By Erik Matuszewski
Ask most golfers about high-end golf clubs in the U.S. and you’ll get an earful about PXG, whether its complimentary or critical. But another manufacturer with a far deeper history in the game has been actively trying to make inroads in this niche of the equipment market: Miura Golf. So far, so good.
In the past year, Miura has doubled its U.S. business while continuing to ramp up distribution efforts (115 dealers and counting) and its strategic plan for new products. No, you still won’t find Miura’s irons in big box golf stores next to brand names like Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, and PING, but that’s by design.
In examining Miura’s present and future, it’s helpful to first look to the company’s past. It was more than 60 years ago that Katsuhiro Miura first started hand-crafting and grinding irons and wedges in Japan. Today, Miura’s sons, Yoshitaka and Shinei, oversee the day-to-day operations of the business, which continues to make its highly-acclaimed irons, wedges and putters in one forge and factory in Himeji. It’s the same Japanese city that for centuries was home to the production of another finely-crafted weapon: the samurai sword.
Miura over the years developed somewhat of a cult following in the U.S. and there were whispered tales of PGA Tour professionals, frustrated with clubs they were paid to endorse, instead using Miura irons with other brand-name logos affixed to them. There’s been a mystique to Miura and it’s one the company relishes.
In early 2017, a prominent name in golf circles invested in Miura, with Howard Milstein acquiring the rights to distribute the company’s equipment in the U.S. as well as other key global markets. Milstein’s claim to fame in golf was partnering with Jack Nicklaus and, as co-chairman of Nicklaus Co., helping evolve and more than double the value of the business.
The Milstein-Miura partnership was a merger between two prominent family-owned businesses. Milstein still heads up the nation’s largest privately-owned family-owned bank—New York Private Bank & Trust—and his goal with Miura was to grow the brand, increase distribution and make the clubs more widely available to a broader range of golfers. To that end, Milstein brought in Hoyt McGarity, the founder of club-fitting company True Spec Golf, to oversee the business strategy and direction of Miura’s distribution efforts.
“We’re bringing it a little more mainstream, but it can only go so much. We don’t want to dilute the brand,” McGarity, Miura’s president, says from his office in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s important to us that it stays this premium, mystique-type brand.”
In the early stages of 2017, Miura released to its U.S. dealers mostly MG-branded products—those that were only sold in Japan without the Miura name emblazoned on them. It was mainly because the company hadn’t come out with anything new since 2014. Among the recent U.S. releases were the game-improvement Genesis line and the forgiving IC-601 line, which elicited complaints in some circles that Miura was getting away from its roots.
McGarity acknowledges that his strategy was to try to release new products each quarter to help create a buzz. But he’s sensitive to “the misconception that we’re changing the direction” and that Milstein’s investment might dilute the brand or move manufacturing to China. “Miura and his family own the warehouse. We just own the distribution rights,” McGarity says. “He tells us what he’s launching. We don’t tell him.”
While the use of a family name as a visible brand on products is frowned upon in Japan, there’s recognition that having the Miura name on the clubs is important for awareness and branding purposes in the U.S. The limited runs of Japanese products in the States have been pretty much exhausted. Miura is now focusing on what’s to come with its irons that can cost more than $250 apiece. There’s a new 301 cavity back fully-forged line coming out in January. A new version of the company’s beloved “baby blade” is also on the way, with what McGarity calls a much cleaner look. In 2019, Miura is also releasing several new wedge options.
“For the first time in the company history you’ll have a club in every category that’s all new, or within a year old, said McGarity, noting that all of Miura’s handmade products seek to adhere to at least four-year life cycle. McGarity would love for Miura to also expand its expertise in wedges and manufacture more high-end putters in the mold of respected names like Scotty Cameron and Tyson Lamb.
Miura’s distribution continues to grow in the U.S., but it’s a calculated and measured growth. It’s one dedicated to remaining true to the company’s legacy.
“We’re a very boutique, high-end brand,” McGarity adds. “Our capacity is different where we’re handmade and we can only make so many a month. We can’t blow it up to some $100 million business. But we have a very good and a very well-respected business. People love the Miura brand.”
Now they have more opportunities than ever to find it.