It’s always interesting to meet TSG customers when they come to Japan. Many of these customers I have dealt with for years and finally seeing them face to face is always a pleasure. Craig is as hardcore a golf enthusiasts as they come and I have always known this. He appreciates quality and is very loyal to the brands that perform for him. So it was only natural when he told me a few weeks ago that he was flying in for a weekend of golf that we head out to Itabashi to visit Master Sasaya and Gold’s Factory. Afterall, Craig is the proud owner of no less than 4 unique re-works done by Sasaya-san over the last 6 months alone.
I met Craig around 9:30am just outside Daimaru at Tokyo Station. Surprisingly traffic coming in from Kiminomori was very heavy for a Friday morning. Craig and I then hopped on the JR and headed out to Nakajuku in Itabashi for a morning session with the Master. Nakajuku as I have mentioned before is an older part of Tokyo with narrower streets and tightly crammed businesses and homes. It probably wasn’t what Craig had expected as the home to Gold’s Factory. Craig had brought along 4 more putters for modification and refinishing by Gold’s and we also discussed some ideas for an all new original Gold’s creation putter.
We arrived at Gold’s just after 10:00am and after introductions and a quick perusal of the workshop Craig pulled out an Epon Zen, Epon i33, Gold’s Factory DWD, and an older brass Hiro Matsumoto Tour putter. We stood over the putters trying to decide on the spot what to do with each one. Craig had been very happy with the suggestions I had made on previous putters so he left the finer details up to myself and Sasaya-san to decide while he let us know his thoughts on each putter, ie “The Zen feels too light, and looks too plain… the Hiro feel is not up to par with the others, the i33 got rusted in transit and needs an overhaul…” We came together on ideas for each head and Sasasya-san began pulling the shaft off the Zen and DWD putter so that he could get to work on the putters immediately since Craig was only here for a few hours.
There is no doubt that when it comes to workmanship and finish, there are few in this world that rival Gold’s Factory. Craig got a chance first hand to see exactly how hands on everything is at Gold’s. There are those who think a lot of what Gold’s does is about looks and aesthetics, and of course it is, who doesn’t want their putter to look good? But much care is taken to make sure that each putter, whether a Gold’s original or not is as good as it can be manufacturing wise, performance wise and of course looks. Craig had requested a sight dot be placed on the top line of the ZEN so Sasaya-san immediately placed the Zen on a balance point which shows us exactly where the sweet spot or CG is placed in the head. Many putters and brands assume this spot is in the center of the putter and place sight lines and sight dots accordingly. However as Sasaya-san showed us and explained, with a lot of the weight of a putter being in the neck, the CG is almost always towards the neck.
Sure enough on the Zen, the actual sweet spot of the putter was just under a cm away from the center towards the heel. Now placing a sight dot or line here would look weird and as Sasaya-san put it “not very beautiful”. This was especially the case because the Zen has a circular patch of face milling right in the center of the face. Craig had noted the head felt a little lighter than he would have liked so we weighed the head and it was a very healthy 357g. But since Craig wanted a heavier head and feel, it gave us to opportunity to play around with the weighting.
Sasaya-san and I decided on 2 weights in the sole but heavier towards the toe to help edge that CG over towards the actual center of the putter more. That would allow for a sight dot in the physical center of the putter right above the center of the circle area face milling. With the small and narrow sole we decided on a 4g mini “G” weight flat in the heel sole and a 9g tunsten insert with little brass inserts (look almost gold to match he Epon “e”) on the front part of the toe bringing the weight up to 370g. As I have mentioned before, Gold’s machine’s all their own weights and as you can see in the photo above, they still have to insert 8 small brass pins into the weight. As Craig discovered visiting Gold’s, there is lots of intricate little details all done by hand.
There was lots going on in the Gold’s Factory workshop as we moved our attention to the Hiro Matsumoto Tour putter Craig brought in. The black dyed head was fading and edges of the brass putter were coming through. Sasaya-san sand blasted the head to remove the bulk of the finish and then came the work to begin refinishing this gamer. Scratches, dings were to be removed and this putter restored to a new look with its original brass material as the base. The putter was placed in the CNC machine and the un milled face checked. Gold’s Factory does this for EVERY putter, regardless of whether it is a Gold’s putter or other brand, regardless of whether it is new or old. As you can imagine, its quite important to have a perfectly flat face when it comes to putting and you will be surprised to discover how many brands or retail putters do not. They are able to measure and machine to fractions of a mm (they were machining the face of a putter before the Matsumoto at a depth of 0.04mm. Yes 4/100th of a millimeter which is half the width of human hair.
Comparatively speaking the Matsumoto was pretty good overall for a flat face though Gold’s was able to detect a slight concave dip towards the center at 0.05mm. This was easily corrected by machining the face with a very fine milling. Two passes heel to toe then toe to heel and the a second check of the face showed the Matsumoto was now perfectly flat. Gold’s factory dubs this a very fine milling. You can clearly see the mill marks but running your hand along the face, it feels smooth! At this point the face can be left like this or polished which will remove the mill marks for a polished finish.
Next up was some light grinding to remove rough edges and damaged portions of the putter. The grinding process is quite a tedious job and is usually done over the span of several days. Grinding is done with different grit of sandpaper depending on the wound 0r damage and then slowly the grit becomes more fine as the putter becomes more and more smooth. It was very cool to see this done as the black finish came off to show the brass.
Sasaya-san’s goal is to polish the brass and then allowing it to oxidize. Through the oxidation process the color of the putter will continue to darken and antique over time. The oxidation actually serves as protection for the putter against corrosion.
As the putter was grinded and polished over and over, it transformed into a completely different looking head from just a few hours earlier.
Craig was soaking up all the activity around the workshop since his putters were being worked on all around and like me was shooting photos of everything and learning a lot of new things.
In Japan because a round of golf is a full service activity, you rarely handle your own bag as course staff do all the bag handling. It is essential to have a clear name tag on your caddie bag so I asked Sasaya-san to make a Gold’s Bag Tag for Craig who would be spending the weekend golfing around the Mount Fuji area with Stew (supo67). Craig chose blue as its his favorite color.
The bag tags are done on the hand mill, the same machine that does PZ Milling for gold’s putters. A template is used and coordinating both hands, any pattern can be cleanly machined.
Paintfill is done afterwards just like on any putter or club. Craig asked me to choose the paintfill for him and I decided on RED for his initials and the rest in white which I think looks very cool. Personally I own 2 of these bag tags myself and always get nice compliments from the staff at different courses as to how cool it looks!
Craig’s tag was fresh off the press as we carefully put it in plastic since the paint was still wet. Next we drew our attention to the Epon i33 putter. Unfortunately when the i33 was shipped to Craig from another member of TSG, the soft S20C carbon steel head, suffered some water damage causing terrible rust along the leading edge and bottom portion of the face.
This of course gave Craig the excuse to bring it along to Gold’s for a compete overhaul. We decided on bringing the weight up with two orbit around G weights, remilling the face with the original Premium Zone horizontal milling and then refinishing the head in a tour teflon black with red accents. This is going to be a one of a kind Epon i33 putter! The fourth putter that will be worked on is the Dance With Dragon original Private stock No.1 along with the fifth putter which is an all original Gold’s Factory putter that Sasaya-san and I will design for Craig with a special no offset welded short neck and Damascus insert!
Overall it was a fun morning at Gold’s Factory, not only for Craig but also for myself as every time I go, I still learn something new. Sasaya-san’s dad was machining and grinding what I thought to be a putter neck but then I found out that he was making tools. Yes, Gold’s Factory even makes their own cutting tools!
As Sasaya-san put it, “We need tools to make putters, so before we can make putters, we need to make tools!” You can see an assortment of machined cutting tools made by Gold’s themselves above! Finally lunch rolled around and Craig and I were taken out for lunch by Sasaya-san at a local Tsukemen (ramen noodles dipped in soup broth) shop that he frequents regularly. Lunch was delicious.
I think its safe to say Craig had a one of a kind hands on experience at Gold’s Factory, watching, learning and understanding what they do and can do. A final photo of Craig and the master above as well as one more photo below of a really cool putter I saw them making… you’ll hear about that later! Stay tuned for Craig’s Excellent Japan Adventure Part 2: Crazy Factory!