Designing Strength and Intelligence
Used by touring pros in tournaments as well as by amateurs, Yamaha's golf clubs have a host of devoted fans.
The craftsmanship and design that Yamaha displays, thanks to its expertise with musical instruments, have garnered strong approval.
Yamaha is one of only a few manufacturers with an in-house design department. Two designers in charge of products at Yamaha's Design Laboratory have offered their thoughts.
01Working as a Yamaha Designer
Saito: To be honest, I initially did not like musical instruments.
——The first thing designer Daisuke Saito said during the interview came as quite a surprise.
Saito: The turning point for me was a song I heard on the radio in junior high school. It really struck me, and after that, I became a big music fan in high school and college. A single song changed my life—such shifts really do happen sometimes. When I was entering the workforce after studying design, I decided I wanted to be a Yamaha instrument designer as a way of paying back the gifts that music had given me.
——Saito joins Yamaha in 1994. The Design Laboratory at the time had Nobumasa Tanaka working as one of their main designers.
Tanaka: When I was looking for my first job in the late 1970s, the lifestyle of the U.S. West Coast had made its way to Japan though magazines and the like. The Yamaha sports equipment I knew of was very cool looking, the ads they used around town were original, and it all made me really want to work for this company. After joining Yamaha, I got started designing musical instruments, and then I worked on designing tennis rackets and other products. I became involved with our golf clubs from their initial launch in 1982.
——Saito joined in designing golf clubs in 2007. Since Saito had joined Yamaha to "repay the gifts music had given [him]," working on golf clubs was an unfamiliar challenge. From the start, Saito's personality made it hard for him to work on something unless he was behind it 100%. He struggled mightily.
02Commonalities between Golf Clubs and Musical Instruments
Saito: I'd never even played golf, and it seemed a world away from musical instruments. As I learned more about golf, I noticed that just being physically strong and having a powerful body did not guarantee success. You have to deal with the challenging outdoor conditions and work toward your goal with composure and control. Without mental strength and intelligence, you won't get any results. For myself, I've been competing in bicycle trials riding for many years. In trials riding, you're not just racing the clock—you also have to navigate a rock-strewn course and get through challenging obstacles without having your feet touch the ground. It tests everything from your strength and technique to your determination, composure, and courage. And golf is much the same. I've come to realize that there are commonalities among golfers and their clubs, trials riders and their bikes, and musicians and their instruments.
——When you go out on the golf course, the club in your hands is your only partner on a solitary quest.
Saito said that he became motivated to design golf clubs when he started thinking of them as similar to the instruments that musicians hold when they stand before an audience and express themselves. His senior design colleague Tanaka voiced the same sentiment, saying, "To be sure, the demands made of a golf club go beyond function."
Tanaka: If all we wanted was to make a club that "hits for distance," it would be meaningless to have Yamaha design it. We have to make something that puts you at ease when you hold it, that makes you think, "Yeah, this will work," and gives you a feeling of confidence. I think it has to support the player mentally and express a balance between strength and intelligence. That sort of design is what Yamaha can bring to the table, I think. A pianist's sensitivity and dramatic energy, and a player's feel for the club—something only we can understand—have to be built into the design.
03Design that Inspires the Golfer
——How exactly are designs made? Looking at their recently completed model, the two designers explained their thoughts. Tanaka was in charge of the design for the Wood's clubhead.
Tanaka: The number of shots you take with your Driver in one round is limited. If you miss one, it sets you back. Players draw their Driver from the bag feeling both the excitement of "Let's get going!" and the anxiety of "Will I get a good hit?" The sole of the club that players see in that moment has a powerful effect. For example, some models use a wide, flared design that looks like an open fairway. And the impact sound is also really important. The player gets a big emotional boost from a great sounding hit. I think the design should take into account these sensory elements. We use life-sized models, analysis of 3D data, and other plans and experiments as we constantly work together to design the optimal shape with the best sound.
——Saito was in charge of the Irons.
For Irons, the design directly translates into function. If you change the design, it immediately affects the weight of the clubhead and the position of the center of gravity. Also, the design needs to be consistent, even though the sole width, head size, and loft angle change with each Iron in the set.
Saito: We received input from two of Japan's best pros, Hiroyuki Fujita and Toru Taniguchi, who have topped the pro golf money list. The advice from Fujita, in particular, was extremely detailed. He gave us information on the club's look, shape, and so on, from his perspective while standing at address. He suggested, for example, widening the sole to lower the center of gravity. He noted that golfers lose their concentration on the swing when they feel anything is off about the shape or feel of the club when seen from above. The role of the design, while not being too conspicuous, is of course to put the player at ease and provide an uplifting boost, while allowing full and relaxed concentration on that one shot.
——Crafting a total package for maximum performance, from a secure feel to a great impact sound and beautiful appearance—that is the essence of golf club design. The diligent effort that delivers a nuanced feel only top pros will fully sense leads the designer to a place that defines the very concept of design.
Saito: More than just function, we are called on to recognize the sensibilities of the user while providing a fusion of strength and intelligence at a higher dimension. If we succeed, the assertiveness of the product's design disappears, which is actually our mission as members of the Yamaha Design Laboratory.
Born in 1953. Joined Yamaha Corporation in 1977. Responsibilities include designing sporting goods, a variety of musical instruments, and product logos. Worked on the design for the first model in the Clavinova electric piano series. Has been involved in designing golf clubs and golf-related products since 1982.
Born in 1972. Joined Yamaha Corporation in 1994. After working on various musical instruments and acoustic equipment, has been involved in designing golf clubs and golf-related products since 2007. Was Asia-Pacific bike trials champion at the age of 29.