Story of Manufacturing

The story on Development of MG702
A Turning Point for the Art of “Honmaism”

“Mr. Azuma, do you have any plans to join the Japan Golf Goods Association?”

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Our president was asked this question by a reporter at a press conference announcing Honma Golf’s new structure.

“I’ll be considering that.”

March 2006 was the beginning of Honma Golf’s new start subsequent to restructuring procedures. Honma Golf had been on top of the industry ever since the company was founded. Honma’s astonishing level of innovation, which often took other companies by surprise, came about precisely because Honma did not cater to these other companies. Indeed, our philosophy of not being part of the crowd has been something of a company motto since our establishment, and Honma Golf was the only golf club manufacturer in the industry that wasn’t affiliated with an industry organization.

Then came the collapse of the asset-inflated “bubble” economy. The lone wolf that led the pack one day wandered away from it. “But isn’t this what makes Honmaism,?” Azuma asked himself.

The story goes back a year. In June 2005, at Honma’s Sakata plant, the second generation concept of the “seven” series, a critical component of the Beres series to be announced in the fall of that year, was being developed. There was great momentum for change during this period, as it was exactly the time when a generational transition was taking place amongst the company’s top management.

Matsuda has just been made director of our sales headquarters, and he went around the company persuading people of the merits of his philosophy, i.e. that “the starting line of manufacturing should be to give first priority to the customer’s perspective.” His ideas were welcomed, and from then on the opinions of the sales department took on a significant role at meetings on development.

Kurikawa, also of the sales department, pointed out that “golfers’ ages are rising.”

“The reason behind the great success of the Twin Marks MG460 was that it offered wonderful carry. Our customers want carry performance from irons. So why don’t we make irons that provide better carry for even average golfers?”

Takumi Sato, who was in charge of irons at the development department, involuntarily shook his head in disbelief. Honma had just produced the ultimate MG701 iron, which was designed to make it breathtakingly easy for golfers to hit the ball. How could we make this model even better, to create an iron that carries even further?

“Even lower, even deeper……”

It was Suwa, manager of the development department, who tapped on Sato’s shoulder as the latter was deep in thought.

“It’s a great thing that we came up with this terrific new concept together with the sales department. Let’s go for it.”

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The meeting was over, and immediately Sato began to draw a model that would outdo the MG701?an iron that would provide excellent carry?right in his sketchbook. Suwa started tackling the project plan.

“An iron that can send the ball flying far and away….Kurikawa’s idea…”

“The Kurikawa san” became the code name for the MG702 iron, a ground-breaking collaborative project between the sales and development departments.

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The “Kurikawa Project” Begins

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The fundamental concept for the new iron had been determined: “getting amazing carry by simply hitting the ball.”

The very first step in achieving the best possible carry was to raise the loft. Simulating the difference between “volleying” and “smashing” in tennis, the more perpendicular the impact is to the ball, the better the carry. To achieve the desired result, the new iron featured a 1.5 degree higher loft than the MG701 as its basic design.

In addition, by making the face progression even greater than that of the MG701, we improved the club’s capacity to propel the ball further. This type of structure, which features a curved neck and a head that falls behind the shaft is called a “gooseneck” for the bird that it resembles. It was crafted as straight as possible so that it would hit the ball at roughly the same time as impact.

In itself, however, this design had disadvantages. Even in cases where the ball landed properly due to a low strike angle, it would tend to roll because of restitution from the side. In other words, even where the ball does in fact land on the green, there is a risk of it rolling off. Further, with middle and long irons, even though the structure does produce carry, the strength to send the ball flying high is required of the golfer. In addition, irons with a straight touch are harder to nail the ball with for golfers who tend to have slower head speed on impact. That means the golfer will definitely tend to slice more often.

The question we faced then was how we could achieve carry for the new iron with the same strike angle as the MG701. The lower the center of gravity of the head, the greater the ability of the golfer to hit the ball higher: the same principle as the pendulum. A design to surpass the MG701?itself already an extremely low-center-of-gravity design: Sato called it,

“the most difficult challenge of my 20-plus-year career.”

Taking the MG701 and the MG702 in your hands and comparing them, you can get an idea of the essence of Sato’s design…..the slightly short hosel, the smooth arch with a widened sole, the eye-catching slits on the heel, the slim, sleek edge, the double edging on the cavity?a first in the industry?and much more. This all serves to illustrate that the craftsmen’s intuition reaches far beyond the limits of hydrodynamics.

Like an artist heading for his studio, Sato headed for the development office at the plant with sketchbook in hand, working with his clumsily sharpened pencil. The complete blueprint inside his head became a series of lines and surfaces on paper. Sato, very much the artist, could draw the subtle shadings of light and shadow as if the object were right there in front of him.

The next step was to create prototypes for items that Suwa gave the nod to. The MG701 prototype was loaded with lead using a soldering gun, which was filed with a gold file. Careful fine-tuning was done throughout this process. At Honma Golf, we had our very own design method: first make the prototype, next generate a CAD diagram. The advantages of this process are that the design can be inspected right there, and at the same time the intuition of the craftsman?something that cannot be duplicated by a computer?comes alive.

One cold night at the end of winter 2006, after many meetings, trials, and a lot of overtime, Sato at last completed the MG702 prototype.

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Starting All Over Again--From Scratch

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The MG702 prototype that Sato had been working so hard on was lost in an accident the next day before daybreak.

And it was not only Sato’s prototype. A great deal of material from the R&D Department, which is the heart of the Sakata Plant, was lost in a matter of a few hours. Hiroshi Suwa, Department Manager, sobbed uncontrollably in front of all of the plant’s employees, who had been called together for an emergency meeting on that morning. The tears of such a strong man brought on more tears, and all of us made a pledge to strive for a rapid recovery.

There was no longer any way that we could possibly delay the development of the MG702, which was scheduled to go on sale a year later. Springing to life immediately after being so entirely crushed by the accident, Sato set to work on re-producing the prototype. Because the specification sheet had also been lost, he had no choice but to rely on his memory for the numerical data and the design. He loaded the master head with lead--grinding it down with a file to complete the prototype--all with a mere two days of lost time.

The MG702 features a number of factors designed to render its center of gravity lower and deeper, including even greater face progression than that of the MG701, plus a l.5 degree higher loft.

Looking back, Sato describes it as a “battle with weight.” The head weight couldn’t be changed at the point where it had already been determined, so instead we had to alter the center of gravity position. We needed to think about where we could shave a few grams, which spots we could shift a few millimeters?and this is where we could really show off our secret know-how!

First, we made the hosel three millimeters shorter than previously, and we altered the surface area where the shaft and head are joined, which reduced hosel weight by a few grams. In addition, we proposed adding the golf industry’s very first double slit to the heel. After trying various numbers of slits, we concluded that two was the magic number in terms of both design and performance.

With these steps, we shifted the center of gravity to the sole.

The center of gravity height, which runs from the sole to the center of gravity, was rendered lower, while the center of gravity span, which runs from the curve of the shaft to the center of gravity, was crafted longer. These created a higher strike angle and better carry. Also, by making the sole wider in certain parts, we were able to adjust for stability and for the sweet spot. However, a wider sole meant a greater surface area where friction can occur, a potential obstacle to swinging the head all the way through. This is where Sato proposed a slit design for the back of the sole. This reduces the surface area prone to friction, improving the golfer's ability to swing completely and also enabling a shift in weight.

This model has one other special characteristic: the double etching on the cavity. To enable us to adjust the size of the sweet spot, we altered the upper cavity thickness to 1.9 mm and the bottom to 2.3 mm, and also added contrasting etching at top and bottom for a decorative effect. As Sato says, “The MG701 was linear, so I gave the new model a curved-line design.” Though everybody in the R&D Department at Sakata Plant has a terrific sense of style, Sato’s design sense is nothing short of impeccable.

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Showing the Way

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The body design of the MG702 was complete. Still, Sato’s initial elation turned to slight anxiety. “”Will the ball really go flying?” Is the center of gravity correct according to the original design? What about the feel on impact? What about the sound? And most of all, what about carry?

The new model had the potential to differ from the MG701 particularly in terms of sound, because the face was larger than that of the MG701. The sound might be a higher pitched one, and Sato was worried that it might be annoying.

First, he measured the center of gravity of the head. It was a higher number than he had expected, and Sato breathed a sigh of relief. The next step was to test it at the driving range. “We really had no idea how it would perform until we hit a ball with it,” Sato says looking back. First, they hit a ball with the previous model, the MG701, and it easily flew more than 150 yards. Sato was impressed with his own design at that point.

On the other hand, he was worried about the MG702. Taking the MG702 in hand, Sato took a swing, thinking, “Come on!”. The instant he hit it, the ball went out of sight?160 yards?at a high strike angle. Delighted, he yelled out, “Look at it go!”. All of the difficulties he had at the development stage had paid off, and on top of that, the sound-on-impact that he’d been worried about was good, too. The entire development team joined him in a collective whoop: “Out of sight!”

In early fall of 2006, management made decision: “We’ll join the Japan Golf Goods Association, and we’ll exhibit at the Japan Golf Fair next year for the first time.“

Ever since our establishment, Honma Golf had maintained a somewhat aloof stance to maintain our creativity, and in this way we chose to mingle in industry over the past half-century, so this was a big step for us.

One day, company management brought nearly 60 craftsmen and development personnel from the Sakata Plant to the showroom. This marked the first personnel shift of this scale for the company.

In February 2007, the Honma Golf showroom positively shone in royal blue. The showroom attracted far more visitors than we ever expected. Abe, director of the plant, was visibly proud. But then he overheard someone say, “Didn’t Honma go bankrupt?” Abe laughed with a little bitterness. But then that same person took a club in hand, swinging ever so much ease. People tended to focus on drivers at this kind of event, and the MG702 attracted attention, too. Many visitors stared at the plating on the two-piece structure cavity?a Honma exclusive. Sato couldn’t help feeling a little superior as he thought, “Honma craftsmanship will slowly but surely be recognized.”

In the local dialect of the place where Sakata Plant is located, adults stand out on the road during heavy snowstorms to make sure children don’t lose their way. They’re called “saima”?the ones that show the way. We may have started out slowly, but now we're good and ready to be the “saima” of our industry.

(The story on Development of MG702/Fin)

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

Story of Manufacturing