Clubs of art

Mar 16 2014, 03:07 IST
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SummaryThe sheer minimalist beauty of the classic forged iron remains untouched by modern club design

Players’ irons’, golf companies like to call them; that euphemism for blades, or traditionally hand-forged irons, is a case of overkill: as if that even needs to be specified. Golf is a difficult game as it is; to make it tougher by playing with blades, is seriously sadistic. But most of us who learnt to play in the 1990s, or before, started with them. Golf sets were hard to come by then, and golf club manufacturing technology a scant patch on what it is today.

One of the earliest pieces of advice I ever got from my dad on the golf course was not to fret about my old clubs while other kids played with fancy shiny irons. “Clubs are only as good as you can hit them, and you can hit these better than anything your friends are playing with,” he said. The dull gray, hand-me-down Ben Hogan irons were narrow blades with miniscule sweet spots—not very forgiving to my center strikes. My clubs were tough to hit but superb for ball control. And, when I did manage to hit a flush two-iron, it stayed hit. With wound leather grips they looked classic all right but only to the purist. A fading etching on the back of the clubface was the only proof that they had been hand forged in Japan.

Compared to persimmon woods which have been consigned forever to history and to living room props, hand-forged steel blades have held-their own to the point where they continue to be preferred by single-handicappers and those who like to ‘work the ball’. As traditions in golf go, one of the most enduring has been the unrivalled skill and art of Japanese club makers at hand-forging golf clubs. For decades, brands like Honma and Miura have found circulation amongst the golfing elite, revered for their unmatched feel and build quality. Never produced in high volumes or advertised in mainstream media, these high-end, personalised, hand-crafted golf clubs have been coveted by top professionals and connoisseurs of the game alike.

Himeji, a small town in Japan, finds more mention in history books than in current affairs. It was here that craftsmen in the last century pounded steel into samurai swords, producing the finest blades ever known. It is a different kind of blade which has been produced here by Katsuhiro Miura and his family owned Miura

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