Attention golfers: Right now, in a small Japanese workshop, a team of artisans is sculpting the best golf clubs that you’ve never heard of.
Keisuke Miyachi picks up a 7-iron leaning against the green netting of the indoor practice range and uses it to drag a ball onto the artificial tee.
His smooth backswing uncoils to explode through a shot. With a soft pop that belies the ferocity of the swing, the ball flies off the club head and thuds into the center of a practice target a few meters ahead. After three straight bull’s-eyes, Miyachi leans lightly on the club and smiles broadly.
“Now that’s a good club,” he says. He should know. He made it.
Miyachi is the owner, president, and designer of custom golf club maker Zodia. Based just outside Nagoya, Japan, Miyachi and his eight-person team have been making some of the world's best custom golf clubs for the past two decades, for a list of pros that reads like a who’s-who of international golf.
Miyachi is the face of Zodia. He’s the man customers—pro and amateur—see to get fitted for the perfect club. But ask him what makes Zodia clubs great, and he points to a black-and-white picture on his office wall. In it, a man is working a club head on the sander. There’s an intense focus in the man’s eyes. Above the photo is a single Chinese character. It reads: takumi. Master craftsman.
“That’s Chiba-san,” Miyachi explains. “What he does is like magic.”
The next day Miyachi leaves Nagoya for the Zodia workshop in Hyogo prefecture, with a set of club heads for Chiba to finish. Outside the workshop, the air carries the scent of pine from the surrounding mountains. Inside, there’s a hint of scorched metal.
Handing the club heads over, Miyachi’s instructions for Chiba are simple. “It needs to be a bit rounder here—how about we sharpen this?” he says.
Chiba pauses in thought for a few seconds, then nods. Seconds later, metallic orange sparks are shooting from the grinder as Chiba deftly pushes and rotates the club head against it. One more minute and the now shining head is back with a smiling Miyachi. Perfect.
“I hardly have to say anything,” says Miyachi. “It’s as if he can read my mind. He always gets it right.”
To call Chiba a golf club takumi is a big deal—“takumi” isn’t a word the Japanese use in vain. Unlike mass-produced clubs, even mass produced premium clubs, each Zodia club is the product of careful, painstaking consideration between two men.
Designs can go back and forth between Miyachi and Chiba for weeks, starting with a drawing on scrap paper and ending up in 3D on a computer in Nagoya. The changes can appear miniscule. Change an angle here. Round an edge. Maybe add a millimeter to a ridge to increase the sweet spot—always refining for the customer to make the clubs the perfect extension of the player’s build, stance, and other factors.
Once a design is complete, the crafting process begins at the workshop in Hyogo, where the unworked metal heads are sanded, numbered, and stamped. Next, they are sanded to get them to the right weight, then they go to Nagoya for a fine face smoothing by machine, before returning to Hyogo for Chiba or one of his two apprentice artisans to work grooves into the club face.
After that, Miyachi takes them back to Nagoya and programs an industrial CNC (computer numerical control) machine to carve out the basic design. Then it’s back to Hyogo, where Chiba will hammer and grind the heads to a finish.
“Anyone can use a sander or a CNC machine, but the way Chiba can grind and hammer is special,” Miyachi says. “He can handwork a set of heads and get the neck angles perfect on every one without measuring them. He can get the weight right to a gram when he sands, without checking on the scales. It’s like he feels it. That’s what makes him a takumi.”