The only thing Lydia Ko and I have in common is that we both routinely play Proto Concept irons. Other than that, she’s a world-class professional golfer that Proto Concept can point to as evidence that its irons meet the demands of the most discerning players.
And I’m a guy with a penchant for Japanese gear with two, Wednesday night Men’s League championships on my resume. Impressive, I know.
With that, if you’re looking for a quintessential players cavity back iron, the new Proto Concept C03TC is one that more than just the JDM faithful should have on the demo shortlist.
Ok, it’s pricey ($350/head) and not readily available (such is the reality of niche Japanese forgings) but hear me out.
Proto Concept Refresher
At the risk of redundancy, Proto Concept isn’t as recognized as Japanese Domestic Market stalwarts (JDM) Miura, EPON, or Yonex. Yet. Shifting dynamics of the global equipment market is a good bit of the story, but that’s a rabbit hole for a different day.
Proto-C is a collaborative effort between the Endo forging house and the Golf Partner executive ownership group.
Golf Partner is the largest golf retailer in the world. It boasts nearly 400 retail locations and 550,000 in-stock clubs. It’s something like the Japanese equivalent of Starbucks but for golf equipment. I mention this primarily to illustrate that the company has a unique perspective and breadth of JDM market knowledge. Its leadership has a keen understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, what resonates with the target audience.
The Endo forging house is an industry benchmark. Beyond Proto Concept and its house brand, Epon, Endo counts a litany of brands as clients. Srixon, Yamaha, Mizuno, Honma, Bridgestone, Tourstage, S-Yard, Daiwa, Callaway, and Titleist have all, at times, relied on Endo to forge their premium lines of golf irons and wedges. Several still do.
It’s like the auto shop other mechanics go to when they get a problem they can’t fix.
Proto Concept C03TC Tech Talk
Technology in the players iron category is mostly focused on materials, design, mass properties and aesthetics. Contrary to what some believe, starting with a softer material doesn’t necessarily yield a “better” feeling iron. So, while the finished product may not include a long list of ingredients (carbon, tungsten, foam, thin faces and fancy polymers), the sensation at impact is where many of the target consumers will make a decision. Put differently, sound/feel matter more to potential buyers looking at players irons than other categories – namely game improvement and super game improvement.
Each Proto Concept iron and wedge is forged by the renowned Endo forging house. Whether it’s Endo, Miura or Mizuno/Chuo (throw Fujimoto in there as well) that wears the forging crown is a matter of debate, not absolute fact. That aside, if your thesis is that Endo sits at the absolute head of the class, you won’t get any argument from me.
The Proto Concept C03TC irons are forged and then CNC milled in the #4-#7 irons. A pocket cavity removes weight which is reallocated to precisely position the CG location (center of gravity). According to Proto Concept, the CG of each iron is uniquely positioned to account for modern shafts and variation in impact loft (dynamic impact). The net result is a consistent turf-to-CG distance which is designed to lead to more consistent launch characteristics.
The #8-PW do not have the milled pocket because, well, it’s not necessary. With higher lofted clubs lowering the CG by removing material to increase trajectory would be counterproductive. As static loft increases so does the overall trajectory. In addition, the challenge for many golfers attracted to this class of irons is to high short irons, lower, not higher. It’s the old “hit your long irons high and short irons low” adage that is likely more often true than it isn’t.
Also, Proto Concept tweaked the sole design on each C03TC iron to match what it felt best serves the needs of the target player. Specifically, long irons have a slightly wider sole which becomes narrower as you move into the shorter irons. That said, a chamfered trailing edge and pre-worn leading edge allow the sole to play thinner than looks – which in this case, is a good thing. Thicker soles tend to be more forgiving when you catch a shot a heavy (hit behind the ball) but make clean contact challenging on firmer turf or tight lies. On balance, this is one reason that better ball strikes tend to prefer a thinner sole.
Proto Concept C03TC Performance
The objective for irons in the players category is to produce sufficient distance, consistent launch conditions and a desirable balance of forgiveness and workability.
Most Wanted Player’s Irons results are due out next week. No doubt that will provide a certain amount of clarity both regarding the CO3TC, but also how it compares to the best performing players iron models. That aside, in previous Most Wanted testing, Proto Concept irons seemed to favor accuracy over distance. That aside, the top-performing irons in the players category generally aren’t the longest. So, TBD on all of that.
It’s a single data point, and I’d never suggest anyone use my experience to reach any grand conclusions, but I’m quite familiar with Proto Concept having played a combo set of CO1 and CO3 (and CO5) over the past season. In my testing, the previous Proto Concept C03 wasn’t a perfect fit. For me, they weren’t noticeably more forgiving than the C01 in the #8-PW and the longer irons didn’t hit my desired launch/spin window. This is the primary reason I swapped out the C03 for the CO5. As an aside, Lydia Ko’s typical iron setup includes a C07 6-iron and C05 7 through 9 irons.
According to Proto Concept, the CO3TC should produce a higher trajectory with less inherent draw bias than the C03. Once I’m able to get the C03TC on the Foresight GC Quad and procure meaningful data, I’ll be sure to share my findings.
Proto Concept C03TC Aesthetics
The Proto Concept C03TC is what golfers expect from a traditional single-piece forged, players cavity-back iron. Chiefly, this includes minimal offset, thin toplines and a compact footprint. Also, Proto Concept has the C01 muscle-back iron for those who prefer even less offset and an angel hair pasta thin topline.
Overall, the presentation of the CO3TC is clean, yet distinct – which seems to be a trend throughout the industry. Frankly, I prefer the absence of large fonts and loud colors. Moreover, I don’t need brands to use the cavity as a place to remind me of the various materials and processes (forged, milled, tungsten) it used to create the product. Brand name and model designation are sufficient. Who’s with me!?
You’re likely familiar with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s not a perfect parallel, but it you want a little inside Japanese club designer baseball, here you go. The name is Muneyuki Matsuyoshi aka “Q” by golf industry folks. The dots to connect are Fourteen Golf, Jucie, and Proto Concept. Not long ago, Fourteen Golf established a decent foothold in North America and routinely had several wedges (RM-22, FH-V1, RM-4) and sets of irons in play on the PGA TOUR on a weekly basis. Somewhat mysteriously, Fourteen vacated the North American market (I’m sure there’s a great story here) and “Q” started his own brand, Jucie. According to several industry sources, “Q” is an iron-savant with CAD design and his first run of Jucie tQ irons is a testament to this aptitude. From there, Proto Concept enlisted “Q” to design its second generation of irons, starting with the CO3 TC.
I know it’s early, but the CO3 TC is what feeds JDM gear geeks and gets us all twitterpated.
I’ll also happily acknowledge that I’m a Japanese gear homer, but not to the extent that I’m willing to trade performance for a set of irons with the curb appeal of an Aston Martin Vantage. Or am I? The beauty of this internal struggle is that, for now, I don’t have to make any concessions. Drivers (all metalwoods, really) and irons with advanced materials and complex designs are the purview of large manufacturers with R&D budgets that rival the GDP of small nation-states. But, when it comes to relatively simple blueprints for single-piece forged irons and wedges, there’s always a place at the table for such a guest.
Pricing and Availability
Proto Concept wedges are currently available through authorized dealers.
The MSRP for the C03TC is $350/head only.
For more information, visit protoconceptgolf.com
Proto Concept C03TC Irons Review
2 weeks ago
Good looking clubs. Thanks for the review.