Story of Manufacturing

The story on Development of MG701
To Hell With Our Fixed Concepts!

Ever since our establishment, we at Honma Golf have strived for the perfect flexible iron.

We wouldn’t settle for anything less than the most satisfying of sounds when the ball is hit, the accompanying feel in the hand?and the accompanying exhilaration. For many years, Honma held the belief that, as the name indicates, iron was the material most suited to this type of club. However, severe development competition between manufacturers in recent years had created a demand for even better carry for irons.

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Two years ago, a certain manufacturer released the mother of all irons. With this stainless steel iron, which featured excellent carry and stability, all you had to do was hit the ball to send it flying. Though it was expensive, it took the market virtually by storm, especially with seniors.

In fact, Honma was not without a stainless steel club at that time. However, in contrast to our competitor's club, with a thickness of just 2.5 mm at the face, ours was 3 mm. A difference of just 0.5 mm spelled a tremendous difference in carry.

“Honma clubs look cool, but they’re hard to peg the ball with.”

“The stainless club was expensive but the carry is so good that I bought it.”

“I wonder why Honma doesn’t make more stainless steel clubs.”

The development staff at Sakata Plant were so into their work that they even when to the driving range on their days off! And these are the kind of remarks they heard.

Suwa, deputy director of the plant, remembered something that had happened 20 years before.

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It was when Honma Golf started selling the Plus-2 irons. This club was a favorite among golfers―the kind of club that took your playing buddies by surprise because you only needed a more-lofted club.

However, at the time the cavity iron did not exist yet. To produce excellent carry, the loft was made two degrees stronger in a simple structure. And now, 20 years later, the iron structure has became more complicated with the debut of the cavity. To make up for the limitations of this structure, we needed to research materials that would produce carry.

“Now’s the time to come up with new materials instead of fixating on iron,” thought Suwa, who quickly bought one of our competitor's irons for himself. The sound and feel you get at impact were better with a soft iron, but the ball did fly five to ten yards higher than it does with other clubs.

What the hell is it that takes the ball so much further with a difference of just half a millimeter?

Our analyses indicated that a thinner face design means more flexure, which bolsters restitution, and thereby carry. Also, a thinner face is a lighter face, which means the head center of gravity could be lowered to ensure stability on shots.

Without a doubt, this iron was the ideal choice for average golfers. Suwa immediately set the development team to work, imploring them, “Let’s make a stainless steel face of 2.5 mm or less!”

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A Micro-Scale Battle!

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There are two means of making an iron head. The first is forging, where molten iron rods form a top-and- bottom mold, and the second is casting, where molten iron is poured into the .casting mold. We at Honma Golf have consistently focused ion the casting process. Much more so than forging, casting allows for a complicated, state-of-the art head structure.

Let’s take a look at the iron production process at Sakata Plant. Firstly, a lump of lead is ground down with a file once it has hardened, and a master head model is made. Upon taking a mold of the master model, melted wax is poured into it.

The wax cools and you have a lump of wax in the shape of a head. Sand is rubbed repeatedly on the surface. Once it dries, the wax is heated and washed off, and the sand casting mold is complete. Then molten iron is fed into the mold in a blast furnace. Though the sand casting mold is heat-resistant, it can crack easily, like the shell of an egg. Once the iron cools and hardens and the mold is broken, the head prototype is done. This is a traditional casting technique that has been passed down since the time of the Great Buddha at Nara.

Getting back to our story,

one day the team at Sakata Plant under Suwa was presented with four iron heads. They had each been welded with a different size face: 1.9 mm, 2.0 mm. 2.2 mm, and 2.4 mm. For the moment, they were made of standard stainless steel.

The development team proceeded with restitution testing on the prototypes.

The 1.9 mm iron head produced the best carry, but it had a durability issue.

As revealed by impact testing, the head speed of average golfers is 40m/second. At the point when the head was hit more than 2,000 times, hairline cracks began to appear in the face line of the 1.9 mm, 2.0 mm, and 2.2 mm clubs, though these were so small that they could only be seen with a magnifying glass. Just to be sure, we sprayed the face with a special testing spray. A red color would show up in any cracks. When this happened, sighs could be heard from the members development team who’d come running to see it.

“Oh no, the face is cracked….”

The only prototype that didn’t crack during testing was the 2.4 mm.

But we felt that even if we commercialized the 2.4 that it would be a poor imitation of products that were already on the market.

We wanted to make a 1.9 mm that wouldn’t crack, even if it meant putting the Honma Golf name and tradition on the line. We started looking around for even more durable stainless steel. Suwa recalled a certain U.S. manufacturer that had visited the plant three years earlier.

“I bet we can use steel from Carpenter….,” he thought.

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Going for the Ideal Face Thickness

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Three years ago, someone in charge of materials at a U.S. steel company visited the Sakata Plant. He introduced a newly developed, high-strength stainless steel to Suwa and his team. However, the prevailing view at Honma at the time was that iron clubs should be made of highly flexible iron materials that produce a good feel when the ball is struck. So the new material was put on the shelf.

Then, down the road, the day came when Suwa contacted steel company. Three years later, they had come with an even stronger material. He then requested that a prototype be made with this new material, marking Honma’s first real shift to stainless steel after many years of remaining loyal to soft iron.

But the question remained: Why the change from soft iron to stainless steel for irons anyway?

Stainless steel is a material made by mixing nickel or chrome with iron. It is less prone to rust than iron, and it is heat and cold-resistant. In addition, it can be created thinner than iron due to its strength. And the thinner the material, the higher the restitution.

The harder the head, the more excess power is placed on the ball at impact, which can keep the ball from flying at its optimal best. This creates loss of energy, giving rise to spin and hindering carry.

If the head has flexure, on the other hand, it absorbs the power placed on the ball, energy is distributed, and there is a synergistic effect which packs the ball flying. This is the same principle utilized by smash hitters in tennis, who intentionally keep the gut on their rackets loose. It is also the same principle as the urethane-wrapped bats used in softball to engender distance.

Soft iron is difficult to render thin compared to stainless steel. In addition to the resultant limitations on flexure, this means that a certain strength level is required to send the ball flying. However, there are many golfers who prefer the unique feel of the soft irons. For these individuals, the Beres line includes the BERES TW901 iron, which is designed for pro athletes.

Working together with steel company, Sakata Plant introduced a number of improvements to create prototypes that we hoped would pass the strike tests. We came up with 1.8, 1.9, 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 mm iron heads. Tested at a head speed of 40 m/second, the 1.8 exhibited the best carry, but tended to be inconsistent. The next best carry was produced by the 1.9 mm, and this face was more consistent. The 2.0 models and up did not perform as well carry-wise.

The development team concluded that the 1.9 mm was the ideal face for the average golfer.

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The Dawn of a New Era

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So just how much striking could the iron head with a face only 1.9mm in thickness take? We attached it to a strike-test robot at the plant. Our litmus test was the prototype we had created half a year before, which has cracked after 2,000 strikes.

The robot began hitting the ball at a consistent head speed of 40 meters/second. After 10-plus hours of hitting, the number of strikes had surpassed 2,000. The development team was nervous as they prepared to inspect the face, but―look and behold―there were no cracks! The testing continued through the night. “We couldn't sleep at all,” Abe, plant director, said of the time. After two days, there was still no damage to the face. The third day of testing began. The number of strikes had topped 10,000. This number was far greater than conventional tests. Still no cracks!!!

The team was elated. Immediately attaching a shaft to the 1.9 mm head to create a prototype, they headed for the driving range.

Metallic sounds echoed through the range. The sound was more high-pitched that of soft irons. Suwa didn’t feel comfortable with the sound. He returned to the research lab, adding urethane and rubber to the cavity aperture to minimize the sound. However, this caused the head to exceed the weight criteria, and it didn’t look good enough, either.

Trying to come up with a solution, he also decided to hold a competition amongst his team members.

And then he realized something.

Though the high-pitched sound had echoed at the range, there was nothing to echo off of at the course, and out there the club actually sounded as if a professional had hit the ball.

It was the same as when the transition from persimmon to titanium had been made for the wood club: Suwa felt a new age was upon them. Now, two years later, there are golfers who actually prefer the unique sound of stainless steel clubs, and many use that sound to put pressure on their fellow players.

Now the question was what to do about the look. The team rendered the head upright and the heel higher to facilitate offset and enhance sharpness, making it a design where the ball could be hit more easily.

The blade top was crafted thicker for better looks. This also served to render the head heavier, which meant better carry even on off-center shots. Further, we shortened the hosel and made the sole thicker to bring down the center of gravity for better stability. We also used improved bond glue on the shorter hosel and crafted a greater surface area where the glue was applied. The shaft was easily attached.

This combination of sharpness and softness concluded the Beres MG701?the average golfer’s dream club.

Still, we at Honma have never stopped giving the soft iron the attention it deserves. We believe that just as there are manual and automatic shift automobiles, the soft iron, which has its own special feel on impact, will never disappear despite the application of new materials. At the same time, we believe that the tendency to stick to any one thing should never be allowed to hinder development in other areas.

To ensure that we at Sakata produce the ultimate clubs to make all golfers’ dreams come true, we take great care with every step we take.

(The story on Development of MG701/Fin)

*characters's name, title, position and other circumstances have been discribed as used to be at the time

Story of Manufacturing