When you think Cleveland wedges, you think classic. You think consistent. And you think Zip – as in Zip Grooves. Well, there’s a fresh Zip in town as today Cleveland Golf unveils its new RTX ZipCore wedge.
There’s only so much technology that can be added to a blade-style wedge and still keep it a blade-style wedge. While ZipCore maintains much of Cleveland’s RTX DNA, there’s enough innovation here to warrant a closer look.
With apologies to Brenda Lee, you can consider the Cleveland RTX ZipCore a new old-fashioned wedge.
Tearing Down the Flagship
The RTX – and its rotational ROTEX face milling – has been Cleveland’s flagship wedge since 2012. Each iteration has brought slight changes in CG location, groove technology, and sole grinds. With RTX ZipCore, Cleveland is – to a degree – tearing down the flagship and starting fresh.
“There’s always this balance between pushing performance to the next level of technology and innovation, and Tour players and avid golfers wanting something that’s familiar,” says Cleveland Marketing Director Brian Schielke. “They don’t want to look at something that’s a radically different shape or has a different feel from what they’re used to.”
So how do you push performance without making your core audience gag on the visuals? Inside out, of course.
“There’s only so much you can do in a blade wedge while maintaining the look, feel and shape,” says Schielke. “That led us to research new construction methods, and that led us to think about the inside of the wedge.”
The Holy Grail for club designers is figuring out how to save weight in one area where it serves no purpose and move it somewhere more beneficial. With a blade-style wedge, there are precious few opportunities to move mass. However, Cleveland found one, and that led to the ZipCore concept.
What Makes ZipCore ZipCore?
If you follow wedge trends, you know it’s de rigueur to move the CG closer to the center of the clubface. Cleveland’s great shift to the center started with Feel Balancing Technology in RTX-3, which essentially drilled out a small bit of the hosel. That took weight away from the heel area and shifted the CG toward the center.
There are limitations to drilling out the hosel, however. Feel Balance Technology gained only a handful of grams. ZipCore is a low-density core and saves around 16 grams. In a wedge, that’s a lot.
“The core density is about two grams per cubic centimeter, where the 8620-carbon steel we use for the wedge is round eight,” says Schielke. “It’s four times less dense than steel.”
ZipCore is made from a strong aluminum silicate compound with a high melting point. That’s important since the rest of the wedge is cast around it. Schielke says the CG with RTX-4 was about 2.8 mm from the center of the face. With RTX ZipCore, the CG is only 1.4 mm from the center.
“We could have moved it more, but this wedge is for better players,” he says. “Radical CG movements aren’t good, but incremental ones that help improve feel and control are.”
Not only is the CG closer to the middle, but it’s also a tad higher. Cleveland says that improves high-low MOI by nine percent.
“Better players don’t miss heel-toe as much,” says Schielke. “But if you’re on a tight lie or in thick rough, up-down is where you miss, especially with a wedge that has so much loft. Increasing high-low MOI gives you better spin control, similar distance control, and similar trajectory even if you hit it a hair high on the face.”
Sharper, Deeper, Closer
There’s always a groove story with Cleveland. In this case, we’re talking UltiZip Grooves, which Cleveland says are sharper, deeper, and closer together than anything they’ve done before. And, of course, they’re USGA approved.
“We have a huge database of on-course wedge shots, over five million of them,” says Schielke. “Golfers don’t hit chip shots and full shots in an even distribution.”
Cleveland’s data says most wedge shots are between 20 and 50 yards. At those distances, you’re not compressing the ball very much, so two extra rows of sharper grooves means more groove on the ball at impact.
“If you go too shallow, you can’t channel enough dirt and debris,” says Schielke. “So, we went with the closest together and deepest grooves of all our competitors. We’ve optimized our grooves to improve strokes gained for the most common wedge shots.”
Some OEMs will graduate grooves by loft under the theory you usually hit more full shots with a 48-degree wedge than you will with a 56- or 60-degree wedge. Cleveland is having none of that.
“We’re not just trying to get the most spin off a mat,” says Schielke. “We’re not trying to get more spin out of your 62-degree wedge and less spin out of your 46-degree wedge. We want to get the most consistent spin and prevent flyers on all wedge shots. The same groove design seems to work best for all that.”
For you stat geeks out there, Cleveland says UltiZip grooves are 11 percent sharper, 7.3 percent deeper, and 7.4 percent closer than the RTX-4 grooves. The tighter spacing lets Cleveland add two extra rows of grooves to each face.
Heat Treatment, Sweet Treatment
Grooves wear out. You know that. We know that. Manufacturers know that. Conventional wisdom says to replace your wedges when you notice a decline in performance, or at around 75 rounds, whichever comes first. It’s fair to ask how many of us ordinary people notice a performance decline, especially if it happens gradually over a year to a year and a half.
Cleveland has developed a new accelerated lifecycle testing system that uses a cannon to simulate all types of shots, including bunker shots.
“It’s difficult to test groove wear,” admits Schielke. “With our new system, we measure grooves before we put them through the test and then again after the test. This gives us more quantifiable groove wear and durability analysis.”
To improve durability, the new RTX ZipCore wedges go through a new heat-treatment process. Club heads are heated up just enough to rearrange the carbon steel’s crystalline grain structure, which makes the entire wedge, including the face, more durable.
“Our testing shows these grooves last around 31 percent longer than previous generations,” says Schielke. “But if you have a fast swing speed, play out of sandy conditions and swing down hard and compress the ball in bunkers, you’re going to wear any wedge out faster. If you play once a week, have an 85 mile an hour driver swing speed, and tend to sweep the ball more, it’ll last longer.”
Cleveland generally provides test data comparing its wedges to the usual suspects. That info, however, has been delayed. “We’re still in the process of testing the new models,” says Schielke. “But as you know, we haven’t been in the office or the lab much over the past few months.”
Grinds and Shafts
Cleveland is back to offering three sole grind options with RTX ZipCore. The Extra Low bounce option offered with the RTX-4 lineup is gone.
“Our sole grinds have always been Tour-driven, but X-Low was too low even for the Tour guys,” says Schielke. “And if it’s too low bounced for them, then it’s way too low bounced for the rest of us.”
The Low, Mid, and Full grinds are pretty much unchanged from Cleveland’s previous offerings. Low is a classic C-shaped grind with toe, heel, and trailing edge relief. It’s measured at six degrees. Mid grind (10-degrees) is the most versatile with a pronounced V-sole and some trailing edge relief to help with full shots. The Full sole is the highest bounce option (12-degrees), which helps if you spend a lot of time in the sand or rough.
There’s also a new shaft in the RTX ZipCore: The Dynamic Gold Spinner Tour Issue.
“This was a collaborative effort between us and True Temper,” says Schielke. “We took some weight out of the shaft (four grams lighter than an S400) and made the tip a little more active. It helps feel on partial shots but also gives the ball a little more stopping power on the green.”
And no, it’s not the same, or even close to the DG Spinner, that hourglass-shaped shaft you’ll see on some wedges. It’s an entirely new and different shaft. True Temper will launch it in the aftermarket later this summer.
Cleveland remains in a dogfight with Callaway for 2nd place in wedge market share behind Vokey. Callaway charges more for its wedges (its 2020 models retail for $159.99), so it leads in dollars. Cleveland moves more units but at lower prices. After eight years, it’s certainly time for an overhaul. Cleveland wedges are consistent upper-tier performers in Most Wanted testing, but we’ll have to see whether ZipCore moves the needle.
From a marketing standpoint, the new look is eye-catching. You no doubt are catching a slight resemblance to TaylorMade’s 790 irons. Cry “copy” if you want, but to get the high-how MOI it wanted, Cleveland had to move the weight high and toward the toe. “We had to push the weight up there,” says Schielke. “We put it kind of high on the back in the most elegant way we could.”
You’ll also notice Cleveland coming out with cross-reference charts for RTX ZipCore. The charts will help Vokey or Callaway users figure out which Cleveland sole grinds will match their old wedges. “Sole grinds are somewhat complex. We try to make it pretty obvious and consistent,” says Schielke. “Whether they’re replacing an RTX-2 or –3, or whether they’re upgrading from Titleist or Callaway, we want to help people find the right wedge for their game.”
Price and Availability
Cleveland isn’t releasing any new loft and grind options with RTX ZipCore. Mid grinds are most common, available in the 46- through 60-degree models (in two-degree increments). Full grinds are available in the 54- through 60-degree models, while Low grinds are available in the 56-through 62-degree models.
The new Dynamic Gold Spinner Tour Issue is the stock shaft, and the popular Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 is the stock grip. The Cleveland RTX ZipCore will be available in Tour Satin finish only at release, but the company says Black Satin and Raw finishes are coming later this year.
While Cleveland is announcing the RTX ZipCore today, they won’t be in stores until August 14th.
Presale begins on Cleveland’s website starting July 27th. They’ll retail at $149.99.
For more information, visit Clevelandgolf.com.