The first time Jimmy Carbonetti reached out to me, I didn’t think much about it. In this business, messages from readers aren’t uncommon, and his note didn’t stand out among the bunch.
“Hey, how’s it going?” it read. “Just wanted to reach out and say hi to a fellow NYC golfer doing awesome things. We should play a round sometime!”
This wasn’t the first time I’d been contacted by a local seeking to play some golf. To this point, I’d never taken any up on the offer. Scheduling around work travel can be a challenge, and a bulk of my rounds take place on the road. So I thanked Carbonetti for the kind words and went about my day.
He quickly followed up.
“Last year I collaborated with Toulon and Odyssey on a small batch putter with wood I make guitars with,” he said. “We’re working on our second project and I would love to get your thoughts on it. This one is inspired by NYC.”
Now he had my attention.
Jimmy Carbonetti’s passion is music, but his obsession is golf.
No matter the season, temperature or forecast, Carbonetti starts many days the same way — by heading to the course. From Van Cortlandt Park to Dyker Beach, if there’s an early tee time available at an NYC muni, Carbonetti’s there. Golf is hardly the most convenient hobby for a New Yorker, but Carbonetti is a diehard, and little can get in the way of his addiction.
“I’ve been around the game my whole life,” says Carbonetti, 36. “But over the past few years, I’ve become hooked.”
One benefit of working as a luthier is flexible hours, and Carbonetti takes full advantage. He plays 18 in the morning before much of the city is awake and then heads to his office. In his case, the “office” is a guitar shop in south Brooklyn. The Guitar Shop NYC, which Carbonetti co-owns with Eric Cocco and the La Bella Strings company, is in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and serves as a workshop and showroom for the collection of string instruments he builds.
The shop isn’t a place you’ll stumble into by accident. Far away from the busy streets of Manhattan, The Guitar Shop sits in a second-floor walkup space of a nondescript building down the street from a subway stop. The building has no storefront, and rows of tombstones peer back from the cemetery across the street. A small sign next to the stairwell is the only indicator that any commerce takes place here. This is where Carbonetti spends the rest of his day, crafting guitars and listening to old records on a vintage turntable.
The Guitar Shop’s main focus is music, but with Carbonetti working in the studio, golf has left an indelible mark on the space. A set of vintage Ben Hogan Apex irons hang above some of the machinery, and a Golden Tee arcade game sits in another corner. When the showroom’s lounge chairs are moved aside, there’s just enough room to take a full swing with a 7-iron.
“I like to practice my putting on the carpet,” Carbonetti says, as he places a half-empty whiskey bottle on the carpet to aim at. “It really helps my short game in the winter.”
Carbonetti stops, goes to the corner and grabs his newest wand.
“We only made a limited batch of these things,” he says. “I can’t believe it’s finally finished.”
A year after Carbonetti originally reached out, I was finally holding the small batch Odyssey Toulon putter in my hands. And though I’d seen mockups and pictures throughout the year, the real thing just felt different.
The rose-gold head glinted under the fluorescent lights, with its jet-black shaft extending to the tan grip. The crown of the putter featured a wooden plate with Carbonetti’s guitar logo. Beneath that read one word: BROOKLYN
Jimmy Carbonetti has been a New York resident his entire life, and the city inspires most things he does. From music to guitar-building to golf, the Big Apple is a constant influence.
“It’s where I’ve lived my entire life,” he says. “I just love the energy and spirit of this city.”
Raised on Roosevelt Island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, Carbonetti has since lived all over the city. Lower East Side. East Village. Sunset Park. Bensonhurst. You name it.
“It’s a great place to live,” he says. “And it was awesome growing up here.”
As a kid, Carbonetti was introduced to the game by his grandparents, Ken and Jody White. In family outings throughout his childhood, Carbonetti learned to love the game, and to appreciate the passion with which Ken approached any endeavor.
“He would get into something and he’d go all out,” Carbonetti says. “He would always make the stuff, and he passed that on to me.”
A musician since the age of 8, Carbonetti began building guitars in 2007. He’s good at it, too, making instruments for members of Guns ‘N Roses (Richard Fortus), Bush (Chris Traynor) and the Black Keys (Pat Carney). That’s not to mention the success of his own band, Caveman, which has played alongside some of the biggest names in music.
“I made so many great connections in the music world,” he says. “Golf has kind of been the same way for me.”
The most fateful of those connections came in 2021, when he met Sean and Tony Toulon. After their introduction through a mutual friend, Carbonetti knew he wanted to work with the talented putter designers.
“I always just had a big mouth with everything,” Carbonetti says. “And I said, ‘Hey, we should collaborate someday.'”
They did, and the result is one of the most distinctive putters in golf.
The Toulon Carbonetti Brooklyn putter is a hot item, not only because of its limited quantity (it was only available to purchase via lottery) but also because of what lies in the details.
The mill on the putterface is inspired by the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, and a vintage subway token comes as part of the package. Carbonetti suggested La Bella guitar strings be included in the deal as well.
But the pièce de résistance of the entire project comes courtesy of the putter’s wooden crown. Carbonetti hand-crafted each piece individually (much the same way he did with the first putter in the Toulon collaboration), giving every putter a bespoke touch. But this isn’t just any old Home Depot lumber. This wood literally has roots in the city.
The story of this lumber goes back before Carbonetti was even born, and even predates golf’s history in the United States. To find the beginning of this journey, you have to go all the way back to the 1860s, and the creation of one of Brooklyn’s oldest institutions — Prospect Park.
In 1866, the Brooklyn Parks Commissioners hired Olmsted, Vaux & Company to transform 585 acres of forest and rocky farmland into a park in central Brooklyn. The goal was to create a landscape whose beauty “would nurture the mind, the body and even the fabric of society.” Within a year, Prospect Park welcomed more than 100,000 visitors through its gates each month.
Amid this green space, a European Elm grew its roots. There it remained for 145 years as Brooklyn, New York City and (eventually) Carbonetti transformed around it. When it reached adulthood, the tree had grown to 80 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter. In 2015, the tree was removed, and the lumber went to a reclamation yard.
Six years later, Carbonetti walked in the doors. Once he saw the wood from that Prospect Park elm, he’d found the inspiration for his putter.
“I wanted this putter to have a story,” Carbonetti says. “And I wanted to honor New York City at the same time.”
On the surface level, the story of this putter is obvious. It’s a wand that pays tribute to one of the world’s greatest cities, crafted by a lifelong resident.
But when you dig a little deeper, you’re confronted with the story of Carbonetti — a musician, luthier and golfer who found the perfect way to marry his greatest passions.
Putters and guitars might come from two different worlds, but Carbonetti understands the connection between the two. They’re both designed for performance, but with room for flair. You can tell a lot about a golfer based on the putter they wield. The same is true of guitars. And they all have a story behind them.
“What kind of story did you hope this putter tells?” I ask Carbonetti in his studio.
He pauses to collect his thoughts. He looks at the guitars lining the walls, and back at the putters we’ve been talking over for the past hour.
“I hope it tells the story of someone who’s so obsessed with golf that they gave it their all to make something in the sport come to life,” he says. “But also someone who’s obsessed with New York City and its history who wants to leave a mark in the city that they love.”
Carbonetti picks up the Toulon Carbonetti Brooklyn putter from the corner and raps a putt toward the whiskey bottle on the floor. The ball hits dead center and careens away on the carpet.
“I can’t wait to get on the course and use this thing,” he says.
Carbonetti is already thinking about his next round.