By Bennett Galloway
2 Masters (+?), 1 United States Open (+?), a Senior PGA Championship (or more) and 25 Wins on the Japanese Tour (that we can talk about!)
Ever wonder who makes the best golf clubs in the world? In this feature, we are going to try to shed some light on the mystery behind one of the worlds best and most sought-after golf gear companies, Miura Golf. I recently had the pleasure of meeting and sitting down with the Asia and Japan Representative for Miura (and hero in his own right) Herb Wakabayashi. I want to find out what is so mystical about these clubs and why they don't advertise...or need to!
I first heard about Miura golf when a friend and fellow golf pro, Dr. Joseph Limoli (a former Stanford University Golf Team member before Tiger) came giggling into the office here at Gotemba Golf Club with a set of irons he found at a local second-hand shop. They had no markings and Joe said (with a rather feverish grin), he thought they might be vintage Miura! Stranger things have happened as I once heard of an authentic Augusta Masters "green jacket" turning up in a second-hand shop in eastern Canada! ...Really!
Herb, Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us here in Tokyo. You are a 3 time Olympian having represented Japan in ice hockey during three Olympics, in 1972 at Sapporo, 1976 at Innsbruck, and 1980 at Lake Placid where you were given the honor of carrying the Japanese flag at the Opening Ceremonies! All this along with being inducted into Boston University's Athletic Hall of Fame!
These days a lot of professional hockey players are also avid golfers, the 'Great One' comes to mind who runs his own charity competition The Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic and even multi-million dollar large-scale golf developments like Bear Mountain dreamed up and funded by a group of ex NHL players in Victoria B.C. Canada.
What caused you to put down your 'Louisville' hockey stick and pick up a Miura golf club?
When I was finished playing and coaching hockey here in Japan with the Seibu Tetsudo Ice Hockey team I decided I was heading back to Canada to start a new life in a totally different business environment. I was introduced to Miura-san through a mutual friend in Himeji Japan. Miura-san mentioned his dream of someday selling his clubs under the Miura brand all over the world. At that moment realizing these are the best-forged clubs in the industry, I began to see the enormous opportunity presented to me.
When I returned to Vancouver I decided to approach two former teammates from the Seibu Ice Hockey team to look into starting up a distributorship company for Miura golf clubs; Doug Buchanan (one of Canada's top lawyers) and Bill Holowaty (member of the UBC Sports Hall of Fame who was working in his family business). With the help of Miura-san and the parent company Miura Giken Co. Ltd., we were able to start the Miura Golf Inc. in 1994 with Doug as the company President, Bill the Vice President and me as the vital link between the two.
Tell us a little bit about Miura's legacy and track record?
Well, public record shows 2 Masters Victories, a United States Open win, a Senior PGA Championship and 25 Wins on the Japanese Tour and counting that we can talk about, however these numbers are nowhere near the actual accomplishments of the many players who have chosen to play Miura clubs and won in tournaments all over the world. I am not able to disclose the names without breaching our obligation of confidentiality to them and their sponsors. But I can say that Retief Goosen and Jose Maria Olazabal have won major tournaments with them and Miura was forging the blades for Titleist during the years Tiger was using Titleist blades...
Any idea how many touring pros have Miura clubs in their hands on the various professional tours in the world today?
In fact many tour players are, and have been playing Miura made clubs under the brands of other companies due to contractual obligations, however few visibly under the Miura brand. Miura Golf's policy is that we don't pay professionals to play our clubs. Those that play Miura branded clubs play them because they choose to do so and not due to any monetary benefit other than perhaps their winnings! In certain cases players state their club requirements up front when signing sponsorship contracts and Miura is brought in to craft the club to the companies and players spec. and brand it as required. Since we don't pay professionals to play our clubs, we don't feel we have the right to use their names to promote our products and in many cases, as above, we are legally bound to secrecy.
Any chance you could list the tours and the give us some numbers without letting the cat out of the bag?
Unfortunately no, but more than you might think! I am able to say that we have clubs in play on the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, Nationwide, Canadian, European, European Senior and the Challenge tour. The most gratifying component to our relationship with these Professionals is that they are purchasing their Miura equipment. In this day and age of equipment deals, we find it very encouraging that there are those who make their living playing golf who feel that paying for and playing Miura forged irons is their best opportunity at success.
What is it that sets Miura golf clubs apart from the rest?
Mr. Miura uses forging techniques which have taken many years to perfect and follow in the tradition of the ancient Japanese 'Katana' sword makers of the Hyogo area of Japan. His special forging techniques produce a club head with the most stable and refined molecular structure found anywhere in the golfing industry today. Because Mr. Miura is able to have the fundamental weight adjustments in the club head occur during the forging process rather than the grinding process he can create a uniformity of club head weight and balance which is unsurpassed. This translates into unbelievable feel at impact and an overall superior product, plus a few proprietary secrets that I am not at liberty to discuss...
Don't you lose money by not going into mass production and outsourcing?
Not really as being able to control the entire business cycle 'end to end' from production right through to the end user we can ensure that there are no breaches in the quality of our product and that is one of the keys to our continuing success, unwavering quality! Ours is a long-term strategy that has served the company well and insisted upon by Katsuhiro Miura the company founder. Mr. Miura is in total control of the entire manufacturing process from the raw piece of metal to the finished product. People are amazed that master craftsman Katsuhiro Miura, who is often referred to in the Japanese media as having the Hands of God, actually works hands-on in his factory every day. He passes down his knowledge and skills to his two sons and still occupies the number one chair in the grinding line.
Is it possible for the average golfer to get their hands on a set of Miura golf clubs?
Yes, but don't expect to find them in any discount golf chains. We sell either directly on occasion, but mainly through selected dealers and clubs worldwide. There is a perception that Miura irons are only for Professional and top amateur golfers. The fact remains that Mr. Miura believes all golfers can benefit from forged clubs. It is his belief that a forged iron allows the skill of an individual golfer to come through, regardless of the level of that skill. The ability to hit a high shot, low shot, partial shot or a curving shot is more attainable with a forged iron. The instant feedback from a well-struck shot is what we are all looking to achieve.
I've also heard very good things about your wedges and that it is possible to get them personally engraved and initialed.
Yes, indeed our wedges are very sought after due to their incredible feel around the green and shot making ability. Many golfers are surprised by the feel created in the club by using the same formula of mild iron that many other club makers use but to quite a different outcome. Due to our limited production, if you are able to wait, yes, we can offer personalized wedges and yes, some things in life are worth waiting for!
Herb, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and shedding a little light onto one of the secrets that keep some of the top-ranked pros in the world, on top! It is truly an honor to meet you and I wish you and Miura Golf continued success long into the future.
For further information on some of the best wedges and iron sets available (in the world) please go to www.miuragolf.com and for those Tokyo residents who want further information on ordering a few personalized wedges or a complete set here in Japan, please feel free to contact me for a chance to become part of the legacy!