Make no mistake, my friends: Honma is getting serious about business in North America. Serious, of course, is a relative term.
If you’ve strolled into a PGA Tour SuperStore lately, you may have seen the Justin Rose blades, a sweet looking hollow-body iron set, and the TW 747 metalwoods. You’ve probably also seen some pretty sweet prices on closeout TW 737 metalwoods and older model irons.
Of course, you’ll need to hunt for it a little bit. It’s several rows back, just in front of the used left-handed children’s gear.
The running gag at the PGA Show is about how Japanese Domestic Manufacturers keep trying to figure out North America, but Honma’s leadership on these shores is already well ahead of the game. As a consultant, former TaylorMade and adidas North America CEO, Mark King, started the Honma ball rolling before leaving for greener pastures at Taco Bell in July. New President John Kawaja – a Canadia Curling Hall of Famer – built his North American chops as an 11-year executive at Taylormade, and Product VP Chris McGinley has 20 years’ worth of experience with Titleist.
Honma isn’t particularly good at keeping a lid on things. The Justin Rose deal was golf’s worst kept secret last winter, and unless you’ve completely avoided social media or No Putts Given, you’ve no doubt seen the new XP-1 game improvement lineup. Today, Honma is officially letting us tell you all the details, so let’s get it.
XP = Extreme Performance
Honma is a $260 to $270 million business worldwide, but less than $20 million of that is in North America. I’m not sure if that number is surprising because it’s so low or because it’s higher than anyone thought. One thing is for certain, Honma would like that number to be a tad larger.
“We have a very ambitious owner who wants to make Honma a global player,” says Kawaja. “He wants to grow this business in the largest golf market in the world – North America – and he wants to do it in a very aggressive way.”
The new XP-1 lineup features metalwoods and irons targeted loosely at the 8- to 20-plus handicapper, a group that makes up anywhere from 60% to 75% of the golfers out there.
“We feel that market is very underserved,” says McGinley. “But maybe not underserved in the way you think. There’s plenty of technology out there; there’s plenty of great product out there. But it’s not really beautiful, and we think that’s an opportunity.”
“A lot of the product that’s out there is very technical-looking, it’s very functional looking. And one of the differentiators for Honma is we have beautiful products.” Chris McGinley, Honma Golf
We’ll give Honma pretty: the XP-1 lineup is a nice looking set of sticks. The irons are clean and sharp with a player’s cavity back look, and the metalwoods are simple and uncluttered with a sweet glossy black carbon fiber crown on the driver and 3-wood. The mirror finish on the sole might be off-putting to some, but it sure isn’t overly busy.
Honma also manufactures its own graphite metalwood and iron shafts – the Vizard – and touts its holistic approach to design as a significant differentiator.
“If you think about everyone we compete against, they’re really in the component business,” Kawaja said at a media event in Carlsbad last week. “They’re designing a head on a computer; they’re buying a shaft from somebody down the street, and they’re having it assembled. We’re more holistic.”
For Honma, holistic means designing the head and the shaft in the same factory at the same time, to work together from the top of the grip to the tip of the toe. Honma is one of just a few companies in golf that engineer and manufactures their own graphite shafts. Srixon with Miyazaki and its proprietary XXIO shafts is another reasonably well-known example. Does holistic really matter? Honma certainly hopes so.
XP-1 Driver & Metal Woods
The XP-1 driver is anything but flashy-looking: rich black paint with no crown decorations with a very shiny sole. The one-piece of visible technology is the double slot in the sole just behind the leading edge. If this looks familiar to you, it should. Adams – and then TaylorMade – did this ten years ago.
“Slots aren’t new, they’ve been around,” says McGinley. “The industry figured out they add speed. Ours is a little different in that it has a double slot, no one’s done a double slot configuration like this that’s pinched in the middle for a hinge point.”
To refresh your memory, in the old days, the point where the face and sole meet used to be rigid. The slot acts as a spring allowing the whole structure to flex, which helps ball speed. Other OEMs have figured out different ways of doing the same thing, whether its with fins, waves or holes in the sole. The XP-1 has a two-part slot: the forward part is deep, with a shallower slot right behind it and the aforementioned hinge point in the middle to help the face flex more in the heel and the toe area.
“The slot flexes around that hinge point,” says McGinley. “It still flexes over the entire face, but it also flexes toward the heel and toe, so if you don’t hit the exact center, you’re still going to get some ball speed. And the way it flexes you’re also going to get some gear effect to help keep the ball straight. It’s not going to make you hit it in the center of the fairway, but it can help you hit it less far offline.”
It’s a game-improvement driver, so the name of the game is a low and deep center of gravity. Honma uses what it calls ET40 carbon fiber to make what it bills as the lightest and strongest crown in the industry. A light crown saves weight which, of course, gets moved back and low. Internal weighting gives the club a slight draw bias, even with a slightly open clubface.
I’m not sure if this ultimately matters when it comes to performance, but Honma says every driver it designs starts with a handmade prototype hand-crafted by a highly trained, highly skilled craftsman who shapes a full-sized club head out of – get this – Mississippi persimmon. Once it’s carved, shaped and sanded smooth to perfection – all by hand – then and only then is it send to the CAD department and entered into the computer.
Does it make the club perform better? Probably not, but Honma puts great faith in the eyes and hands of its craftsmen and believes its one big reason why their clubs are so pretty.
XP-1 fairway woods also feature the double slot technology, and both the fairways and hybrids have low and deep CGs. These are game improvement clubs – the hybrid is particularly large – and is designed to help you get the ball up in the air.
The Shaft Craft
“Most game improvement golfers need to feel the head on the end of the shaft,” says McGinley. “If you pick up this club and waggle it, you can feel the flex in this product.”
Honma designs its clubs side-by-side in concert with its heads – it’s that whole holistic thing – and the Vizard shaft it’s using in the XP-1 driver and metalwoods is unique. The shaft options are light, 43-, 53-, or 63-grams, with plenty of flex in the middle but stiff in both the butt and tip.
“We’ve actually increased the torque so the golfer can feel the head, but yet it’s a higher frequency shaft,” says McGinley. “It’s not an easy combination to achieve. If you put it on a frequency machine, it frequencies out a little stiffer, but when you experience the club, you can feel the head, and you can really feel the ball coming off the face.”
Honma also offers a unique non-rotating hosel. Vizard shafts are made with a spine oriented at 6 o’clock, and the hosel is designed to allow you to adjust loft and face angle without re-orienting the head or the shaft.
“The reason we do that is because when you load a club, it bends and flexes in a bunch of different directions,” says McGinley. “One of those directions is what you call the toe up-toe down direction. By orienting that spine a 6 o’clock on the back of the club, we can deliver a very consistent dynamic lie angle. The hosel itself – the inner part rotates, so the head and shaft stay in the same positions. The shaft never moves out of its proper alignment.”
Game improvement irons are getting better looking, with a lot less bling in the cavity. The XP-1 irons, however, do take it to a new level. There’s plenty of game improvement technology, but Honma isn’t blasting it in your face: they’re not over-finished or over-decorated. By most any measure, they have a nice, clean, and simple look.
The 4- through 7-irons are hollow bodies, with a tungsten insert in the bottom. The short irons have a deep, albeit reasonably well hidden, cavity, and all the irons feature a thin face for ball speed. “We try to make the face as thin as possible, so the ball comes off fast and launches with a little less spin, which gives you carry distance,” says McGinley.
Make no mistake – these are GI irons with the strong loft structure you’d associate with GI irons. That, however, is the name of the game in this category.
“It’s the cost of entry in the game-improvement market,” says McGinley. “But if you’re going to make the lofts strong, which helps ball speed, you better be able to get the ball up in the air. This club is engineered to do that.”
Honma’s 63 gram Vizard iron shaft – with a similar profile to the metalwoods shaft – is engineered to swing faster with the same effort. It features Torayca graphite with metal fibers in the tip to enhance stability. If you prefer a steel shaft, the Nippon NS Pro 950 GH is also offered. Both are available in Regular or Stiff flex only. As this is a game-improvement offering, the focus is on lightweight, easy to swing shafts for the target player. A demo round shows the XP-1 certainly fits that bill: they are light and easy to swing and are as long as advertised. As one would expect from Honma, the feel is top shelf.
There’s a full XP-1 line for women. The driver, fairways and hybrids have the same tech package as the men’s offering, but with lighter Vizard shaft offerings (39-, 43-, and 53-grams), and the finish is a distinctive white. The women’s XP-1 irons are oversized a titanium face insert, which saves weight to offset the oversized head. The same lightweight shafts are offered.
Notes, Price, & Availability
As we mentioned earlier, Honma says it’s getting serious about the North American market. Just last week Honma officially opened its Honma House in Carlsbad: a retail and fitting center combined with a Honma museum, club-building workshop and Tour headquarters. It will open to the public later this fall, so you can go there and shop for Honma-branded accessories, get fit, and watch your clubs being made.
While it’s not the same as having product in every retail store in the country, it’s a start. The XP-1’s are a big step in rounding out Honma’s offerings. The T//World 747 woods and iron line range from the Justin Rose blades to a game-improvement-ish player’s distance iron, so the XP-1’s give Honma a presence in the GI/SGI category that doesn’t look like a GI/SGI product.
The XP-1 irons are available starting today. The standard set is the 5- through 11-iron (it’s a Japan thing), and a 4-iron is available as an option. The XP-1 driver is 460cc and is available in 9.5-, 10.5- and 12-degree heads, with Honma’s Vizard 43-, 53- or 63-gram shaft in R or S flex. Fairways come in 15-, 18- and 21-degree models, with 53- and 63-gram shafts in R or S, and the hybrids come in 19-, 22- and 25-degree lofts with a 63-gram Vizard shaft in R and S. A Honma branded Tour Velvet grip is stock.
The XP-1’s are on the higher end of the price spectrum. The XP-1 driver will sell for $599.99, the fairways $299.99 each and the hybrids $249.99 each. The irons will sell for $175 each with steel shafts and $200 each with Vizard graphite shafts.
The entire line is available in right-handed only at this time. Honma says left-handed models will be released later this fall.
So, who are the Honma XP-1’s for? At first glance, Honma’s suggested 8- to mid-20’s handicap range makes sense, but it’s easy to see the irons, driver and fairway woods in the hands of lower handicaps, provided the shaft choices fit (that flex-in-the-middle waggle takes some getting used to). If you’re at an age where your swing speed isn’t what it used to be and wouldn’t mind a little help, you’ll definitely want these on your demo list. The hybrids, however, are more of a mini-fairway wood, so it depends on what you want in a hybrid.
So, what say you? Do you see the Honma XP-1’s finding their way into your bag?
For more information, visit us.honmagolf.com.