In its 25-year history, Cleveland Golf has made a series of fascinating pit stops.
Founded in 1979, the company was the brainchild of Roger Cleveland, an avid amateur golfer who played on the University of Southern California golf team with Dave Stockton. Although Cleveland had far more ideas than financial resources, he did one thing very well from the beginning: He faithfully reproduced some of the best-looking clubs ever made.
Persimmon drivers were his specialty, but he had a gift for wedges, too. Those who said his woods were inspired by MacGregor and designer Toney Penna, or his wedges by Wilson and designer Joe Phillips, weren’t far wrong.
Cleveland plodded along for 10 years, and he gained a reputation as a man who would work patiently with
touring pros. This trait was particularly useful for wedges, which could be ground and customized in endless ways. Cleveland was a player, and he understood what these pros wanted. Many PGA Tour standouts, always looking for an edge, latched onto Cleveland.
In 1990, the company was sold to Skis Rossignol. Roger Cleveland stayed on board while the golf business struggled to create a new identity.
Out of that period grew the radical VAS (Vibration Absorbing System) iron. It looked something like an ice cream scoop with a luminous purple medallion in the middle of the cavity back. The club performed well, although many golfers couldn’t get past the unorthodox look. In a span of a decade, Cleveland Golf had made an unwieldy transformation.
A short time later, Roger Cleveland departed his namesake company. It was left to Greg Hopkins, who took the company’s helm in 1997, to reinvigorate Cleveland. (Ironically, the VAS iron played a role in Cleveland’s comeback because Callaway and other manufacturers that used viscoelastic medallions on the backs of their irons had to pay royalties to Cleveland.)
Hopkins and his staff have sent a clear message to golfers who pay close attention to the shape of their clubs: These are clubs made by golfers for golfers.
While tour players concentrated on the classic TA1 and TA3 irons, ordinary players flocked to the forgiving TA7 and TA5 models.
The TA7 and TA5 irons each have two versions, another Cleveland trademark of recent years. There is a TA7 and TA7 Tour, along with a TA5 and TA5 Senior.
When Cleveland unveiled its 900 Series of wedges, there again were two versions – regular bounce and low bounce. Low bounce is often preferred by golfers who play at dry, firm courses with a variety of tight lies.
The titanium Launcher became the first Cleveland driver to capture the public’s imagination. With three head sizes (330, 400 and 460 cubic centimeters), it has helped the company boost its metalwood share to 8.2 percent from 4.7 percent a year ago.
After becoming president of Cleveland, Hopkins had issued a challenge to himself and his staff. “I want our clubs to appeal to all golfers, regardless of their ability.”
It appears he has accomplished his goal.