In this series, MyGolfSpy will introduce you to a variety of Japanese equipment companies. Think of it like speed dating, but a bit slower and without all of the awkwardness.

As you'd expect, these companies have a stronger following in Asia, and to a lesser degree, Europe. Additionally, all are at different stages of "trying to figure out North America"  - meaning they all realize the cache of potential customers in North America and the opportunity for growth which exists if and when they can capitalize on it. These companies offer a variety of product lines, price points, and technologies.

In some cases, there are feuds between companies, and all have diehard customer bases. Some names are familiar, and others likely won't ring any sort of bell.

But they're all bound by a common identity, one rooted in a particular geographic location where golf is status and forged irons are their own form of currency.

GROUNDING

While there are exceptions, the following is typical of Japanese equipment companies.

They all claim to produce premium forged irons and boast an attention to detail. As a result, most are not large volume operations and prioritize quality over quantity. Few ascribe to traditional 18 or 24-month product cycles, so designs which are 3-5 years old aren't uncommon.

Japanese companies play to the value of a club as more than a tool to advance the ball around the course. Many of them articulate the design and production of clubs as a quest for perfection. In that context, these companies regard equipment as implements which connect the golfer to the game, and performance isn't defined by a single measurement of ball speed.

People refer to companies as JDM or Japanese Domestic Market. All this term means is they produce equipment intended primarily for the Japanese market. There isn't anything inherently better with JDM clubs specific to the materials used to create them.  They do, however,  feature specs and designs which appeal and fit the target market of Asia.

Japanese clubs are more expensive, although as prices across the board have increased, the price gap between JDM and non-JDM equipment has narrowed. For example, the TaylorMade P750 Tour Proto irons start at $200/club. The Callaway Apex Pro comes in at $150/club off the rack. Some of the premium JDM prices have to do with increased labor costs associated with hand finishing and adherence to tighter tolerances. Another contributing factor is golf in Japan is a form of social status, and people are willing (and expect) to pay higher prices for equipment and other golf related expenses.

Because of their attention to detail, demand for tight tolerances and refined forging processes, these companies often forge clubs for other manufacturers. For example, Endo(EPON)  forges for Srixon and Bridgestone. Miura has forged for TaylorMade and others. This list is not inclusive, but you get the picture.

MIURA Irons and Wedges-14

MIURA - ORIGIN STORY

Katsuhiro Miura (founder of Miura Golf) began forging golf clubs in 1957 in Himeji, Japan. Before the 1950s, this area of Japan was well known for the ancient art of Samurai sword making. While the two techniques don't have anything substantive to do with each other, the appreciation for forged metal as both art and product remains a cultural reality. Katsuhiro, who is responsible for design and manufacturing, works in the factory on a daily basis, where's he's spent decades teaching his two sons, Yoshitaka and Shinei, his techniques. It's reasonable to expect they will take over for their father when the time comes.

Over the last 60 years, the Miura family has become synonymous with quality Japanese forgings, establishing credibility in part by forging clubs for other OEM's premium lines and fielding requests from individual players. However, because of contractual agreements, player names are never published. To date, Miura has released ten series of clubs, only introducing a new model when there's demonstrably different and better performance.

This is a small family run operation where each and every club head passes through a rigorous inspection at the Miura owned forge and factory in Himeji, Japan. Part of this process includes hand finishing by a master craftsman. While the factory isn't running at full capacity, don't expect Miura to become a mass-produced iron, regardless of new ownership. Speaking of which...

MIURA Irons and Wedges-19

LANDSCAPE

Miura is the midst of a structural reorganization.  Earlier this year, Howard Milstein became the majority owner and named Hoyt McGarity (CEO and founder of True Spec club fitting) as president. Milstein is Co-chairman of the privately held Nicklaus Companies and President/CEO of the nation's largest family-owned and privately run bank.

This is significant because the large cash infusion provides Miura space to take full stock of current practices, refresh marketing efforts and reorganize North American distribution channels.

That said, don't expect Miura to stray far from it's hand-crafted, niche identity. McGarity states,

"PXG isn't our competitor...Miura isn't here to disrupt the world." This isn't throwing shade at PXG or any other company, but the salient point here is Miura isn't setting out to change who they are as much as they're engaging in a process to refine their identity and clean up what's a rather cluttered and scattered image.

As a privately held company, it’s reluctant to release and data regarding sales, revenue or market share. Holding this information close to the vest isn't abnormal for privately held companies, but it does make it difficult to quantify the bottom-line impact of any strategic changes in product line, distribution or marketing. The upside is you're not inclined to chase sales numbers which may or may not be indicative of where a company is at relative to it's stated goals.

MIURA Irons and Wedges-4

Regarding "figuring out North America," Miura is a bit ahead in this race largely due to the hiring of McGarity. Because of his already established distribution networks, Miura is able to access an infrastructure other companies don't yet have.

A question worth considering is what happens should demand does start to exceed supply? Miura isn't capable nor do they want to become mass produced. So, relative to wherever they're at now, how much more can or do they want to grow?

CURRENT LINE

MIURA Irons and Wedges-10

As with everything else, this is a work in progress. McGarity inherited a product line which is admittedly too deep in some areas, too old in others, and across the board lacking in clarity and cohesion.

The first step is to simplify the line, but because this change in ownership occurred mid-cycle, there are still several years of inventory remaining for some of the current models. This means any decisions around new designs aren't likely to surface for at least the next two years and even then, it's more likely Miura will replace individual clubs rather than an entire line.

Irons and wedges are what Miura does best, and this is showcased in what Miura will focus on in 2017. People who gush about Miura generally have experience with one of the player-oriented CB or MB models. That said, the more forgiving models tend to sell best. Let's take a closer look...

Irons

For 2017, Miura will showcase four lines of irons. The MB-001, CB-57, PP-9003 and PP-9005 Genesis. Essentially, you have a muscle back blade, players CB, a larger profile players CB and a multi-material max game-improvement iron.

MIURA Irons and Wedges-12

The MB-001 and CB-57 are quintessential Miura irons. Both are geared toward better ball strikers who are seeking consistent performance and shot-shaping ability. Like the MB-001 and CB-57, the PP-9003 is a two-piece forged club but is incrementally more forgiving and higher launching.

The PP-9005 G may appear new, but it's already been around in Japan for two years, where it's been quite popular. Miura sold through initial inventory more quickly than expected. This iron is unlike others in that it features forged body and 455 Carpenter Steel face for increased ball speeds. Purists will note this iron receives final inspection at the Himeji plant in Japan, but part of the club is manufactured in Taiwan.

Miura does offer several models (blade and CB) for lefties. Check out Miura's website for specs.

Grind Relief Lofts LH? Material
Y Heel/Toe 49, 51, 53, 60 No Soft Carbon
C  Aggressive Heel/Toe 55, 57, 59 No Soft Carbon
K Fluted 52, 56, 60 No Soft Carbon
Wedge None 51,53,55,57,59 Yes Soft Carbon
PP-WOI Cavity Back Model 48, 52, 56 No SUS 304

MIW-1

In my testing, the strength of this line up is highlighted by the CB-57 and the Genesis. The 57 feels every bit as pure as the MB-001, and the extra bit of forgiveness was always welcome. The 9005-G (Genesis) produced the highest initial launch angle and ball speeds. However, with less mass directly behind the ball, the feel was less dense than the CB-57 and MB-001.

For me, the Genesis does everything the PP-9003 does, although the additional offset and thicker topline might be enough to dissuade some purists. In terms of cost, most Miura irons will start between $235-$300/head, depending on which shaft is selected. As previously noted, the Genesis comes in a bit higher at $350/head.

Miura Irons Wedges-41

WHAT MAKES MIURA DIFFERENT

Miura defines quality as the ability to deliver clubs with the tightest spec tolerances in the industry. Speaking with several high-end club builders, they uniformly praised Miura for its quality control and ability to construct clubheads exactly on spec, which makes the building process more precise.

How a club feels is ridiculously difficult to assess and while everyone wants something that feels good we all have slightly different definitions of what good is. With that, I describe Miura as dense, firm and responsive.  Conversely, I wouldn't describe it as overly soft, nor would I use adjectives like hollow or clicky to describe impact.

MIURA Irons and Wedges-2

2017 OUTLOOK

This year will be one where Miura focuses first on marketing and branding, relying on a new website and direct-to-consumer platform to bring the company in line with other OEMs. The intent is to leverage available marketing and brand building avenues to widen the audience while refining its image.

From there, the effort will be organizational as the entire line is in a state of flux, but Miura needs to press on with what's already in inventory while deciding the makeup of future lines.

MIURA Irons and Wedges-15

Once everyone has caught their collective breath, expect 2018 to further clarify what clubs Miura will produce moving forward and what role Miura-Giken will play. Miura-Giken is the label used for clubs released only in the Japanese market with slight modifications for that population. Miura recently announced the availability of the CB-2008 for select fitters and for now, the intention is to purposely limit their availability to select (higher volume) accounts.

WHY PEOPLE ARE CRITICAL and SOMETHING YOU MAY NOT HAVE REALIZED

  • Hoyt McGarity owns True Spec Golf, one of the premier club fitters in the world. He's also the president of Miura Golf.  True Spec currently has 15 locations on three continents and employ a brand agnostic fitting approach, meaning they carry myriad brands and the only criteria is matching clients with the best performing equipment for them, whether it be Miura or any other brand. McGarity promises his dual role won’t have any negative implications for either business, but the conflict of interest is there, even if it’s just theoretical at this point
  • Miura forges irons in two pieces by spin-welding the hosel and head together. Miura says this proprietary process allows them to be more precise in controlling the head weight, loft and lie. Competitors claim this additional step interrupts the energy flow leading to a less desirable feel at impact. This is also what competitors mean when they refer to a club as either a one-piece (hosel and clubhead forged from one piece of metal) or two-piece (spin-welded hosels) forging.
  • With the reorganization, the "sky is falling" contingent already wants to believe Miura has tipped too far over its skis. By admitting a desire to grow the brand, the fear is quality will suffer, and any new product will be a watered-down version of what Miura produced previously. Critics have cited the new Genesis iron, which is partially produced in Taiwan, as evidence - without realizing this iron has been on the market well before Milstein and McGarity entered the picture. It sold out quickly in Japan and like every other Miura iron, it goes through the same ridiculously stringent quality control checks in Himeji.

For now, it’s more prudent to take McGarity at his word and let the process play out. Miura’s chief selling point is that it isn’t mass produced and you have to think part of the conversation with Mr. Milstein centered on a financial arrangement which would allow Miura to maintain it’s identity and grow in a manner which leveraged its history rather than trying to exploit it.

Questions? What else would you like to know? Thoughts? Hopes? Dreams?