Is it a putter or is it a training aid? It's both. "It" is the Zen Oracle Tour, which can be used both as a putting trainer and as a putter. Our overall rating of the Zen Oracle Tour is positive, but we liked it much more as a putter than as a training aid. Had we rated the club twice, it would have received 4 stars as a putter and 3 as a training aid. Hence our overall 3.5-star rating.
The Zen Oracle Tour comes with a 20-minute video of noted instructor Rick Smith demonstrating how to use the club as a training aid. As you'll notice in the photos, the Zen Oracle Tour's clubhead has a hole in it - an aperture into which a golf ball fits perfectly.
The training methods all involve using a ball in that aperture. Depending on the putt being practiced, the point might be to release that ball forward (tracking behind the putted ball) or rearward (tracking toward a second ball that has been placed behind the putter but on the line of the putt).
The drill I found most helpful was for short putts. The ball is placed in the aperture for a putt of about three feet, with no other ball in front of the clubface. The point is to take a short backswing (without releasing the ball), then a full follow-through that releases the ball toward the cup. This helps counteract the tendency in recreational golfers to decelerate on short putts. If you decelerate, the ball won't track to the hole - or may not release at all.
Our testers were pretty lukewarm to the training methods, however. They seem a little counterintuitive (which doesn't mean they don't work - more on that in a second), and many of our testers found themselves overswinging or swiveling their heads to look behind them or follow the ball in the aperture.
But there are some training aids that work much better the worse the golfers using them become; and there also training aids that work better as they are placed in the hands of better golfers.
I have a feeling that the Zen Oracle Tour falls into the latter category as a training aid. Because there are some big names who have used or are using the Zen Oracle as part of their putting practice: Spike McRoy, Rich Beem, Paul Goydos, Gary Nicklaus, Shaun Micheel, Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby, to name a few. And, of course, Rick Smith endorses the product and made the video.
Reaction to the Zen Oracle Tour as a putter (it's USGA conforming) was much stronger and very positive. The weight and feel were both very well received. The club is face balanced and very easily promotes a back-and-through stroke.
The aperture plays a big role in that. Combined with the extended mallet shape and the "sole wings," the aperture helps distribute the weight rearward and around the perimeter. That means a large sweet spot and extra stability.
The insert material helps in that regard, too. The "E.S.P." insert is an elastomer co-polymer that is very close to the material used on the cover of most golf balls. And it's not a face insert - it's poured throughout the center of gravity of the putter, which redistributes more weight.
As a result, the Zen Oracle Tour is one great feeling putter.
The only drawback we discovered is that distance control on long putts took some getting used to. We had a tendency to leave a lot of long putts short when we first started using the putter, as did many of our testers.
Something interesting on the instructional video that comes with the Zen Oracle Tour: Rick Smith was leaving a lot of his long putts short, too.
The insert material provides such a soft feel that it can fool you on long putts. But we finally learned to give it just a little more oomph on long putts.
And while you aren't going to buy a putter for this reason, we'll go ahead and throw in that the complimentary headcover is one of the best we've run across.
This is definitely a product we can recommend you try out if you're in the market for both a putter and a putting trainer. Why buy two when you can get two for the price of one? Just be sure you're committed to the training methods described in the video and instructional booklet that will come with the Zen Oracle Tour.