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|Hireko Golf's Acer i-Sight San Miguel folds new technology into a classic design. (Courtesy of Hireko Golf)|
One perception that most golfers have about smaller-name companies in general -- and about component companies in particular -- is that they simply borrow technology to produce modified copies of high-priced golf clubs.
This perception is actually backwards: Although big-name companies do drive the demand for new, innovative technologies -- and they do patent dozens of design features each year -- lots of small companies actually innovate new design advances and combine established features in new ways.
These advances don't get much media attention until they go "mainstream." At which point, the design innovations become the "next big things" and get slapped big price tags as well.
Hireko Golf -- the Japanese company that has consolidated long-time component companies including Tour Edge, Dynacraft and Acer -- is an excellent case in point. And a sample of the company's recent putters illustrates the sort of design innovations coming from lesser-known equipment makers.
A recent example of a design craze is white clubheads. The idea is that the white finish focuses visual attention on the head and ball. Or something like that.
Hireko's Bionik 207 Nano Mallet Putter ($35) riffs on the white finish made popular by brand-name putter makers but succeeds in incorporating a few other industry favorites into a single, and singular, putter.
The Bionik 207 has an unusually wide face to improve stability, along with two internal weight rods to move the center of gravity up toward the crown of the putter head to line up with the equator of the ball and promote forward roll.
What I found most interesting about the Bionik 207 is that the chunky-looking putter head is actually relatively light. Thus the combination of high MOI stability, which is usually found in heavier mallets, is achieved in this inexpensive flatstick that weighs little more than some flanged blades.
One of the big challenges in developing today's new equipment is to maintain the time-tested and widely popular looks and feels of traditional club designs. Among many players, new technology is great, but it needs to be folded into designs that seem familiar to them, or the new clubs won't even get a second look.
Hireko Golf's Acer i-Sight San Miguel is an ideal example of this. Heel-shafted and heel-weighted, this half-mallet has all the hallmarks of the first non-blades that found their way onto Tour, including the flared toe and increased weight.
What is new in the i-Sight San Miguel, though, is a very clever alignment and stance aid. On the back of the clubhead is a raised ridge with slightly wider red strips on either side. When your eyes are positioned correctly above the putter on the proper line, you can see the red strips on both sides of the ridge. If your set-up is off kilter, you only see one.
The appeal of adding on to more traditional designs was apparent when testing all of these putters. Del Cahill, a 16-handicapper who still putts with an original Bulls-Eye blade, expressed immediate approval for the i-Sign San Miguel, whereas the other putters in this review failed to pass Cahill's "looks weird" criterion.
One of the Hireko Golf family that definitely does NOT pass Cahill's criterion is the Dynacraft Hindsight. This innovative yet odd-looking putter melds several different features in a "something old, something new, something borrowed" sort of way.
First, the shaft is anchored to the clubhead toward the back of the head, directly behind the center of the putter face. This is similar to a few recent putter lines from brand-name companies, and the idea is that moving the shaft back increases MOI and improves feel.
The rear-shafting also has the effect of producing a pronounced but extremely natural forward press at address, placing the hands basically in line with the ball, which feels very old-school.
Finally, the putter face is convex, bulging out at the middle on the horizontal line. This novel feature is intended to get the ball rolling forward faster. And the combination of these various design angles is unique.
Everyone I asked to test the Hindsight ($45) said essentially the same thing: "This would take a lot of getting used to." The offset and rear-shafting produces the illusion that the putter head is aligned way left. But if you trust the line and just swing straight through, accuracy is good. You just have to convince your brain that it will work.
One knock on the Hindsight, besides having to train yourself to use it, is that the white paint doesn't appear to stick very well. After a few test sessions, some large chips appeared in the finish on the top of the club.
Finally, Hireko's Dynacraft Spot putter capitalizes on the adjustability fad but puts an entirely new slant on it. The Spot putter sports a traditional-looking flanged blade head ($20) with two hex-bolts in the back.
The bolts can be loosened with the provided tool, and the putter can be customized with three different hosel configurations: plumber's neck, straight barrel and slant barrel ($6 each). In this way, players with various putting strokes and styles can all find a comfortable combination.
Or, if you happen to be a restless, fidgety putter -- like several Tour pros these days, it seems -- you can get all three hosels and just keep rotating them to keep your focus sharp and feel fresh.
I don't know how beneficial to one's game the hosel configuration on a putter can ultimately be, but I do know that this level of customization is not found in big-name putters.
And even if it were, it would come at five-times the price.
For more information, visit hirekogolf.com.
May 7, 2012
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
Putters have evolved tremendously in the past couple of decades, especially with respect to visuals: larger, strategically weighted heads with multiple alignment aids are now common. Cleveland Golf has taken alignment aids to a new level -- a brilliantly simple yet effective new level. The Smart Square Putter combines parallel and perpendicular lines for alignment with a firmer copolymer insert to create a remarkably effective mallet.
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