As a 30-year golf enthusiast with a bad case of golf-equipment-itis, I am constantly plagued with the urge to find new clubs, balls, and training aids that will somehow miraculously improve my golf game. The search has been long and often discouraging, but there have been a few notable finds that kept my handicap somewhat respectable.
Growing up in Canada, I naturally identified with the big names in the golf industry such as Titleist, PING, and TaylorMade. I was largely ignorant that brands other than the big OEMs existed until I graduated college and moved to Korea. Nearly ten years passed before I took up the (expensive) game again here, and my eyes have been forever opened to exotic names like Miura, EPON and a horde of other JDMs, right along with Scotty Cameron, Bettinardi, and recently PXG.
Indeed, Korea has the best of both worlds when it comes to getting your hands on some cool golf equipment.
KOREAN GOLF MARKET
Believe it or not, Korea is the 3rd largest market for golf in the world despite having only about 3.5 million golfers. But when you consider Korea’s rapid rise in becoming one of the world’s top economies with an appetite for new and better things, it’s no surprise that annual golf equipment sales surpass that of all Europe combined.
We appreciate nice golf things here in Korea.
With the high demand for quality golf equipment, however, there is a curious lack of any notable Korean equipment manufacturers. I have asked many friends and business insiders here why this is the case, and the answer is still a bit puzzling. The most frequent reply I heard was that Korean golfers prefer well-known major OEM brands and JDM brands that are expensive and ideally in limited editions.
In both cases, the underlying similarity is that they are made outside of Korea. As such, they are regarded as imported brands and serve to add prestige to the owners who use them. Does this sound weird to you?
Think of it as women preferring the more expensive, exotic sounding French-made luxury handbag over a locally made one. Both carry out the same function, but the exotic name just brings that extra je ne sais quoi.
MyGolfSpy.com has been writing the “Know Your Japanese Brands” series to introduce several JDM brands that are less well-known in the Western hemisphere. Unfortunately, Korea doesn’t have many equipment makers, let alone well-known ones, but that may soon change.
KHAN PUTTER – TRADITION MEETS MODERN
Like many golfers, I love me some good putters. I must’ve owned and tried over 100 to date, but I still salivate over a shockingly expensive Tour-Only Cameron, a limited edition Bettinardi, or a milled piece of art from Tyson Lamb. I have become accustomed to the geometric shapes and the clean-cut designs of these virtuosi; so much so that I tune out most other designs as repetitive and boring.
Then I met KHAN, (aka Jong-hyuk Park) putter maker extraordinaire.
Stepping into KHAN’s modest but impeccable showroom, I was surrounded by dozens of metal and copper traditional teapots and cups inlaid with silver and gold. Pouring tea from a meticulously hand-crafted silver teapot, Park tells me that his father is heir to a unique metalworking skill that has been passed down through his family for nearly 500 years.
I was immediately intrigued to know how this can relate to club-making, which also requires precision and skill. Park had been a junior golfer with aspirations of becoming a professional one day. But life happened, and he grew up, served in the military and married, and had to put his passion for golf aside for his family and follow in his father’s footsteps in further expanding the successful family business in China and Japan. But as he began to learn the secrets of his father’s art, Park realized that he could use the same skills to create something truly unique.
Five years ago, Park started to incorporate the centuries-old metal forging technique into a putter made 100% by hand and hammer. Park says he can’t elaborate on the exact process as it is an heirloom secret, but that it requires a forge at 1083 degrees and hand hammers of various sizes to create the putter head. Park says that it can take upwards of 6 weeks and countless hammer strikes to create a single putter.
The heads are made from pure 99.9% copper or silver and can be adorned with gold inlays. In terms of quality, nearly half out of every ten putter heads do not pass muster from the initial forging stage and are melted down again. The precious metals are extremely tricky to work with and require utmost patience and metalwork mastery to create a putter with a true roll and a pleasing sound. The results are breathtaking.
In contrast to the mass-produced cast or milled geometric designs and shapes of its western-style counterparts, KHAN putters feature 100% hand-hammered and hand-carved designs. Park is quick to say that his creations are not just wall-hangers, but seeing the putters for the first time, one can’t be blamed for thinking that. Closer inspection will reveal that every delicate detail is carved, etched or hammered by hand, and the artistry involved boggled my mind.
Some putters feature delicate cherry blossoms that seem to flutter in the breeze, while others portray a fierce Asian dragon or a blazing skull of a different metal embedded into the sole. Every putter is truly unique, reflecting the preferences of those who order a KHAN putter.
Park says he intends to keep it this way, even though the process limits production to less than 100 putters annually. The only time a modern machine touches the putter is when the putter face is machine-milled for a softer feel, and even this stage is sometimes replaced in favor of a tiny hand hammer and hundreds of stamped imprints on the face.
WALL HANGER OR A GAMER?
The beauty of the putters qualify KHAN putter as a wall-hanger, but can it also perform well enough to be considered a gamer? I took a couple of Park’s personal putters out to a practice green and rolled some putts. Not surprisingly, the different metals in the putters each offered a distinct sound and feedback.
The putter made with 100% copper (hardened through a special forging process, so it doesn’t dent out of shape) provided a pleasing sound much like an Anser with a slotline, while another putter with a mixture of silver and copper made a muted click that reminded me of a Scotty Cameron Newport. The ball rolled true to line as far as my eyes can tell, but I will need to test it out further on a putting monitor like GC Quad to say anything definitively.
Additionally, Park says that a professional golfer he sponsors recently won a tournament on the Malaysian Tour with a KHAN putter, which may also be an indication that the putter is not only good looking but can hold its own on the greens.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Park is looking ahead to becoming a premier putter craftsman in Asia. He is very impressed with Tyson Lamb, and quietly chuckled when I likened his work with a hammer to Lamb’s milling machine prowess.
He and his father are constantly discussing and experimenting with new metals and forging processes, and ways to refine the performance aspect of the putters that they create. They are a small family business, but a very special one with a long line of tradition and experience in forging. And having their own foundry to ensure their products live up to their high standards always helps.
Already, KHAN putters are starting to garner attention from putter aficionados drawn by its craftsmanship and beauty and the waiting line is starting to get longer.
For now, only time will tell if KHAN becomes the ‘King of Kings’ among putters as its namesake. Be sure to check out more of the exotic putters on Instagram. For information on purchase, write to email@example.com
NOTE: KHAN putter has changed its brand name to MeArt putter from Fall of 2018, after this original essay was published on myGolfSpy.com on June 20, 2018.
BY James Chang