How Honma Golf continues to grow worldwide

July 10, 2019
Rose Homna

Honma Golf didn’t waste any time making their presence known to start the new year. The Japanese-based equipment manufacturer officially announced the signing of Justin Rose to a multi-year equipment deal that, according to a press release, will see the second-ranked player in the world “lead Honma’s worldwide tour presence. The Board sees this as an important milestone in Honma’s efforts in global professional golf.” Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

It’s unclear what Rose’s final equipment setup will look like when he begins his season in a few weeks at the Desert Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., but he’ll have at least 10 Honma clubs in the bag, per his agreement.

It will likely consist of the company’s T//World TW747 driver, T//World TW747 V prototype irons (4-6), T//World 747 “Justin Rose” forged muscleback (7-9) and T//World TW Forged wedges (47, 56 and 60 degrees). The new deal also requires Rose, who will play a part in future product development, to carry a Honma bag and have the brand’s logo on both sides of his hat.

Honma’s T//World 747 debuted in Asia the middle of last year and features a number of key technologies, including a proprietary adjustable hosel system that allows driver’s loft, lie and face angle to be adjusted without rotating the spine of the shaft — something the company boasts improves ball flight and distance.

How Rose rounds out the rest of his bag setup, including the golf ball, remains to be seen as well. It’s possible he could use TaylorMade product early on in the season, due to his familiarity with the equipment.

Justin Rose signed a multi-year equipment deal with Honma Golf Limited.

“I’m extremely excited to be joining Honma.” Rose said in the release, “Coming off one of my best years professionally, I wanted to make it a point to get better. I believe Honma equipment and the legendary Honma craftsmanship can help make me better.”

Prior to signing Rose, Honma’s top-ranked player on the PGA Tour was Hideto Tanihara (174th), whose claim to fame on Tour was reaching the semifinals of the 2017 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. It’s been rumored that Honma could bolster its Tour staff with a couple more players in the coming weeks.

With Rose now in the fold, Honma has an immediate presence on the PGA Tour, something former TaylorMade CEO Mark King has been working towards since he was hired by the equipment manufacturer in August as a strategic advisor.

King, who spent 34 years with TaylorMade and held the CEO position from 1999-2013, is believed to be running Honma’s North American operation with the hiring of former executives who previously worked alongside him during his time in Carlsbad.

As for why Honma decided to sign Rose, Honma chairman Liu Jian Guo said it came down to his alignment with the “[company’s] values,” and belief “Justin’s local and international influence in the sport and his media coverage and social media following, the partnership will create an immediate and positive uplift of Honma’s brand image and product awareness in mature markets such as North America and Europe which will in turn accelerate the implementation of Honma’s growth strategies in these markets.”

Established in 1959 in Sakata, Japan, Honma struggled to make a name for itself early on and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 before it was acquired by a Chinese fund run by businessman Liu Jian Guo. Over the last eight years, Jian Guo has turned Honma into a premium brand in Asia with gold-plated drivers and irons that run in the five-figure range. Some full sets in the past have gone for as much as $75,000.

Since Rose was unveiled as Honma’s newest signing this morning, the company’s stock has already gone up more than four percent. Honma plans to release a product line in North America later this month.

Honma Golf Brand History

In 1959, the company began as the Tsurumi Golf Center Co. In 1963, the Honma brand first appeared. The Honma brothers always saw golf club craftsmanship as an art form. From the start they believed golf club fabrication was not about manufacturing, but rather it was all about craftsmanship. It is an approach that invokes a sense of artistry on display at the Honma Museum of Art. To this day, cutting corners or hurrying production are anathema to Honma’s mission, as the process of handcrafting each Honma club takes about a month.

However, Honma struggled to make a name for itself early on and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 before it was acquired by a Chinese fund run by businessman and avid-golfer, Liu Jian Guo. Over the last several years, Jian Guo has turned Honma into a premium brand in Asia with gold-plated drivers and irons that run in the five-figure range. Some full sets in the past have gone for as much as $75,000. 

Today, Honma Golf is headquartered in Sakata, Japan, a coastal city of 100,000 about 200 miles north of Tokyo. All the company’s handcrafted clubs are made at a single facility near Mount Chokai, a 7,300-foot volcano. 

Honma has now enjoyed four straight years of increased revenue. Annual sales now exceed $250 million, and their stock is traded on the Hong Kong Exchange.

In August 2018, Honma hired Mark King as a strategic advisor. King, a 34-year TaylorMade veteran, was TaylorMade’s CEO from 1999-2013. Rose concluded his contractual relationship with TaylorMade soon thereafter. 

Rose Signs With Honma

Justin Rose surprised many by entering into a 10-club deal with Honma Golf. With the partnering of Justin Rose, Honma Golf’s board sees it as an important milestone in Honma’s efforts in global professional golf. 

With Rose now in the fold, Honma has an immediate presence on the PGA Tour, something Mark King has been working toward since he was hired by the equipment manufacturer.

As for why Honma decided to sign Rose, Honma chairman Liu Jian Guo said it came down to his alignment with the “[company’s] values,” and belief that

Justin’s local and international influence in the sport and his media coverage and social media following ... will create an immediate and positive uplift of Honma’s brand image and product awareness in mature markets such as North America and Europe.

Honma’s chairman Liu Jianguo

Rose explained his decision on his website “Coming off one of my best years professionally, I wanted to make it a point to get better. Honma Golf is one of the most prestigious and iconic brands in the golf industry, synonymous with intricate craftsmanship, dedication to performance excellence and distinguished product quality.”

Justin Rose is one of a dozen players currently on Team Honma. Prior to the Rose signing, Hideto Tanihara was Honma’s top-ranked player. Tanihara has won 14 times on the Japan Tour, and also a semi-finalist at the 2017 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

In 1998, Justin Rose seized the attention of the golfing world as a 17-year-old amateur. After soaring to a fourth-place finish in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, he turned pro the next day. In the two decades hence, he’s won 24 times on six different tours around the world. He was also the Gold Medalist in the 2016 Olympics.

However, Rose, along with other elite players like Francesco Molinari, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, waited years to win a major. His quest for a victory was finally realized at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. His two-stroke victory over Jason Day and Phil Mickelson was historic. It had been 43 years since an Englishman had won the U.S. Open.

His ascendance among the best golfers in the world continued. In late 2018, following his victory in the FedEx Cup, he became the #1-ranked player in the world.

Justin Rose Since Signing with Honma

Rose’s Honma golf club deal became official on Jan. 1. Less than four weeks later, he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. That’s pretty close to instant gratification.

For a player of Rose’s stature, the majors are a key barometer of success. How has Rose performed in them since signing with Honma? Well.. after missing the cut in the Masters, he finished 29th in the PGA Championship.

Then things changed for the better at the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Rose had the outright lead following an opening round of six-under 65. Rose entered Sunday’s final round one shot behind Gary Woodland, the eventual winner. Ultimately, Rose tied for third. He now has 10 top-five finishes in the majors.

Earlier on that Sunday, Rose captured the attention of the golfing world with a gesture unrelated to his shotmaking skills. After Woodland hit a tricky chip off the green to inches from the cup, Rose, who was no longer in contention, offered a fist bump, a generous act of sportsmanship lauded worldwide:

What’s in His Bag?

The multi-year 10-club arrangement with Honma gives Rose important freedom. He can play up to four non-Honma clubs in tournaments. Rose plays with Honma driver and irons, and adds an Axis1 putter, a Titleist Vokey 60° wedge and TaylorMade fairway woods to his bag.

His current clubs include (as of July 2019):

  • Driver – Honma TW747 747 460, 9.5° with TPT 14 MKP-LT-SW shaft
  • Fairway woods – TaylorMade M6 3-wood and 5-wood with Mitsubishi Chemical Tensei Orange CK Series 80TX shaft
  • Irons – Honma Tour World TX-X Proto 3-iron, TW Rose Proto (4-9) based on TW MB’s with KBS C-Taper 125 shafts
  • Wedges – Honma Rose Proto Custom Grind Raw 47°, 52° with KBS C-Taper 125 shafts. Titleist Vokey SM7 56°, 60° with KBS High Rev 2.0 135 shafts.
  • Putter – Axis1 fitted with a Lamkin Flat Cat grip

Honma uses S20C mild carbon steel to forge Rose’s irons. The sole features a minimal offset, and the topline is quite thin.

Rose used a TaylorMade M3 440 driver before switching to the Honma design. Honma asserts that its new TW747 driver delivers better ball flight and greater distance. It attributes the improved performance in part to a proprietary adjustable hosel. It’s possible for a player to adjust lie, loft and face angle without rotating the shaft’s spine.

When course conditions merit, Rose switches from the TaylorMade 5-wood to a Honma TW-U 2-iron and/or 3-iron while his ball remains the TaylorMade TP5. Additionally, Rose prefers wedges that are not chrome plated as over time, the raw steel surface ages, reducing glare.

Choice of putters was a key reason to migrate from TaylorMade to the freedom afforded by the Honma deal. At the Farmers Insurance Open, Rose revealed that he had been interested in the Axis1 patented technology for a couple of years, but his TaylorMade deal prevented him from using it.

Before signing with Honma, Rose used an Ardmore 2 from the TaylorMade TP Collection. Rose now plays an Axis1 prototype. Axis1 is a Massachusetts-based company is known for patented innovation in torque control. The face-balanced design of the Axis1 putter prevents the club from opening or closing at impact. Many refer to the Axis1 as “the world’s first perfectly balanced-‘Torque Free Putter.’”

The switch in putters made quite a difference. By March 2019, Rose had soared from 73rd to 1st in three-putt avoidance. At the same time, he led the Tour by one-putting 47.5 percent of the time. In the first three rounds of the 2019 U.S. Open, Rose one-putted 35 times in 54 holes, a one-putt percentage of 64.8 percent.

Honma and Rose Going Forward

Rose’s 10-club deal with Honma advances a trend toward nonexclusive equipment deals. When a touring professional enjoys success playing with the exact clubs he is most comfortable, it’s a win-win. The sponsoring manufacturer benefits as well. Justin Rose’s stellar putting in the first half of 2019 underscores the importance of freedom in selecting a flat stick.

Rose arrived at Pebble Beach for the 2019 U.S. Open ranked No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings. He departed with the No. 3 ranking.