Several months ago, Proto Concept announced the C03 TC cavity-back iron which replaced the original C03 CB model that it launched a bit over a year ago. As one might expect, the JDM (Japanese domestic market) upstart is also replacing the first-generation C01 muscle-back iron with the C01 TB. Technically, the moniker is C01 TBic—we’ll handle that “ic” part momentarily.
If you know me, you’re aware that I have a fever for Japanese gear and the only cure is more Endo-forged irons and wedges (though I wouldn’t balk at a forged cow bell, I suppose). That aside, the objective of the C01 TBic is to provide golfers with a true muscle-back iron that can be paired with the C03 TC, though the C01 TBic is offered from 5-iron through pitching wedge for those who wish to play a full set of blade-style irons.
It’s also fair to note that the C01 TBic is the embodiment of a niche product. It caters to highly skilled ball-strikers who aren’t easily dissuaded by an elevated price tag, like $450 per club elevated. That said, the standard pricing disclaimer applies: If expensive goods draw your ire, you’re likely not the target consumer. Moreover, the existence of luxury items does not eliminate the availability of lower-priced alternatives.
Proto Concept Refresher
Plenty of golfers know the name Lydia Ko. Serious followers might recognize Haeji Kang or Ryuji Imada. What they have in common is that they’re part of a growing contingent of professionals playing Proto Concept equipment.
With that, Proto Concept isn’t as recognized as JDM stalwarts Miura, Epon or Yonex. Growing a brand takes time, particularly when you won’t find it in your local big box retail store. So there’s that.
Other salient talking points include:
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 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.
Endo is the restaurant where all the chefs go to eat.
Proto Concept C01TBic Iron Tech Talk
The first bit of the tech story is boilerplate muscle-back iron stuff. Put differently, the tech talking points center around materials, mass properties and design aesthetics. As such, irons in this class don’t leave much room for advanced polymers, uber-thin faces or an extreme perimeter weighting architecture.
That aside, the Proto Concept C01 TBic isn’t void of technology. Rather, it’s a bit more subtle and nuanced. This is where the “ic” enters the chat.
Whereas the Proto Concept C03TC irons feature a milled pocket cavity in the 4- to 7-irons to precisely position the CG location (center of gravity), the CO1 TBic uses an “Inner Ceramic” to accomplish a similar result.
In the first Proto Concept C01 model, engineers impregnated the steel billet with a titanium rod to free up a bit of weight which was reallocated to the perimeter of the body to moderately boost heel-toe MOI (forgiveness). Effectively, the inner ceramic material replaces the titanium rod while achieving two important performance benefits: additional forgiveness and an even-more precise CG location.
Why switch it up? The single answer is Muneyuki Matsuyoshi, aka “Q”. In the world of CAD design, “Q” is held in high esteem and some equipment insiders even toss around the “savant” label. After his time at Fourteen Golf (which mysteriously disappeared from the North American equipment landscape), he started his own brand, Juice. From there, Proto Concept enlisted “Q” to design its second generation of irons, starting with the CO3 TC and now the CO1 TBic.
I get the Twinkie analogy isn’t perfect but it’s good enough.
Most single-piece forged irons start with a billet of carbon steel which is heated and then subjected to multiple strikes from large hydraulic hammers. Where the “ic” technology differs is that each round billet of S20 carbon steel is impregnated with an internal ceramic bar. From there, the forging process is relatively similar to other high-end, single-piece forged irons. However, ensuring that the ceramic cavity maintains its precise position throughout the process is a task requiring the expertise of the aforementioned Endo forging house. The concept of integrated material forgings is rather complex and, to date, Endo appears to be, once again, at the forefront of the conversation.
Proto Concept C01 TBic Iron Performance
As we stated, the internal ceramic material serves two purposes. The first is to generate a more precise CG location which, in turn, has a significant impact on ball flight. 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 simplified version is that the modified CG location in the C01 TBic should allow golfers to hit long irons higher and short irons lower. This was a direct request based on feedback gathered from PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour players who used Proto Concept irons in competition.
Regarding heel-toe MOI (forgiveness), I don’t suspect we’ll see substantial improvement from the Proto Concept C01. That said, incremental benefits are all golfers should reasonably expect from the player’s iron category.
In previous Most Wanted testing, Proto Concept irons seemed to favor accuracy over distance. They also received high praise from testers for sound and feel. As a consumer group, this is in line with what better players tend to look for in a set of irons.
Full disclosure: I haven’t yet hit the C01 TBic but I’d bet a nice steak dinner (with dessert of course) that it doesn’t stray too far from this formula. In addition, we don’t include muscle-back irons as a separate category during our annual testing. That said, we’ll take a closer look at the C01 TBic once we get them in hand. We’re excited to put them on our Foresight GC Quad launch monitor.
As with the Proto Concept C03 TC, the baseline objective of the C01 TBic is nearly identical, i.e., to generate sufficient distance, consistent launch conditions, and a desirable balance of forgiveness and workability. The small tweak is that relative to the C03 TC, the C01TBic should be slightly less forgiving but more workable.
Proto Concept C01 TBic Aesthetics
The Proto Concept C01 TBic is mostly what golfers expect from a traditional single-piece forged, muscle-back iron.. Chiefly, this includes minimal offset, thin toplines and a compact footprint. My single point of contention is that I could do without the “inner CERAMIC” label in the cavity. In general, I like my muscle-back cavities like I like my checks—blank.
I have a set of the CO3 TC irons in play and the early results are promising. If we use that as a proxy (coupled with testing data), I’m optimistic that the C01 TBic should offer marginal but noticeable improvements over the model it replaces, the C01.
It might seem odd that we’re already talking about a new version of the Proto Concept C01, given that JDM product cycles tend to be longer than mainline U.S. brands. My hunch is that Proto Concept saw an opportunity to get “Q” on the Proto Concept team (which is a major win). And when you add someone like that to the roster, you don’t wait around to put them in the game.
Also, Proto Concept isn’t trying to gain market share by pumping out a massive volume of equipment. So it’s not as though they’re sitting on much, if any, old inventory.
In terms of where the C01 TBic fits in the Proto Concept iron array, it’s the consummate “How do you like your player’s iron cooked?” story. Proto Concept bills the C01 TBic as a blade-style iron with cavity-back level forgiveness. Conversely, the C04 TC is a cavity-back iron with workability to approximate a muscle-back iron. No doubt, it’s splitting hairs but the choice between the two likely hinges on which is more important to you: workability with a dash of forgiveness or stability with some trajectory control.
Pricing and Availability
Proto Concept wedges are currently available through authorized dealers.
The MSRP for the Proto Concept C01 TBic is $450 per club. Pricing will vary based on location and selected components.
For more information, visit protoconceptgolf.com