Tra­di­tion meets Tech­nol­ogy

From the fac­tory to the test­ing ground, no stone is left un­turned...

Golf Monthly - - Honma -

Shortly af­ter our ar­rival at the Sakata plant, it was time to head off on a whis­tle-stop fac­tory tour to wit­ness some of Honma’s renowned crafts­man­ship, with Mr Hiroshi Suwa, man­ag­ing ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of prod­uct devel­op­ment, act­ing as our guide. I say whis­tle-stop, but with so many pro­duc­tion stages it was a full two hours be­fore we sat down to lunch in the staff can­teen, just be­fore a Big Ben-style chime sum­moned the en­tire work­force in.

We watched one man as he care­fully filed and shaped a block of per­sim­mon into a mock driver head, and it was in­ter­est­ing to learn that ev­ery Honma club starts with the aes­thet­ics, with tech­nol­ogy and per­for­mance then built into a shape that is pleas­ing to the eye – you’ve got to like what you’re look­ing down on first.

A de­mand­ing job

We looked at early pen­cil draw­ings, CAD ren­di­tions be­ing tweaked and re­fined and one worker painstak­ingly hand-fin­ish­ing iron heads on a grind­ing wheel, sport­ing a pair of gloves he had de­signed him­self for the spe­cific de­mands of his role. Those de­mands had left him with an ex­tra­or­di­nary bulging mus­cle across the back of his neck – the fruits of a con­stant need to ap­ply pres­sure be­tween club­head and wheel.

We toured racks of clubs both fin­ished and un­fin­ished and watched crafts­men and mas­ter crafts­men at work, some spray-paint­ing met­al­wood heads in one of Honma’s 16 be­spoke colours, oth­ers paint­ing shafts. One mas­ter crafts­man with 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence showed us how mov­ing the shaft through the paint supply at dif­fer­ent speeds af­fected the fi­nal colour. “These guys paint hun­dreds of shafts a day and ev­ery one looks ex­actly the same,” Sanchez tells me. “This is the beauty of Ja­pan, where work life goes in stages from learner to ap­pren­tice to crafts­man af­ter many years of do­ing ex­actly the same rou­tine.”

We watched shafts be­ing han­drolled from thin sheets of graphite fi­bre, found out how Honma checks the grooves on its irons and wedges via a small coloured plug be­ing com­pressed on to the face and then an­a­lysed, and watched one worker test­ing ev­ery driver head to en­sure that faces con­formed to The R&A’S CT test re­quire­ments (for­merly COR).

Af­ter lunch, we headed down to Honma’s R&D and test fa­cil­ity, where we watched the ro­botic ball-hit­ting ma­chine go­ing through its paces, be­fore I fi­nally had a Honma club in my hands to treat it to my slightly less ro­botic swing on a test fair­way carved out of a for­est. It was ac­tu­ally wider than it looked and ev­ery club I hit I quickly got the hang of, with the Tworld747 3-wood in par­tic­u­lar work­ing a treat. For a fleet­ing mo­ment, I re­ally did have it on a string be­fore op­er­a­tor er­ror proved too much, even for this beau­ti­fully crafted golf club.

The next day, we trav­elled south of Tokyo to Atami on the fa­mous high-speed Shinkansen ‘bul­let train’ and then on to the Kawana Ho­tel near Ito. Here, we got the chance to try out the Tworld747 range on the re­sort’s world top 100-ranked Fuji course.

The per­fect set­ting

This very pretty part of south Ja­pan hugs the coast, with Kawana en­joy­ing splen­did elevated views out over the Pa­cific. The Fuji course came af­ter the orig­i­nal Oshima course and opened in 1936. It is the hand­i­work of Charles Ali­son, a close as­so­ciate of Harry Colt.

If the qual­ity of a course is dic­tated by the qual­ity of its to­pog­ra­phy and set­ting, then the Fuji course was on to a winner from the start, with its dra­matic opener plung­ing down maybe 150ft to the fair­way be­low. Euro­pean golfers were clearly a nov­elty here, and a fair few peo­ple were milling around when I drew back my Tworld747 driver to strike my first blow in anger.

I’m de­lighted to re­port that club met ball very solidly, despatch­ing it some 300 yards down the fair­way (helped greatly by the el­e­va­tion!), leav­ing a mere wedge in. This stun­ning course then turns left along the coast, with the beauty of its de­sign mean­ing that when­ever you ven­ture away from the clifftops, you know you will be re­turn­ing at some stage from tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of other cliff-edge holes not yet played.

Mount Fuji, sadly, was partly shrouded in cloud when it came into view, but the dra­matic par 5s at 11 and 15 more than made up for it, the for­mer play­ing round to the light­house, the lat­ter drop­ping down spec­tac­u­larly be­fore ris­ing gen­tly to a wide green.

The clubs set­tled in very well, with the Tworld747 Vx irons in par­tic­u­lar a real rev­e­la­tion. With just a hole to go I was on course to play to hand­i­cap with clubs I’d only laid eyes on the day be­fore. Sadly, a thinned wedge into 18 and the en­su­ing three-putt put paid to that, but I would point the fin­ger firmly at travel weari­ness and an awk­ward lie. The clubs per­formed im­pec­ca­bly, and as we set off back to Tokyo, I was left to won­der if I too might be­come a Honma player in 2019. We shall see…

“These guys paint hun­dreds of shafts a day and ev­ery one looks ex­actly the same”

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