal and LeDonne both said they’ve never seen or heard of anything like the glass putters.

“Not before those, no,” Klapal said. “It’s very much unusual.”

LeDonne is letting Cruz display the putters at Golf Tec, 625 24 1/2 Road, starting Monday, Jan. 5. They will stay at the golf store for a couple of weeks.

The putters are for sale and come with a certificate of authenticity.


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