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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.”
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.