Honma is joining the fast and furious product release frenzy this week – it is PGA Show week, after all. The new – and U.S. designed – Honma TR20 driver and irons may not rattle the industry but they are the newest weapons in Honma’s quest for North American relevance.
Japan-based Honma is a $260 to $270 million-dollar worldwide operation but only $20 million of that is from North America. To rewrite that script, Honma has created a U.S.-based product design team and the TR20 lineup is that group’s first effort.
And while the TRT20 launch is global, the line is clearly aimed at the seriously competitive North American golfer.
Honma Wants You
“This is a space Honma wants to be more aggressive in,” Chris McGinley, Honma’s Global VP of Product, tells MyGolfSpy. “We want a product that’s a little more Westernized, a little more performance-forward for markets like North America, the U.K. and Europe, while still maintaining our Japanese heritage.”
McGinley earned his golf equipment bona fides on these shores with 20 years at Titleist, while President John Kawaja adds to Honma’s North American street cred after 11 years at TaylorMade.
Honma desperately wants to matter in North America. To that end, it opened up Honma House last fall, a combination fitting center, retail outlet and Tour headquarters located in Carlsbad. There’s also the new Honma Experience fitting center at the Reunion Golf Resort in Orlando, with two more fitting centers planned for Hawaii and British Columbia.
With that kind of investment, it’s obvious how critical the TR20 launch is to Honma’s plans for relevance.
The TR in TR20 stands for Tour Release and it’s replacing the confoundingly named T//World 747 line. Honma is giving you two drivers in the TR20 offering: a 440cc and a 460cc.
“The 440 profile is called the Sakata 7,” says McGinley. “When we started working with Justin Rose, we made a bunch of profiles for him and he liked number seven, so all his drivers say Sakata 7 on the hosel.”
Interestingly, Rose is now gaming the 460cc model. “It just performed better for him,” says McGinely.
The real TR20 driver story is weight, or, more precisely, it’s where the weight is and where it isn’t. The driver frame is titanium but the body is nearly all carbon fiber.
“We’re using more carbon than anyone out there,” says McGinley. “We’re able to take 14 grams of weight out of the crown, 20 out of the sole and a couple more out of the face.”
With all the weight savings, you’d expect a fairly advanced sliding weight system. Instead, Honma gives you a 2010-ish set of moveable sole weights.
“A sliding weight system is very weight inefficient,” says McGinley. “This driver is very weight efficient.”
The TR20 comes with one nine-gram and two three-gram weights. Depending on where you put them, you can make the driver high MOI, low spin or draw bias.
“With our first offering, we didn’t feel like we could come out with three different drivers like other manufacturers,” says McGinley. “We’re able to get those ball flights in one head by moving the weights around.”
Between the adjustable weights (additional weights up to 15-grams are sold separately) and Honma’s unique but incredibly non-intuitive adjustable hosel, the TR20 practically begs for a custom fitting.
“It’s a fitter’s dream,” says McGinley. “They’ll really be able to unlock all of this driver’s potential. That’s how high-performance equipment is being sold nowadays. You need to be fit.”
Off To See The Vizard
Honma makes its own proprietary line of graphite shafts called Vizard. If you’re thinking these are some cheap-ass house-brand substitute for real shafts, you may want to think again.
“I could go out and buy an OEM shaft to put in these drivers for less money than it costs us to make ours in our own factory,” says McGinley. “We use a really high-quality, high-strength fiber from Toray Composites and we make them in Japan. When you think of OEM shafts from companies like Fujikura and Mitsubishi – no knock on them – but their program shafts made for other OEMs are made in China. Their own high-end shafts are made in Japan.”
TR20-specific Vizard 50-, 60- or 70-gram shafts are stock, each with its own unique bend profile. The 50-gram is counterbalanced with a soft-ish tip for high launch. The 60 features a stiff tip and soft mid-section for speed, while the 70 has a stiff tip and a medium stiff butt for control.
McGinley adds Honma has a full offering of OEM shafts, so you can get the TR20 with any shaft you want.
TR20 V & P Irons
Say what you will about Honma, but it’s hard to imagine anyone looking at their irons and thinking yuck.
Honma’s two new models – the single-piece forged TR20V and the more distance-focused TR20P – look like a purist’s idea of an iron: clean, simple and traditional.
The TR20V is a pure player’s iron with strong-ish lofts that don’t go overboard. The 7-iron is 32 degrees, while the pitching wedge is 44 degrees.
The TR20P is a little more forgiving than the V, with a slightly thicker topline and sole and a pocket-cavity design (hence the P). It’s a three-piece head with a forged body, a thin L-shaped cup face and tungsten at the sole to lower the CG.
Honma bills the P as a player’s distance iron, with a 31-degree 7-iron and 43-degree pitching wedge.
Whatever your thoughts are on loft-jacking, we’re not talking Mavrik or SIM here.
“Both iron sets have strong, modern lofts,” says McGinley. “But as the industry has learned, you have to produce great trajectory with those lofts.”
You’ll notice a small Honma icon on the back of each iron. That’s the Honma mole, which McGinely says is the U.S. design team’s nod to the company’s past.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, Honma used to put that little circular mole badge on the back of its irons,” he says. “We try to maintain some of our Japanese heritage and sensibilities.”
Price, Availability and Final Thoughts
TR20 drivers and irons will be available at Honma fitters in February and in retail outlets in March.
Both the 440 and 460 drivers come stock with Honma Vizard shafts and Honma-branded grips from Golf Pride. They’ll retail at $649. A variety of upcharge and no-upcharge shafts will be available.
Both the TR 20 V and P irons feature the Nippon Modus3 as the stock steel shaft and the Vizard TR20-85 as stock graphite. Honma says the Vizard is a stiff-tip shaft with ascending weights for more speed with long irons and more control with the scoring clubs.
Both irons will retail for $175 per iron in steel, $200 in graphite. The entire line will be available for righties at launch and Honma says it’ll bring in left-handed models this summer.
Honma plans to fill out the TR line as the year goes on. A blade is due this spring (Rose is playing it now), with fairways, hybrids and a hollow-blade iron expected by fall.
The TR20 irons are pretty much in line price-wise with every other OEM’s premium offerings. The driver, at $649, is most definitely in the premium stratosphere.
“If you go into a fitter these days and buy a driver with an upgraded shaft, you’re walking out the door paying $700, maybe $800 anyway,” says McGinley. Honma looks at Vizard as a legit upgraded after-market level shaft so, comparing apples to apples, they feel $649 should be considered – dare I say – a bargain.
“We’re confident our stuff is long but that’s not the only reason you’d buy Honma,” says McGinley. “It’s the heritage of the brand, the beauty of the shape and the fact they perform. We’re not going to scream distance at people. Go get fit and see what happens.”