This just in, JDM companies haven’t yet entirely “figured out North America” but Fourteen’s latest iron release – it’s TC 340 – likely won't fit that narrative anytime soon regardless.
The SGI (Super Game Improvement) iron was released in Japan on March 21st without any expressed intention of introducing it to the North American market. That said Marcy Kamoda, COO of Fourteen Golf, wouldn't rule the possibility should the demand warrant.
It’s not atypical for Japanese companies to design models for different markets, though the domestic Japanese market is only becoming more saturated as major North American OEMs continue to drip product into the Asian market. While this isn't a flagship product for Fourteen, it does seem to indicate Fourteen feels that whatever growth opportunities remain in the JDM space, are likely in the GI/SGI category.
The tech story here is straightforward. The TC 340 features Fourteen’s lowest and deepest CG ever in a one-piece forged iron. No tungsten weighting, cavities filled with top-secret liquid polymers or multi-material designs; the construction consists of just a single piece of S35C forged carbon steel. Fourteen labels the TC 340 as “ultra-forgiving” yet retaining its “signature (forged) feel.” So much of the JDM narrative revolves around the heritage and history of Japanese craftsmanship and forging houses which makes it at the very least noteworthy that Fourteen's clubs are forged in China. There are several possible reasons why Fourteen goes this route. One is cost. The TC 340 requires a seven-step forging process and it's possible contracting with a third party like Endo (which has forged for Fourteen previously) was cost prohibitive for this limited run. The other is that Fourteen's genesis is as a club design OEM, not a forging house; thus it doesn't push the "Forged in Japan" narrative because it neither applies to nor defines the brand.
The trend in North America and Europe is to pack irons chock full of game improvement features and attempt to conceal them while retaining playerish aesthetics (thinner toplines, less offset and a more compact overall footprint). The TC 340 is the antithesis to this evolving norm of iron design.
The TC 340 is thick with plenty of offset and an undercut cavity which is visible at address – though it's less noticeable in the short irons, where a higher CG location allows for a more traditional (albeit relatively larger) shape. The longer irons (5-7) feature a shorter blade height and excessively wide soles, which provide hybrid-esque launch and forgiveness, particularly out of the rough. The net result is a tremendously forgiving iron, with two trajectory options – high and higher.
Generally, the practice with SGI irons is to accept a less pleasing hollow and metallic feel as the opportunity cost for maximum forgiveness. Because the TC 340 are one-piece forged, centered strikes feel acceptably solid though it is at least several steps removed from the density of a CB/MB forged iron. It would be easy to pick on the S35C carbon steel (which is marginally harder than S25C) though consumers are coming to understand the role each component (shaft, shaft flex, grip, ball preference, acoustic engineering) plays in determining how a club feels.
Regardless of where a design such as the TC 340 is forged, a 7-step process is going to be quite a bit more expensive than casting and given the advancements in precision casting (particularly in the last 15 years), it reasonable to question why Fourteen didn't go that route.
In speaking with Kamoda, he agreed that casting would have kept costs down. However, Japanese consumers expect to pay a premium for forged irons, and the western concept of lower prices driving demand doesn't play out the same way in the Japanese golf market. In a material sense, Kamoda also stated that the forging process allowed for a finished product with more consistent CG locations throughout the entire production run and an aesthetic which better matched the original CAD designs.
Specs, Pricing, and Availability
Whether or not the TC 340 reaches North American distribution channels remains to be seen. For now, it is available RH only (5-Gap) though with a 22° 5 iron and 46° P/A wedge. Effectively, it's a 4-PW set. Nippon is the preferred shaft partner, with the both the Zelos 6 ($220/club) and NS 950 ($200/club) available as stock options.
The likely target is an already loyal Fourteen consumer who has lost some swing speed but still wants to bag forged irons (or at least say they do) with maximum forgiveness and launch.
Is the TC 340 an option you'd like to see in North America or do other OEMs already have this segment fully covered?