If the rumours are to be believed, world No.1 Justin Rose will make the switch from TaylorMade clubs to ones made by Honma during the close season.
Signing Rose would be a major statement of intent from the Japanese brand that, until now, has best been known for manufacturing ultra-premium (read: expensive) clubs.
Originally called Tsurumi Golf Center Co, Honma was founded in 1959 in Sakata, approximately 360 miles due north of Tokyo. Three years later, the first ‘Honma’ test club was produced before the Honma brand was launched in 1963.
The company’s 500,000sq/m plant at the foothills of Chokai Mountain is where all of its clubs are handmade by a team of more than 400 skilled craftsmen.
“No corners are cut or any job rushed to make our products” is what it says on the company’s website.
Famous for its gold-plated gear – which includes the most expensive set of clubs in the world– Honma fell into difficulties in the early part of the 21st century and had to be bought of out of bankruptcy in 2005 by a company owned by Chinese businessman Liu Jianguo.
An avid golfer as well as a hugely successful entrepreneur, Liu set about the slow task of rebuilding the company. It has paid off handsomely. Honma has seen its sales increase in each of the last four years to almost $250m and is now listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Whilst it might still be a relative unknown on the global stage, it is one of the most successful golf brands in the Far East and is used on tour by some of Asia’s top tour pros.
Hideto Tanihara, above, Liang Wen Chong and Koumei Oda use or have used Honma equipment on their respective tours, whilst So Yeon Ryu and Shanshan Feng have used them to winning effect on the LPGA.
Rose, however, will unquestionably be the company’s biggest signing to date, should the much-mooted move happen in the next couple of months.
They don’t, after all, come much bigger than the best player in the game.
Whilst the switch might seem, at first glance, to be a surprise, closer examination reveals that it’s not that much of a shock. In August of this year, for example, Mark King, the former CEO of TaylorMade, was hired as a “strategic advisor” by Honma with a view to helping the company corner some of the North American market.
How successful its attempts to conquer America prove to be remains to be seen. However, as power plays go, signing the world No.1 is a bold first step and begs one major question…
Who else have they got their eyes on?