You can sense nothing but passion and enthusiasm in the voice of Bill Holowaty. Even working his way through relentless Vancouver traffic his attitude remains joyous as we speak by phone, and with good reason. Holowaty, a member of the UBC Sports Hall of Fame and a part of Canada’s 1985 Spengler Cup hockey contingent, knows the company for which he is the Vice-President of General Operations, Miura Golf Ltd., (www.miuragolf.com) is definitely on the rise.
But this is not the story of some new-to-the-golf industry upstart. Each year there are plenty of those that arrive, most with hopes of becoming the next Callaway Golf, TaylorMade or Titleist. But that is not what Miura is about and certainly not why they garner so much respect from those consumers and golf industry people “in the know.”
The golf equipment industry is a strange and evolving landscape. Many “hot” new clubs arrive and pass each year and while fortunes can be made (and lost) this way – it is far from being part of the Miura philosophy. In fact, with recent popular trends in the golf club industry, such as custom fitting and a whole new appreciation for craftsmanship, consumers are steering directly toward exactly what Miura does offer.
“It has been a quiet evolution for us,” says Holowaty of the company that was founded in 1994 and counts President and lawyer Douglas Buchanan and the legendary Katsuhiro Miura as the key shareholders.
It is Miura, the master craftsman from Himeji City, Japan, who set up Miura Manufacturing Company in the early 1960’s, having entered into his journey as a celebrated forged iron clubhead maker at the age of 16. Himeji was where the art of sword-making developed and it was the same techniques used to make those precise instruments that Miura adapted to his club heads. The highly guarded 14-step process is what creates the unique properties of his forgings, known for their soft, crisp feel. As a result, Miura was in high demand to create club heads for many manufacturers, unbeknownst to consumers who simply thought the companies whose names appeared on them had produced them.
Those exacting tolerances and favourable characteristics not only created a following among tour professionals but it also attracted the attention of Buchanan and Holowaty (the duo both played pro hockey in Japan where they became familiar with Miura) who set up Miura Golf Ltd. to bring the exquisite creations to the North American market as a “pilot project.”
“We (Bill, Mr. Buchanan and another company Director) were playing Miura clubs for many years (before their Vancouver start-up),” Holowaty explained. “We would come back home and guys would look at our clubs and comment on how great they looked. They would hit our clubs and go ‘wow, that is different’ and we would come back with stories about all these OEM clubs made at the Miura factory. I am not sure we had any basis for why we thought it would be good here but we just thought that here was a gentleman, a craftsman, Katsuhiro Miura, who had something that was obviously very unique and special. We thought he should have success outside of Japan.”
Thirteen years later they are gaining stride – at their own pace.
That gradual progression is self-imposed in some ways – it is a result of the careful production process, one eschewed by most other club companies more concerned with mass production. “We have evolved as we went,” says Holowaty when asked about the rate of growth in their operation. “That has always been our way of doing business – if it is good for consumers, good for the dealers and good for us, then it works for everybody.”
Obviously the approach must be valid, as you just have to read about consumer reaction to Miura products on Internet golf message boards to see the reverence for their clubs. Avid golfers passionately seek out any clubs known to be forged by Miura, whether it is their current line-up, past products, or those created for other Original Equipment Manufacturers. A “cult-like” status is certainly a truthful description. And with players like the No. 1 golfer in the world having depended on Miura forgings, you can understand the attraction. “The golf gear heads, as we affectionately call them, are keenly aware of who Miura is,” says Holowaty. In response to the growing demand, various iron designs (with more to come) are now offered with fairway woods and hybrids soon to expand the scope of the product line.
The V.P. says a good barometer of the Miura momentum is the fact that if you put the word “Miura” in the Google search engine in 2002 you would have usually come up with alot of plumbing and automotive products. Today that same search spits back predominantly golf references.
The number of Miura dealers (each must pass rigid qualifications) is growing but the intense process needed to make each set will always regulate the pace of sales. All clubs are crafted for the individual with precise tolerances (within half gram for clubhead weights) followed. Each set is in essence, a fitted masterpiece.
As Mr. Miura recently said to Holowaty (Miura, now in his mid-60’s still sits in the lead chair in the grinding room), “Ultimately I build clubs to perform first and sell second.”
If you are a golfer trying to get better, how can you not respect that?