2002: Equipment Update - Back in the spotlight

Roger Cleveland, alias Mr. Wedge, is a celebrated golf club designer. If somebody decided to sculpt a Mount Rushmore for club designers, Cleveland would be up there. With the high-toe, shallow-heel wedges he crafted for Cleveland Golf in the 1980s, he is arguably the second most copied designer in golf, right behind Karsten Solheim and his Anser family of putters.

Cleveland wedge look-alikes and wannabes can be found today in most golf shops, a phenomenon that explains why Roger Cleveland had to create a distinctive and different look when he fashioned Callaway Golf’s newest line of wedges. These wedges, available with either a chrome or raw finish, are expected to reach retail outlets in early August.

Cleveland founded Cleveland Golf in 1979. After selling it in 1990 to Skis Rossignol, a French ski manufacturer, he left the company. Eventually he joined Callaway in 1996.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cleveland’s relationship with his new employer is that Callaway – until now – never has spotlighted Cleveland or his creations. He has remained mostly in the design shadows, unseen and unrecognized by consumers.

Although Callaway’s X-14 Pro Series wedges have attained something of a cult status among some West Coast golfers, Cleveland has been personally identified with no particular Callaway product. One reason: Callaway uses a team of engineers on virtually all its projects. Another reason is that all previous Callaway wedges, except the early Hickory Stick models, have been linked by name and function with a particular set of irons.

All that is about to change. The new wedges are a stand-alone product, intended to be used with any Callaway irons (or with irons from other manufacturers).

Literature from Callaway shows Cleveland proudly cradling his newly hatched babies. These wedges unquestionably are being associated with Cleveland, who masterminded this concept with the counsel of Dick Helmstetter, Callaway’s senior vice president in charge of new products.

When Cleveland announced that he wanted to make forged wedges of 1020 carbon steel, Callaway’s first forged iron of any kind, Helmstetter told him, “Go ahead. There is no other way we’re going to do this.”

Thus, Callaway joins the likes of Nike, Ben Hogan and Mizuno in the premium forged wedge category.

The new Callaway wedges initially will be available in lofts of 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60 degrees. Two more lofts, 48 and 50, will follow. All lofts can be purchased with either the chrome ($140 suggested retail) or raw ($150) finish. Callaway is eschewing the word raw, instead calling it vintage. Regardless, the effect is the same – vintage will rust, a trait preferred by some players. An absence of chrome plating provides softer feel and no glare.

The wedges have a pear-shaped head, somewhat reminiscent of older wedges such as the Wilson R-90. They also are slightly shorter from heel to toe than most other contemporary wedges.

“I wanted a flowing shape. I was looking for radius (roundness) all around, no stoppage of anything,” Cleveland said. “By reducing the size a little bit, there is a smaller path through debris. These clubs are very stable.”

The wedges have little offset. They come with modified U grooves and a longer neck – something previous Callaway irons and wedges have not had. There is no short hosel here.

A substantial difference between these wedges and the old Cleveland wedges can be seen in the design of the heel.

“I wanted to have a little higher heel that I did with Cleveland,” he said. “There is a psychological feeling that the ball is going to get up in the air a little bit easier.”

The shaft is a proprietary model from True Temper, heavy with a softer tip. Cleveland compared it with “an S-300, but with a soft tip.”

The grip is built up on the right side for right-handers and on the left side for left-handers.

“When you go down to hit the little shots, you don’t feel like you have a pencil in your hand,” Cleveland said.

Sole bounce on these wedges? The numbers may sound high (9, 10, 13, 11 and 11 degrees, respectively, for the 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60), but Cleveland maintains that Callaway “got it right on each different wedge with the bounce and the sole width.

Those two factors determine how the wedge performs (when it makes contact with the turf or sand), and I think golfers will be very, very pleased.”

Who’s to argue? His Cleveland 588 wedge line (designed 14 years ago in May 1988) still is popular and probably can claim the title of golf’s best-selling wedge.

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