Why do you play golf?
That’s a serious question, and your answer will determine how much of this article you’ll want to read.
If you’re somewhere between semi-serious and serious, practice fairly regularly, and thrive on the challenge of getting better, you may want to skip the first part and jump ahead to the second part. It won’t make you happy.
If you’re among the surprisingly large population of golfers who play the game for – gulp – fun, and your only interest in equipment is finding stuff to help you get the ball in the air and in the general direction of the green, you’ll definitely want to read the first part. And maybe the second, as well.
Since returning as a full-line OEM, Cleveland’s focus has been squarely on the latter while offering open-minded members of the former intriguing alternatives. Today’s release of its 2nd iteration of Launcher irons should give both groups something to ponder.
Welcome Back Lazarus, Act II
Cleveland relaunched two years ago as an unabashed game improvement brand, complimenting Srixon’s better player offerings. We asked at the time whether it was a legit brand resurrection or a desperate Hail Mary. Upon further review, we can safely say when it comes to irons; the reborn Cleveland is for real.
By any measure, the Launcher HB irons were a grand slam. The took home MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted Super Game Improvement Iron title in 2018 by blowing away the field in accuracy, forgiveness, and strokes gained. It did, however, rank in the bottom third of the field for distance (file that one away for later).
Conventional wisdom says irons, no matter how good, get replaced and – we hope – upgraded every two years. With the Launchers – one set is getting a weakness tweaked while the other is getting more of an overhaul.
Launcher HB Turbo
Would it at all surprise you to learn that since its 2017 release, the original Launcher HB’s are Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO’s biggest selling iron?
“We’re still selling as many sets today as we were when they were first launched,” says Cleveland Marketing Director Brian Schielke. “We never did see a second-year drop off in sales because there’s not a lot of competition in these big, easy to hit irons.”
Schielke says the HB’s blew away sales projections by 160%, which means Cleveland sold 2.5 times more sets than they planned for. It’s fair to ask: if they’re still selling well and doing their job, why change?
“With two-year life-cycles, we have time to work on things,” says Cleveland Engineering and R&D chief Dustin Brekke. “With these, there’s no Tour feedback; it’s all coming from consumers. Our goal is to make each thing about it just a little bit better, and all those little improvements add up. The net outcome is a product worthy of replacing the existing one.”
The new Launcher HB Turbo iron set is what it is: an oversized, hollow-bodied, hybrid iron with the forgiveness of a puppy, all to help recreational golfers enjoy themselves more. I’m sure Pitchfork nation is warming up their GET LESSONS and NEW CLUBS WON’T FIX A CRAPPY SWING war cries, but really, some people play golf just for fun.
“When it comes to forgiveness, these irons are in a completely different landscape,” says Brekke. “The CG depth is double that of the average cavity back iron out there, so you’ll actually get some performance benefits from that depth as you would with bigger hybrids, fairways and drivers.”
The super-wide sole and hollow body make the Launchers HBs easy. As Brekke says, the sheer size and geometry of the head not only allows for discretionary weight to be carved out of the face, crown and other areas, it also gives designers someplace to put it.
“Player’s cavity backs usually aren’t even talking about CG depth,” he says. “It’s a control variable they just don’t have access to with the soles they’re looking at.”
Forgiveness isn’t just about MOI and maintaining ball speed on off-center strikes, however. For this type of iron to benefit the target golfer, turf interaction, consistency of face impact, and not chunking shots are the bigger story.
“The player in this category doesn’t always make consistent contact with the ball,” says Brekke. “Having that extreme extra sole makes a difference.” In the hands of a better player, Launcher HB’s are stupid-easy to hit, fly very high and probably spin too much. For the target player, however, easy, high, and spin are all good things.
So what’s new? Well, remember that note earlier about distance?
Easy Length & Thinner Topline
Despite winning 2018’s Most Wanted SGI Iron shootout, the original Launcher HB’s weren’t what you’d call long. Lofts had a lot to do with it, as it got smoked by the Rogue X, Wilson D300, and others. Although even typing it is cringe-worthy, Cleveland says the new HBs are, well, Turbo-charged, without jacking lofts.
The new Turbo uses the same high strength HT1770M steel face as the original, but Cleveland found a way to make it 5% thinner. When combined with a 4% lower and 3% deeper CG, and a 5% higher MOI, Cleveland says the HB Turbo is a half a club longer with the same loft structure as the original. Considering the category, the lofts on the Turbos are downright reasonable, if you think a 30 degree 7-iron is reasonable. By comparison, the Tour Edge EXS 7-iron is 27.5 degrees, the Big Bertha and PING G700 are 29, while the Rogue X is 27.
“With the long irons, shaping and weighting, along with the lofts, help the target golfer hit the ball higher,” says Schielke. “And it helps them hit their 5-iron longer than their 6-iron, and their 4-iron longer than their 5-iron.”
While that sounds like a no duh comment, Cleveland says its player testing shows long irons aren’t always longer among its target golfers.
“We found a lot of people with really strong-lofted irons hit their 5- and 6-irons longer than they hit their 4-irons,” explains Schielke. “It’s because they just don’t get enough clubhead speed to hit it high enough. The club’s so low-lofted you get a low, knuckling 4-iron that just doesn’t go very far. Their five goes a little higher, so it goes a little farther.”
And believe it or not, Cleveland found even Super-Duper Game Improvement players felt the original Launcher HB’s topline was a little too thick. The Turbo’s topline is a full 10% thinner, with a slight chamfer on the backside to help slim it down a bit more.
Slimmer, or course, is a far cry from slim, but hey, it’s something.
Price & Availability
The Launcher HB Turbo irons will retail for $799 for a 7-piece set in steel, and $899 in graphite – a $100 increase from the 2017 models. The stock steel shaft is the 103-gram Dynamic Gold DST 98, considered mid-to-high trajectory in Dynamic Gold’s catalog. The stock graphite shaft – most likely the leading seller of the two – is the 61-gram Miyazaki C. Kua 60, also considered mid-high trajectory. The Lamkin 360 grip is stock.
The men’s models are available for both lefties and righties, while the women’s retail model – the C. Kua 40 is stock – is righty only. But since the heads are the same as the men’s, left-handed women can custom order whatever set makeup they want.
They’ll be at retail October 4th.
Launcher UHX Irons
Put the new Launcher UHX irons next to the old CBX, and you’ll see few obvious similarities other than the Cleveland branding. Even the name is new, perhaps to avoid confusion with Tour Edge’s CBX.
The original CBX was a solid performing cavity back GI set. The new Launcher UHX is very different: a progressive set with hollow-body utility type 4- through 7-irons blending with 8 through PW cavity backs.
“Between the Launcher HB and Srixon utility irons – #1 or #2 on Tour most weeks – we have a leadership position in hollow-body technology and performance,” says Schielke. “With UHX we’re blending Srixon’s Z-Series Tour technologies with Launcher HB’s game improvement tech.”
Progressive sets aren’t easy to pull off. With a mixed set – an SGI 4- through 7-iron and a GI 8-iron through PW, for example – you often get a weird 7- to 8-iron transition and some potential gapping issues. With UHX, Cleveland is trying to match the set for both flow and performance.
“They’re designed to look similar,” says Brekke. “We don’t have a big jump from the longest cavity back to the shortest hollow-body iron. It’s smaller and nearer to the cavity back shape.”
V Is For Variable
Thankfully, there’s no Turbo attached to UHX, but Cleveland does say the hollow-body long irons are longer and more forgiving than standard cavity back long irons. Forgiveness comes from the low and deep CG, and distance comes from the same high strength HT 1770M steel face used in the HB Turbo irons, along with a newly redesigned variable thickness face pattern.
“We study impacts all across the clubface,” says Brekke. “We can determine where mass and weight need to be located for strength and where it doesn’t. We’re able to save weight from low stress impact areas and move it to where we need it.”
For example, if you hit it on the toe, the club is going to rotate a little, even though MOI tries to resist. That toe impact doesn’t put the same amount of force on the face as a sweet spot impact, where you have the entire mass and momentum of the club embracing the impact. You need more strength in the center and less on the toe.
“We learned how much thickness is really needed and where,” says Brekke. “It led to a really unique face pattern where it fans out towards the toe instead of a concentric circle type of hot center sweet spot. We’re able to move about 5 to 6 grams out of the face and move it back, which helps MOI, and it helps create a larger sweet spot.
If the UHX 4-iron were an actor, it’d probably be Danny DeVito: short and stout with an attitude. The 5-iron transitions to Joe Pesci, while the 6 and 7 get taller and slimmer as they progress into the cavity backs starting at the 8. At address, the club’s backside is definitely visible with the 4, less so with the 5 and is basically gone after that. The topline is, well, the topline – not overly thick for the category, but we’re not talking butter knife, either.
V Is Also For V-Sole
Cleveland-Srixon knows turf interaction, thanks to its V-Sole. Since UHX is a progressive set, it gets a progressive V-Sole, as well.
“Our data shows as club length increases, a player’s angle of attack decreases,” says Brekke. “With your pitching wedge, 9-iron or 8-iron, you’re really coming down steep on it to put more spin on it. With longer irons you’re farther away from the ball, it’s a bit forward in your stance, and you’re sweeping at it more.”
What that means is you’re going to need more V – or leading-edge bounce – on your shorter irons. If you had that same bounce in longer irons, you’d tend to skip across the turf and hit shots thin. The shorter irons have a more pronounced V-Sole, which gets progressively flatter at the 6- and 7-iron and is nearly gone by the time you get to the optional 3-iron.
Cleveland also knows grooves and, like the CBX, UHX features Cleveland’s trademark Tour Zip grooves throughout the set, along with laser milling throughout the face. It’s the same level of milling you’d see on Cleveland’s wedges, sans the Rotex pattern.
“Most irons have cast grooves that are way smaller,” says Schielke. “If you’re building irons for distance, you don’t necessarily want consistent spin – the occasional flyer makes people feel good. But if you want consistency, putting the same grooves in our irons as we put in our wedges makes a lot of sense.”
Specs, Price & Availability
The standard 7-piece UHX set is 4-PW, with pretty standard lofts for the category. There’s also an optional 49-degree D wedge available – D is a Cleveland thing meaning Dual wedge. For the rest of us, it’s a Gap wedge.
UHX will retail at $799 in steel and $899 in graphite, also a $100 jump from the originals. As with the HB Turbo’s, the Dynamic Golf DST 98 is stock steel and the Miyazaki C. Kua 60 stock graphite. The Lamkin 360 grip is standard. Custom no-upcharge and premium grip and shaft options are available via custom order.
Women’s versions will be available for righties only, with the C.Kua 40 shaft stock, but the deal is the same as the HB Turbo’s: lefty women can custom order whatever makeup they want.
Additionally, Cleveland will be selling UHX long irons separately as Utility irons. You’ll be able to buy the 3-, 4- or 5-irons as separate SKU’s with the UST Recoil 95 stock. They’ll be priced at $149.00 each.
They’ll be in stores October 4th.