Cost (vs) Value
(Written By: GolfSpy T) In Part 1 of this 2-part series I suggested that Miura irons are the absolute best your money can buy. A good bit of that determination was based on the quality, craftsmanship, and technical perfection inherent to every Miura iron. And while there has been much debate (see the comments on the original) as to whether or not Miura feels, or even performs better than any other iron (I say they do) there have been few if any who have suggested that Miura quality is anything less than advertised.
Questions for Miura
One reader who wasn't completely willing to take us at our word was hoping to get some more specific details on the materials Miura uses, their manufacturing process, and what separates their hand-grinding from the rest of the industry. I took Kevin's questions to Miura President, Adam Barr. So before we get to the eye-candy, here are those questions along with Mr. Barr's responses.
- What kind of steel is Miura's "higher quality" steel? Their website doesn't give any material details other than "low-carbon" or "mild".
Adam Barr: The actual formula of the steel is proprietary, but suffice to say it's the best mild steel that can be found. Miura-san grew up in this region, the steelmaking center of Japan, and is very well acquainted with all the sources of superior steel.
- What is spin-welding? Why is it better than a single-piece forging? I can see potential advantages of grind the hosel and body separately, but welding processes generally add variability.
Adam Barr: Spin-welding, sometimes also called spin-forging, is a process unique to Miura that ensures a clubhead with uniform, fine grain -- no little voids or "bubbles" to interfere with the solid feel and the purity of the strike. The process starts with the clubhead, which is forged in the toe-to-heel portion only. Miura-san has found that when you forge in one piece, including the hosel, the process stretches the grain of the steel unnaturally upwards into the hosel, resulting in those voids you don't want. Forging toe-to-heel compresses the grain: the analogy is that the grain is more like a jar of sand instead of a jar of marbles. Then the hosel piece, also forged with consistent, fine grain, can be attached by spin-forging. A special machine spins the hosel piece at very high speed against the place on the clubhead where it should be attached. The friction creates enough heat to make a solid weld. Once finished, the weld scarf is gone and the club looks and operates as one piece.
- How is their hand grinding any different than the rest of the industry?
Adam Barr: Quite simply, it's the people who are doing the grinding: Miura-san, his son Yoshitaka-san (whom Miura-san trained), and the very small cadre of others Miura-san has trained to do this kind of highly specialized work. (You can see some of this in the video as well.) Miura-san's five decades of experience comes through his hands, and continues in the next generation. Grinding really is industrial art, and Miura-san has raised it to a very high level.
Miura Quality is but One Piece
While the need to start with a quality head like Miura's cannot be understated, the head is but one of the pieces necessary to create the perfect golf club. While many often assume that one piece is more important than another, when it comes to fitting, and building a set of clubs, everything matters. My Miura fitter/builder Josh Chervokas explains:
"I find most consumers do not understand how many variables there are when fitting how each one is important. I will often hear customers says "Isn't the shaft the most important part?" or "I heard the clubhead is most important" or "Can't we just set up my new set the same as my old and expect it to perform the same?". In reality everything has an effect. We cannot take the clubhead or shaft or setup out of context. To properly fit we must maximize the performance of each of these elements and examine how they react together. Only then can we get a true picture of performance."
After looking at the numbers from my fitting session, Josh determined that for me, the ideal setup, the one that would maximize my performance was Miura's CB-501 heads paired with KBS C-Taper shafts. After testing several combinations it was clear to Josh that I would achieve the most consistently ideal launch and spin conditions with this pairing. As you may recall from part I, I was admittedly a bit disappointed that a set of blades wasn't exactly the best fit for me, but I couldn't have been happier to learn that we'd be putting C-Tapers (stiff +) in my new irons.
Many of you are familiar with the KBS Tour shaft. They've quickly become among the most popular on the market today and have made their way into many OEM's "stock" lineup. Their new C-Taper is unquestionably the current "it" shaft for irons (and wedges). With a low glare, satin chrome finish (they look bead-blasted) and stepless design they could easily be mistaken for graphite. You simply won't find a better looking iron shaft. Of course it doesn't hurt that they offer exceptional feel.
While we're all tempted to buy the latest and greatest, or simply what looks the coolest, as much as I love them, the C-Taper is not a one-shaft fits all offering. They are designed for quick tempo players looking for a lower launch and less spin. As I learned during my fitting, that pretty much describes me perfectly. I'm actually one of the lucky ones for whom the KBS C-Taper offers an ideal fit. How sweet is that?
Have it Your Way
With the business of fitting sorted out, Josh and I got to work on a plan to "pimp out" my new sticks. We knew what heads, we knew what shafts, and we even knew what grips (I've become an IOmic snob) we'd be using. We just needed to sort out a few frivolous, yet completely awesome details.
Now working with a custom builder affords one some unique customization opportunities you simply won't find in any OEM's catalog. Of course being able to have it your way is only one small benefit of working with a skilled builder. When you work with someone like Josh Chervokas what you get is an obsessive eye for precision and detail that can only be achieved by those working at a macro level. Indeed, when it comes to specifications, and just plain getting it right, Josh's own tolerances far exceed industry standards. He says:
"In the same way that Miura's tolerances are tighter than the OEMs, My tolerances when building are also tighter. Shafts are all weighted and sorted into matched sets. Most OEMS have a +/-1 degree tolerance for loft and lie. I keep mine to 1/4 degree. I also measure each club carefully with a lie angle specific ruler when cutting to length. Swingweighting is done with the specific grip chosen as well as with the exact amount of tape layers we will be using".
Getting the Shaft
While making sure swingweights match, and lengths are correct certainly matters, the single most significant aspect of what Josh does is the weighting and sorting of shafts. For no other aspect of the club have we found so little continuity from the big OEMs. The lack of consistency, which often involves a set of irons that span multiple flexes, occurs for a couple of reasons.
- There is no industry standard for flex. While most generally agree that the range between flexes is 10-12 cycles per minute, very few if any agree on where those ranges begin and end. While most will share their tolerances for lie, loft, and length, you won't find a single OEM that publishes tolerances for shaft flex. Why is that?
- Without exception, the OEMs that operate on a large scale rely on the shaft manufactures to do the sorting for them. The thing is, shaft manufacturers have tolerances too, but big OEMs pay little or no attention to variances in weight or flex from one shaft to the next. As a result, it's anything but uncommon for two clubs in any given set to be weighted differently, or to fall outside the boundaries of the stated flex. We've seen iron sets labeled stiff that contained clubs in the senior range. And while that's perhaps the most extreme example, we've seen several sets of "stiff" flex irons that contained individual irons that fell within ranges we would define as regular, stiff, and x-stiff . Again, this is a single set of irons I'm talking about. One set, 3 flexes. It happens more often than you might think.
When you work with a builder who maintains his own shaft inventory, the finished product (especially where shaft consistency is concerned) looks almost nothing like what you get when you place a "custom" order with a big OEM - and that's a good thing.
While getting a higher-quality finished product is no doubt the best reason to work with a custom fitter and builder, one of the added perks is that your clubs can be built to suite your individual style, no matter how outlandish it may be. While I'm sure there will be plenty who will look at my set and shake their heads, I wanted each and every club to look unique. This meant different colored grips, different colored ferrules, and even different color paintfill on each and every one. While I know not all will approve of what Josh and I came up with, that's the beauty of customization. Your clubs can be whatever suits your eye. There's no need for the builder to create a design and color scheme with mass-market appeal.
Just because Miura irons themselves are traditional in design, there's no reason why your Miura's can't deviate (or radically depart) from that tradition.
Having said that, I did wonder what Miura-San would think of clubs like mine, and Josh's other designs that don't quite match the Miura image. As it turns out, while the bright ferrules and paintfill isn't something that Mr. Miura does himself, he "is fine with what Josh does if it is helpful to his customers". While I won't suggest the bright grips, and everything else Josh did with my clubs benefits my game in any way whatsoever (unless you're willing to believe that orange grips are more accurate than black ones), I'm thrilled to have a set of irons that reflects my own colorful style.
It's not the People, it's the Grass
Miura-San's response to my customization question got me further thinking about the challenges of designing clubs for two very different markets. Japanese and American culture are very different, and so I had assumed that each country's golfers would have styles as distinct as those cultures. While there are no doubt products that appeal to one market more than another, for Miura, like most everything else, the heart of the issue lies not with marketing, but rather the technical challenges in accounting for the differences in something as basic as the grass on which we play the game.
Adam Barr explains:
It's not so much the consumers who are different, but the golf challenges they encounter. Course conditions and management tend to be different in Japan. The turf can be firmer in places, and golfers may find that they need a different sole configuration to get the best turf interaction. And within that group of golfers, there may be preferences as to how to get the golf swing accomplished, plus the natural physical distinctions between people -- all this has to be taken into account. Conversely, in the U.S., conditions can vary widely because there's so much more land to consider. Texas isn't Oregon isn't New York, and they all have their seasons. So deep consideration is necessary when designing for one place or the other.
The basic challenge of the game is, of course, the same. But the ground under our feet may not be. It's not necessarily difficult to create clubs with worldwide appeal. It just takes some of that patience discussed above.
Custom CB-501s on the Course
I had my first opportunity to put my irons to the test on some of that New York sod Adam was talking about this last weekend. While there was a part of me that thought about leaving them on the shelf to keep them pristine a bit longer, golf clubs, even the most beautiful (and loudest) of designs are meant to be played. And while it's evidence of nothing, I'm happy to report that I shot my lowest round (by two strokes) of the season. Perhaps it was dumb luck. Perhaps there was a true performance gain from the switch to C-Tapers. Perhaps it's a simple as being content and thoroughly enjoying playing a round of golf with irons that are distinctly mine (even if it means giggling like a school girl each time a different colored grip came out of the bag).
Part of me wants to tell you that when you get fit for a custom set of Miura irons you'll likely find yourself with the last set of clubs you'll ever want. Unfortunately I don't think I can honestly tell you that. What I can say is that my completely custom CB-501s will be the last set of cavity backs I game until they wear out, but...
If anything, owning a set of Miura irons fit for and built exclusively for me has left me dreaming about how much fun I could have customizing a set of the Limited Edition Black Blades (seriously...I already have ferrules and paintfiill picked out. I might be developing an "issue" or "condition" of sorts), or possibly Baby Blades. Those will likely have to wait, but one of the last things I said to Josh before I left the New York Golf Center on that rainy Thursday afternoon was "I'll come back in a couple of years and you can fit me for some Miura blades". Maybe it's what he said, or maybe it's just what I want to remember, but I'm fairly certain he said "It's a deal". Even if was all in my head, I'm holding Josh to it.
If you happened to miss Part 1? // Click Here!