Here in Japan, Tourstage is as synonymous with golf as wasabi is with sushi. But as many of you who follow the Japanese golf scene know, Tourstage is no more after a global branding unification done by Bridgestone. What kind of impact this unification will have is yet to be fully realized except for perhaps the obvious marketing and brand image benefits of having one name globally. It has been common practice here for larger brands to keep their golf “wing” separate from their main business. It allowed the golf brands to develop their own unique identities, separate from the parent company. In other words, there was no mistaking Tourstage as a tire company, instead it stood out on its own as one of Japan’s premier golf brands. The same went for Srixon and XXIO who are wings of Dunlop and PRGR who are the golf wing of Yokohama Rubber. Tourstage has always been among the top JDM brands if not the top. With the most advanced designs and hugest product line offerings as well as what once was the largest Japanese tour staff which also boasted the likes of Ai Miyazato and Shigeki Maruyama in America, Tourstage excelled while Bridgestone Golf struggled outside of Japan “without” the Tourstage moniker.
Over the years this separation of brands at Bridgestone continued and there was reasoning for it as Japan is a very different market from the rest of the world. Some may say it’s the most demanding and most “enthusiast” based hence the extra effort and capital brands put into clubs released here (and this goes for US brands here as well like Taylormade, Callaway, Titleist etc who all create JDM specific lines). Tourstage’s use of the latest and greatest materials and technologies drew in Japanese golfers but at a price point that would never be fathomed out West. I’ve discussed this several times on the blog, 800.00 to 1200.00 for a driver is not out of the ordinary here (nor is 1500.00 and up it seems!) while in the U.S. it would be unthinkable as an average price, even for a top brand driver. Because of this Bridgestone was left with watered down designs and “older hand me downs” when it came to their club lineup. I don’t know for sure but it’s possible Bridgestone balls were more well known than its clubs.
However, markets can evolve and change for both the better and worse, and in the case of Japan, the golf market has turned towards the latter. High prices plus an influx of too many brands have flooded the market with excess stock and product. One would think that choice is a good thing and for the consumer it is, but from a brand’s market standpoint, it creates too much competition. Larger Japanese brands like Tourstage have struggled over recent years and much of it could also be attributed to Tourstage’s product line strategy which saw no less, than 5 distinctively different lines in previous years (X-Drive, GR, ViQ, PHYZ, Premium, EXE just to name some off the top of my head), sometimes competing amongst themselves. Last summer Tourstage’s tour staff suddenly dwindled to mere minimal numbers and left many a Japanese pro trying to hitch rides with new brands and sponsors. This was a prelude of what was to come as it was announced shortly after that next release of Tourstage clubs, specifically the X-Drive line would fall under the Bridgestone name. This also saw the end of the GR and VIQ lines, two designs that focused on the more mid range golfer and two designs to more often than not, overlapped one another. The only original cast member who seems to have survived this brand realignment is PHYZ which interestingly enough didn’t even exist 3 years ago. The reason for PHYZ’s survival is that it has actually done quite well for the average golfer and can easily fill the shoes of VIQ as well and to some extent GR (as can the new Bridgestone J715 line). As the smoke clears what this gives us is a more focused Bridgestone brand in my opinion, one that can create two strong lines of clubs that cover golfers of all ranges.
That’s probably enough chatter about Tourstage’s transition to a unified global brand and while this post was supposed to talk about it’s new flagship driver, I felt it was a good opportunity to address the change and to give a little insight. So without further delay let’s take a look at the J715 driver which was released this summer. I received a B5 demo in 9.5* with the stock Tour AD shaft. The B5 is the 445cc model which is of course slightly more compact than the 460cc B5. The main differences between the two are the volume and a slight difference in head shape as well as the ball flight. The more forgiving B3 provides a higher launch and a bit more forgiveness while the B5 provides a more powerful trajectory and more stability and control. Both heads feature adjustable sleeves and new adjustable weight cartridges as Bridgestone calls them. The faces use pressed/forged 6AL-4V Ti and a precision cast Ti811 body. The J715 inherits Tourstage’s Turbo Rubber technology which aids in the spring effect of the head and contributes to feel.
New features include a power slit design which are flowing ribs spanning across the crown from heel to toe in 3 locations. These slits stabalize the head at impact and direct the energy forward by moving the deflection point towards the front of the crown at the face. I think this is a good idea as when I have looked at other driver designs over the past couple of years, many brands have tried to tweak the crown using variable thickness in order to maximize energy transfer (and this head does have variable thickness as one of the aspects of the crown). However, when you think of it, the amount of time a ball stays on the face is just mere milli-seconds meaning there isn’t exactly a lot of time for the crown to deflect and return the balls energy back to the ball at launch. Because of this the point of deflection is focused at the front so that it can instantaneously return the energy of the ball for increased ball speeds. If an entire crown has to flex, there most likely would be a loss of energy due to the amount of time it would take for it to return to it’s original shape. Continue Reading
Two and a half years ago when we first introduced Ryoma Golf’s D-1 driver here at Tourspecgolf, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We had seen the accolades it had received in Japan as a superior distance driver with unparalleled forgiveness but it was at a price point that we really thought would scare of many potential buyers. Fast forward to today and the Ryoma D-1 became TSG’s best selling driver ever with steady and unmatched sales through 2011 and 2012. While there is certainly no such thing as a driver that performs for every single person, the Ryoma D-1 certainly comes close.
Towards the end of 2012, we began hearing rumors that Ryoma was working on a successor to the D-1 driver. We could not help but wonder how anyone could improve on the D-1. Many customers proclaimed it as the holy grail, longer than any driver they had ever hit with unmatched ease of use. Nevertheless, we quietly waited with unwavering excitement and growing expectations.
We found out a few months ago Ryoma had developed a new D-1 Maxima driver and confirmed its existence when we saw a pre production model at the Japan Golf Fair in February. Ryoma eventually announced a late April release initially in the domestic Japanese market where it has gained a cult like status.
While creating the Maxima, Ryoma decided to create some basic points as a premise for its design and truth be told, these points are all pretty obvious and what we would like in every driver. The Maxima would not only produce big carry or not only produce big run, but an optimal amount of both for maximum driving distance. Every player is different and distance will vary for every player so the Maxima works to improve every golfers game by minimizing left and right ball movement as well as eliminating ballooning of shots by reducing back spin and side spin. Noting that many drivers today reach too high an apex in their ball flight causing the ball to drop rapidly with too much back spin and no run, Ryoma focused on optimal spin for carry and a trajectory apex which would allow a powerful descent angle resulting in great run. Ryoma also understood that with different specs and different shafts, the proportion of carry and run will of course be different with every player but this could be overlooked by making a head that simply produces as much initial ball speeds as possible for every individual player.
Kenji Kobayashi, Chief Designer and CEO of S-Yard golf continues to follow his passion for designing beautiful golf clubs that perform as good as they look. Following the successful releases of the T.388 Driver and the Bold Wedge, S-Yard has released Mr. Kobayashi’s latest driver, the XV. Mr. Kobayashi realized as great as the T.388 is, with 388cc head and shallow face (meaning low teeing of the ball) is not for everyone. So with that in mind he sought to create a driver that would be sold side by side with the T.388 and encompass the same premium quality and design with top notch performance as its smaller sibling. The XV, a premium Endo forged 450cc driver was released this week to huge fanfare in Japan, especially among those who clamored for a premium Kobayashi design but were not confident enough to play the T.388. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to get the new XV driver so today I will share my initial impressions on the clubs design and performance here on the blog.
For those who do not know Mr. Kobayashi, back in 1993 S-yard produced the world’s first all forged Titanium driver called the T.301 which they produced at the Endo factory. The T.301 was designed by Kenji Kobayashi, who not only went on to become the president of Endo manufacturing, the worlds largest and highest quality forging house, but also one of the most respected and revered figures in the Japanese golf industry over the last 20 years. Mr. Kobayashi’s designs, and knowledge of golf club manufacturing as well as the creation of the T.301 Forged driver led many in the industry to refer to him as the “father of forged Titanium drivers”.
In 2001 he officially became the president of Endo manufacturing where he also took over the reigns of Endo’s private brand Epon Golf. Many golf enthusiasts will be familiar with many of his Epon designs including the Technica and Technity series, as well as more recently the AF line all the way up to the ZERO driver and Z:EN putter as well as his influence on many top global golf brands which produced their clubs at Endo under the design eye of Mr. Kobayashi. Fast forward to the summer of 2011. Mr. Kobayashi decided it was time to retire as the president of Endo and open up some free time to enjoy the recreational side of golf after 40 yeas of being involved in the business side of golf. His retirement did not last long as S-Yard came calling as they knew Mr. Kobayashi would be the man to lead their brand back to and beyond the same lofty heights of success it had before. Early 2012, Mr. Kobayashi became the president of S-Yard in charge of the direction of the company as well as golf club design and earlier this year he began his dream lineup by releasing the T.388 driver and Bold wedge.
Miura Giken Japan’s 2000 series irons have always been considered the most balanced of all Miura models. While the compact 1000 series squarely aimed at the single digit player and athlete golfer, and the Passing Point series allowing the average and weekend golfer to play forgiving Miura irons, the 2000 series sits right in between in fact overlapping both target audiences. By being the best all around series in the Miura line, it also takes the title of being the most popular line. The new CB-2007 encompasses all of the previous 2000 series model strengths and takes it to a new design level. We’ve seen the 2000 series advance technically away from the simple traditionalist designs to heads focused on CG placement, flowing and symmetrical shapes across the sets to increased MOI and a focus on bringing all around play to a a new meaning.
Miura sent over their new CB-2007 for me to check out and I have to say it follows in the footsteps of the new CB-1007 cavity back and MB5000WC wedge in that it is very good looking. It has all the usual Miura stampings which are probably more words than the iron needs on the back face but this is something we have all probably gotten used to. If they could have only moved W.D.D. Accurate Forged to the neck and not put “Fast & Strong”, the iron would be even more visually appealing but oh well, I’ve given up on lecturing JDM brands about cluttering their iron heads with too much stampings. The first thing one notices is of course the, almost like hooks in the back of the cavity. This is what Miura dubs the new W-Power bridge. In Japan, W is commonly used for DOUBLE in case you didn’t figure it out. The two hooks or swooshes or bridges as Miura calls them, total 7 extra grams in weight and not only bring the CG tad higher in the head but also create a variable thickness face which enhances feel and supposedly creates a larger sweet spot. Continue Reading
George Takei is a name that is synonymous with golf club design in the Japanese market. The former founder of Gauge Design Japan and G-Field Golf has traveled the road both high and low when it comes to golf clubs in Japan. At its peak, George had led Gauge Design into becoming the number one putter on the Japanese tour, besting the likes of Odyssey and Scotty Cameron. Gauge Design Japan and G-Field eventually dissolved as the company broke off seeing former employees of Gauge form new companies like Gold’s Factory and Romaro Sports. George however, continued to hone his design skills and passion/dream of creating the ultimate golf clubs. Several years ago, the George Spirits brand was born.
George continued on his journey to create his dream golf clubs, with the sky the limit. Top quality forged irons and wedges, premium forged and cutting edge designs for woods and of course putters. George Spirits recently released their Mono line of pin style putters the Mono1 , Mono2 and Mono3 models. Personally I am much more of a mallet type player so I was very happy to see George release the new Mono M1 putters featuring Style1 a center shafted small mallet and Style2 a double bend shaft over heel mallet. I was immediately drawn to the Style1 as I typically use a center shafted putter with more of a straight back and forth type of stroke. George Spirits as usual was of course very accommodating and sent over both models for me to try out.
Mitsubishi Rayon introduces the 3rd generation Diamana, The B series, for the athlete golfer. It follows the same concept as previous generation models, but with added improvements to further enhance the consistency. The flex characteristics and torque is precisely measured out to create a shaft that is very neutral and can fit a variety of swing types. It brings a similar characteristics as the previous Blue Board version, but with enhanced consistency and feedback.
New Dialead material is put into use for this new shaft. Dialead is a new high quality carbon material that is used in satellites that are developed to travel in space. It is very light weight and strong against any type of pressure that is applied. This Dialead material is used with the 3D MDI (Multi DImensional Interlay) technology. The 3D MDI is a strategically angled and rolled carbon sheet pattern. The multi layers of the sheets make the shaft very strong against deformation during high speeds. The Dialead material is layered in a 90* cross pattern between the normal carbon sheets to give it an enhanced consistency and feel. The Diamana B Series is said to be the new standard of shafts for the athlete golfer.
We all know that the Pro Gear’s egg Spoon is one of the best ever fairway woods to come out of Japan. Deadly forgiving with monster type distance, may flock to it for its amazing performance. However, it wasn’t perfect by any means. Many found the face and profile too shallow making it scary to tee off with. While stronger players found the club simply too light resulting in a lack of stability and topping of the ball in the fairway.
PRGR decided to address this issue by releasing a new egg Spoon HD – which stands for Heavy and Deep Spec. With the deeper face comes an all new ES475 maraging steel material for higher strength and more ball repulsion at impact from higher swing speeds. The deeper face and slightly more compact (158cc) hollow head has also allowed for realigned CG point for lower spin and a strong and penetrating trajectory. The ES475 features a variable thickness face with an outer wall of 1.8mm thin , a mid wall of 1.9mm thin and a center section of 2.2mm thin. Total face area has increased by 19%. PRGR claims the new deeper face and ES475 equal higher ball speeds and increased distance over the standard Spoon thanks to a COR rating of 0.81 which is unusually high for a Fairway wood and only bested by the Ryoma FW at 0.82.
The stock shaft for the Spoon HD has also been tweaked to be heavier and to use Vectran carbon fibers for added stability and performance. Overall the new Spoon HD is 20 to 22g heavier than the current Spoon timpping in at 335g and D2.5 along with the stock M-46 shaft. Fubuki FW F65 and F75 are also options with the F75 tipping the scales at a nice and heavy 339g which is certainly hefty for a 3W by Japan standards. PRGR has also decided to only release the HD in 14.5* for the better player. We’ve already requested a demo to try and should have the club in the pro shop soon!
The new Epon Forged Limited edition Personal Iron demo arrived at my house today so I spent the afternoon snapping photos and examining the design of the head. One of the advantages Epon has as a premier boutique brand in Japan, is that it is owned by Endo Manufacturing which reserves nothing but the best when it comes to design, manufacturing and materials for any Epon product. Epon staff are very passionate about golf and over the years have experimented with in house designs that were meant to be staff prototypes but became limited retail editions such as the rare and very much still in demand limited edition Tecnity 380 Forged driver. The Personal iron is another one of those products that after Epon produced the iron, it was simply too beautiful to keep for themselves.
The Personal Iron is a compact blade with some interesting design aspects. Some golfers in the now may be reminded of Ben Hogan’s Apex iron which featured a muscle on muscle design much like the Personal. Epon wanted to create a blade that while small and compact still allowed players of different levels to enjoy the pure feel and control of a muscle back. The head features a cut away toe area which progresses through the back of the iron. This removes weight from the toe and high up in the blade and allows it to be placed lower in the head and more towards the hosel. This also allows for a much thicker sweet spot resulting in softer feel at impact.
The other day I did a brief intro on Romaro’s forged irons lineup and today I’ll take a look at two of the wedges they sent me, the Ray VX and the Ray W. These will soon be joined in Romaro’s lineup by the Ray SX and the Alcobaca wedge which are not out yet (I’ll get demos closer to their release date in late April/early May). Like Romaro irons, all their wedges are forged and feature very nice shapes and designs.
The Ray VX is a smaller sized wedge with minimal offset. It is forged from S20C steel and finished in a satin chrome plating. The conforming grooves wedge features a tear drop style face shape and a V channel or triangle cut sole which increases versatility and allows more pure turf interaction for better impact in various conditions. The VX is available in 48/7 50/8 52/8 56/12 and 58/10 lofts and bounces.
The Ray W model, is about the same size as the VX and is also a tear drop shaped head. It is forged from S25C and features an nice pearl like white boron plating. The bottom sole is rather flat but it has a killed leading edge and trailing edge relief and plenty of heel relief. The multi grind sole results in higher bounce which excels in lusher courses or for those who dig too much. The Ray W is available in 52/10 56/12 and 58/11 lofts and bounces. Let’s take a look t the two wedges side by side.
In the above picture of the wedge soles, with the VX on the left and the W on the right. You triangle cut sole and some heel relief on the VX while the W has even more trailing edge relief and a more blunted leading edge. Both will certainly excel on in various lies with the slightly wider sole and more bounce of the W doing well in soft conditions.
At address both set up quite nicely and provide a tear drop like shape. The VX on the left is a bit taller on the heel side and a tad rounder in the top line. Both wedges feature 15 score lines and a slightly rounded leading edge. Both have pretty much straight necks but if I were to be picky, I’d say the VX has a tad more offset which could be an illusion from the rounder top line towards the heel. Either way better players will be happy with the way both look at address.
I did get out and hit a few with both wedges and both wedges feel great. They are soft and they have that ball compressing off the face feel that many of us like. The grinds are versatile and approaches around the green including chipping and opening up the face are done with ease. The W was very good in the bunkers with its slightly wider sole and higher bounce and the VX was no slouch either. I’m really looking forward to playing the newer Ray SX wedge as it looks amazing and I already have my eye on the new Alocaba 60*! Stay tuned for Romaro in the pro shop this week!
Most people outside of Japan know Srixon as the main brand under the Sri Sports/Dunlop umbrella, however in Japan, Srixon shares the spotlight with XXIO (pronounced zeh-ku-shi-oh). Both brands receive equal attention but focus on different market segments. While Srixon is mostly know for the better player and athlete golfer, XXIO in fact caters to the largest market in Japan, that being the average golfer and senior player (there are many golfers well in their 80’s here). Japan is a country full of golfers who are willing to pay for technology and premium materials and XXIO casters to these golfers by always offering cutting edge designs and automatic style performance for the recreational player and older more experienced senior golfer. Because of this the XXIO lineup is year in and year out one of the top lineups when it comes to not only sales but also performance. I’m going to review both the driver and fairway wood in two parts starting with the driver in this post.
Every two years XXIO releases a new line of XXIO clubs and this year we are on to XXIO7 which as you guessed is the 7th generation. Every year, XXIO tweaks its designs, to incorporate new technology and new materials, all for the sake of improved performance and feel. The XXIO7 driver is a departure from the previous XXIO model. While many average golfer models were moving towards bigger yet lighter heads built at longer lengths to try and gain more distance, the new XXIO7 has actually decreased the footprint of its 460cc head and increased the weight of the head while shortening the length to 45.5″. These are the kinds of changes I like to see manufacturers do.
I have always believed a longer driver, while it can produce more club head speed, is also a lot harder to hit squarely consistently. Also with a longer length club, comes a lighter head and overall club weight which may work for some but for others can simply be too light, sacrificing both feel and stability. The XXIO7 with its shorter length increases consistency at striking the sweet spot and with a heavier head and D1-D2 swing weight, creates more ball speed at impact thanks to increased kinetic energy from the heads increased motion and mass. The shorter length of the club has allowed the head to become heavier but the overall club weight is still rather light at just over 280g meaning its still quite easy to swing though for some this could be too light.
While the head dimensions have change, one thing that has not, is the bias of the XXIO7 and the face angle. XXIO drivers have long been the favorites of average golfers who battle a slice due to there draw biased heads and closed face angles. To help these average golfers straighten out their ball and create more distance, XXIO has introduced a new lightweight Ti body using a material they call T9S. Even though the head is not nearly as long from face to back the MOI has increased thanks to the lighter body, allowing for more weight to be placed in the sole of the head. The increased MOI paired with the forged Super TIX titanium cup face (Super TIX isdeveloped by Sri Sports themselves) widens the sweet spot which really aid distance on miss hits towards the toe and heel, the typical misses of average golfers.
The Super TIX face feels great. It is very springy (this driver is conforming) and the ball seems to jump off the face. As you can see from the photo I took above, the face is on the shallow side and rather long from heel to toe. It has a crisp but higher pitched sound at impact. Impact sound is very subjective and some may like it and some may not. Please click on the blue play button below to hear the sound at impact.
I actually like the wat it sounds but there are those players who prefer a more muted solid sound. The XXIO7 produces a nice soft draw. With its closed face and 3g stainless steel weight in the heel, the head rotates well for a square impact. If you are the kind of player who leaves the face open, the XXIO really does come around quite well, eliminating those weak cuts and open pushes. The driver is very automatic something older players and average golfers who struggle with consistency can appreciate. Now even though I say, the XXIO7 is aimed at the average golfer, its not to say the improving or more serious and better player cannot benefit from the XXIO7. Interestingly XXIO offers the driver with a VERY broad range of lofts from 8.5* which is a special order up to 12.5*. The stock shaft is an ultralight at under 50g and does have torque over 5* for all flexes which is meant to produce feel and help players sqaure the face. Because of this, I still would not recommend the XXIO7 for any aggressive player or a player who battles a hook and pull, especially since static club weight is still on the light side which can be a negative for those who rely on heavier clubs to manage tempo.
In closing, this driver is very automatic, it produces a higher launch, big carry and has very good feel. The average golfer and senior player will appreciate its ease of use and easy to swing nature, though harder hitters might want to opt for a stiffer Miyazaki shaft which is an option, though they would still have to take the drivers bias and closed face into consideration. If you are not as consistent as you would like to be, battle a slice and need more distance, the XXIO7 is one of your top choices. Tomorrow I will look at XXIO7 fairway wood which is a great compliment to the driver.