Story of Manufacturing

The Story of Polishing
The 10 Pioneers

It’s amazing how the more difficult the environment, the more certain people can really show their stuff.

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A few decades after our establishment, Honma Golf had become a first-rate golf club manufacturer. Undoubtedly, the young-generation craftsmen helped bring about these prosperous times, as they took on what seemed like impossible challenges.

One day in 1982, 10 new employees arrived at the new Sakata Plant buildings built especially for the polishing and grinding process. In this huge space, there were a number of polishing machines.

“Starting today, you guys will be doing the polishing,” they were told.

By this single directive of our founder, these 10 newbies, who knew nothing about the craft, suddenly became the technicians in charge of the entire polishing process. Our founder strongly felt that the key to attaining the complete satisfaction of our customers was to have 100% control over production.

Accordingly, it was decided that all processes that were originally outsourced were to be shifted in-house one by one. The man put in charge here was Doi, 29 at the time. Doi suddenly found himself overseeing nine new employees who’d just graduated from high school. Doi had just joined the company, and he’d come from the construction industry?an entirely different field! Unbelievably, he’d never even touched a golf club.

In front of the machines sat a box of blackened irons that hadn’t been polished yet. The 10 new craftsmen newly in charge of polishing were being asked not just to polish the clubs, but to create fine works of art above and beyond the ordinary club.

“We were so nervous. I remember it was like yesterday.

It makes me smile now, but back then it wasn’t funny at all,” Doi laughs.

A few people came from the plant where the work had been outsourced, but for just one week! We wrote down every word they said, and by imitating everything that they did we were able to polish even the parts that looked impossible to get at.

After that, we went to their plant for training?again for just one week. The subcontractors got paid depending on the volume they produced, and so naturally the iron heads came out shining faster than we could have imagined. Our group of ten was utterly amazed as they watched from behind.

“It was as if they were taunting us, ‘Can you really do this?’ When it seems that hopeless, normally you’d give up, but we were young and we felt it was really our responsibility to learn all of it.” The 10 headed back to Sakata Plant, where they began practicing with defective iron heads. The polishing machine seemed as big as a vehicle, too cumbersome to polish the slimmer parts of the iron.

When you tried to polish one area, you hit another instead. The new craftsmen even ended up “polishing” their own hands.

They would get holes in their work gloves and the friction gave them blisters. They couldn’t even use bandages because of the gloves they wore, and so they stuck the blisters with pins so that they wouldn’t get in the way. They would polish one head, and then cover it in black magic marker so that they could practice on the same head over and over. Our founder would come to watch, telling them, “This will never do.”

The difference between “golf club” and “work of art” was in these craftsmen’s’ blistered hands.

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The Road to Complete In-House Production

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At the Sakata Plant, summer suddenly burst into bloom following a late-coming spring.

The surface of the Mogamigawa River shone in the sun, and the grass grew greener and taller with each passing day.

The 10 new employees, who’d been utter beginners when they started two months earlier, worked like hell on their polishing technique in this very difficult environment, where they basically had to learn everything for themselves. Despite the fact that they took more than twice as long as the company’s subcontractors to do their job, their superior technique ensured that the clubs they produced were ready for commercialization. In June 1982, we decided to introduce a full in-house production system in phases?model by model.

The irons manufactured and sold by Honma at that time were called the “FE Series,” and there were four different clubs: the 400, 700, 800, and the 900. Once we had decided to manufacture everything in-house, we started with the grinding process for the FE700 head, which until that time had been manufactured by subcontractors. The Sakata Plant craftsmen decided to take on the process and create a product of far better quality than the outsourced one. Fortunately, they were not pressed for time the way the subcontractors were, and so they could pay attention to the fine details.

“Insert the shaft into the head you’re grinding now, and then set up like you’re going to hit the ball. The ball sort of slides and rolls?it doesn’t sit quite right, see? The solution here is to grind this part.”

The company founder would visit the plant again and again, and each time the engineers in charge of grinding would give them advice that they couldn’t have imagined. Doi believed that the very essence of “Honmaism” lie in our grinding and polishing technology, and it was this kind of exchange between our founder and our engineers that served to engender and fine-tune this technology.

After a year of battling to create the very best products, the first group of 10 employees was joined by a group of 27 new employees as of the plant’s second spring. The grinding procedure, which started out as a process of trial and error, consisted of rough grinding done with sandpaper, followed by buffering for the finishing process, plus other top-secret company techniques. These were compiled into a manual of procedures.

The FE700 was a hit, helping bring a great number of professionals to victory. In 1984, the grinding team, which then consisted of 76 people, was operating full scale night and day. Honma was now on a roll of hit product releases: the “Prancer,” which was designed for easy handling even for golfers with less strength, followed by the “Plus 2” series which, with a loft of two degrees higher, yielded astonishing carry.

“We realized that our technique had finally improved as of the third year,” says Doi. When he first joined the company, he studied a series of books for management personnel. Doi, who before he knew it became a supervisor in a field that he knew absolutely nothing about, believed that more than a manager, he had to be the best example for his employees. That’s the attitude he took every day when he took to the grinding machine as lead engineer.

“We’re still not satisfied. We never will be. All we think about is how we can make our clubs even better, even more beautiful.”

Our founders, who pursued even better added value in iron grinding as a sophisticated craft, achieved a multi-layered grinding process. The idea of “compromise” never even occurred to them.

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Fine Tuning for the Pros

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“Do you think we can grind this down separately?”

Two years after the polishing team was launched, the director of the Sakata Plant at the time brought in a set of irons. We asked him what was going on, and he told us that they belonged to a famous Japanese golf professional.

“Can you make the blade just a little bit wider?
“Polish the neck way down.”

At that time, we had already gone through the period where we had to aggressively acquire technique, and some of the people on our polishing term were starting to dabble in golf. But the instructions they were being given were full of specialized language and abstract adjectives, and the team had no idea what was going on.

They would get comments like, “You need to do more,” but then in the end it would be, “You went too far with the polishing.” After a series of prototypes, we finally arrived at the iron that made the Pro happy. This kind of “tune up” for the clubs of the pros remains an important job of the polishing team.

Honma Golf has several contract tour professional golfers, including Shinichi Yokota. Just like it is with racing cars, all club manufacturers offer a variety of fine tuning of original club models used by their contract professionals. Attributes that can be fine-tuned for these individual pros run the gamut from basics such as lie angles and total weight to the fine details of sole and neck design.

This data is not simply a bunch of numerical values. The requests of the pros can even include such abstract things as the feel of the club in the hands, which can be very difficult to describe in words.

Watanabe, who leads the polishing team in the processing of clubs for professional players, says with a wry smile, “It’s really only the user who can tell us exactly what and how much they want us to do.”

Wakabayashi, who is in charge of handling requests from professional golfers, draws up graphics and writes up summaries on head design after hearing from the individual users about what they want. With “translation” provided by Suwa, who heads up the development team, fine adjustments are made by trial and error at the Sakata Plant. Watanabe’s file contains detailed numerical data as well as comments such as “Don’t forget about this!!” on his hand-drawn graphics.

There are as many golden rules to winning as there are professional golfers. Even among professionals, for example, who want the same spin on the wedge, there are people who want milling professing in the face, and people who want to widen the face line to the point where it barely meets specifications. Even the pros observe trends: nearly twenty years ago, it was popular to have a sharp blade and to shave weight off of the toe, while about fifteen years ago it was the fashion to minimize sole bounce. In rare instances, the pieces were custom made right from the molding stage. In all of these cases, however, it can be said that polishing and grinding were the key.

The tuning process was so sophisticated and detail-oriented that there were times when we wouldn’t get the okay even after we had made more than ten prototypes. It is precisely because of this difficulty, says Doi, that the joy and thrill felt when our contract professionals win cannot even be put into words. Of course, the parts of this tuning process that are also applicable to amateurs are incorporated into the products. Tuning of professional clubs has thus proven to be invaluable market testing ground.

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The Never-Ending Process of Perfecting Technology

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During a morning meeting at the development department in October 2004, deputy plant director Suwa placed the newly-completed Beres 901 iron head master on the desk.

“We want to make this,” said Suwa.

“Do you think you can polish it nicely?”

It was a thicker design featuring a graceful three-dimensional “B for Beres” logo running from the edge of the cavity to the sole.

“They’re trying to kill us,” Doi thought to himself as he picked up the club. The design was crafted thicker immediately behind the impact point, bringing the center of gravity down to engender unbelievably sharp trajectory. The 3D logo design was also quite impressive, making the job a nightmare for the craftsmen overseeing the polishing process.

Prior to the polishing process, the logo, which was situated in the 3D part of the club, was essentially a set of grooves. If we polished this area too much, the coating would not go on properly. The process would especially affect the sharp wings on the sides of the logo. Suwa said, “Polish the sloping sides with the grooves at the very top. We want this design to really look terrific.”

“At last, the design’s come alive…”

“Suwa was right in thinking that there was no further room for development with a flat design. And I also believed it was consistent with ‘Honmaism’ that we should try for the more difficult rounded polishing.” A few of them, including Doi, began polishing a sample piece.

“We tried from every direction, ever so gingerly,” says Doi looking back on the experience. As the ‘veil’ of the face came off during the polishing process, a face emerged that was destined to become one of Honma’s great successes, the PP0-737, as well as the initial Twin Marks model.

Doi recalled when the polishing process was done by hand.

The conventional single-piece construction of the 901 was made to appeal not only to long-term Honma fans; though the two-piece structure is popular today, the single-piece is utilized by a high percentage of professionals, and it’s preferred by connoisseurs. For these golfers?who have their own style?a striking appearance alone is not sufficient.

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Throughout the 901 polishing process, our craftsmen, who know it inside out, pay careful attention to the edge and corner processing as well.

At present, Honma Golf outsources part of the polishing process, depending on product characteristics. This development occurred in accordance with the trends of the times, yet a side effect of this outsourcing has provided incredibly important for the Sakata Plant: the fact that the Sakata craftsmen can learn from the “friendly rivalry” with the engineers that we outsource to, though there are also additional processing techniques that cannot be disclosed outside of the Sakata Plant. If the “pioneering 10” were to have become the “isolated 10,” they may have ceased to develop their technical skills after a certain point.

The Sakata Plant craftsmen have successfully put their name on the line to continue to improve their technique. As Doi says confidently, “Just taking the 901 in your hand, you really get a sense of our pride and the work we put into the clubs.”

(The Story of Polishing/Fin)

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Story of Manufacturing