Quiz time, campers.
Quick – in your head, list your four or five most important attributes a golf OEM should have. Heck, make it any manufacturer in any business. Go!
Tick, tick, tick…
I’m guessing R&D, technical expertise, high performing equipment, and availability are on your lists. I’m hoping you listed honesty/integrity as well.
Did you list energy? You should have.
Four years ago, energy (and its cousin, enthusiasm) was in short supply at Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO. Despite solid gear, Srixon was searching for an identity while Cleveland was mothballed as a full-line provider, leaving only wedges and putters bearing the iconic name.
XXIO? That was a high-priced niche offering no one could pronounce.
What a difference four years makes. With a new CEO at the helm, several Tour wins and one huge Major victory in hand, there’s a palpable energy in Huntington Beach. While product performance is #datacratic, energy and enthusiasm are more #touchy-feely, but those attributes ultimately show up in creativity, product design, PR, and sales.
In that context, there’s a heightened level of excitement at Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO this month, as the brand launches the second iteration of Cleveland’s full-line offering. We’ve already seen the updated CBX 2 wedges and the new Frontline putters. New irons and hybrids are coming, but today we take a deep dive into the updated Launcher HB Turbo metal woods.
That heightened level of excitement may be justified.
Cleveland made its full line comeback two years ago with the HB Launcher line of metal woods and irons, all of which were unabashedly targeted toward the recreational and game-improvement golfer. The new metal woods lineup is called Launcher HB Turbo – a little unimaginative, perhaps, but it certainly is descriptive.
“We’re basically turbo-charging the Launcher product,” says Dustin Brekke, Cleveland’s Director of Engineering, Research and Development. “We’re going for more speed, more forgiveness, more performance – parameters that are going to matter for the player type we’re shooting for.”
And make no mistake, if you’re a 2 handicap with a Tour-level swing and rarely miss the sweet spot, these metal woods are not for you.
If you’re more of a normal human being who plays golf for – gulp – fun, then you’ll want to keep reading.
Let’s start with the driver, which is most definitely not designed for the Tour player wannabe.
“The goal is to create a driver for those who just want to launch it,” says Cleveland Marketing Director and former Golf Club Product Manager Brian Schielke. “And the three keys are high, straight and far.”
Sounds simple enough, but Tour players and better players don’t necessarily want clubs that launch higher, and they may want to shape the ball. For the rest of us mere mortals, high, straight and far will do just fine, thank you.
While the two-year-old original HB Launcher driver represented a solid return for Cleveland, it was a middle-of-the-road performer in MyGolfSpy’s 2018 Most Wanted driver testing. However, it did perform exceptionally well for slower swing speed players, finishing 4thoverall and first in carry distance.
A couple of criticisms of that driver; first, it was unapologetically left-biased, to the point where faster swingers could turn it into a hook machine. If you’re fighting the rights, a left-biased driver is a good thing, but if you’re not…
The second criticism is purely subjective: it was rather plain-looking, with an uninspired silver and black sole with blue piping, and a dull, black crown. For a company making its triumphant driver return, it was rather ho-hum looking, as was the rest of the metal woods lineup. When you’re fighting for shelf appeal, ho-hum doesn’t really cut it.
Jazzed Up & Speedy
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, from the top the new and significantly better-looking Launcher HB Turbo does look an awful lot like a PING G410, so much so that for 13 holes last week a playing partner thought I was gaming a PING. But let’s all say this together: looks like isn’t the same as, or even a copy of.
It’s similar in that it’s matte black with small fin-like features on the crown and red accents on the sole, but let’s not go overboard on any Cleveland copied PING rants, shall we?
Cleveland says the HB Turbo uses much of the same tech as its predecessor; it’s just jazzed up some in the name of ball speed and performance. The HB Turbo still features a 6-4 Titanium Cup Face with a newly formulated variable face thickness, which Cleveland says reduces the center thickness by 0.2 millimeters, allowing the driver to get closer to USGA CT limits.
“Cup face tech is really for off-center ball speed, though,” adds Schielke. “If you’re designing for Tour players who hit the same spot every time, Cup Face isn’t that important. If you have an impact pattern all over the face, it becomes very important.”
The rest of the tech story is all about CG and moving it as far back and as low as possible. As was its predecessor, the Launcher HB Turbo is not adjustable, which Cleveland says is more about weight savings and redistribution than it is about cost savings. In fact, the new Ultralight Hosel design is 13% lighter than the first generation.
“Our hosel bore, our entire hosel sleeve is a little bit shorter, and we’ve cut out some mass with an exterior feature,” says Brekke. “It’s about 4-ish grams, but we’ve been able to move that weight low and back without changing the overall design.
Friends In Low Places
Cleveland’s signature HiBore crown has been tweaked a bit to help move the CG lower by 2.2 millimeters which, since any driver’s CG fits in a box 14mm by 12mm, isn’t insignificant. The crown itself is titanium as opposed to carbon fiber, and Cleveland admits the crown texturing and raised ribs are equal parts aerodynamics and sex appeal.
“It does provide a premium look,” says Brekke. “It does offer some aerodynamic improvement for faster swing speeds, but it’s something that’s important in the market and can provide confidence to the target player.”
In total, tweaks and adjustments to the head have allowed Cleveland to find 17-grams of weight to move back and low. There are a full 35-grams of weight as far back and as low as it can go in the HB Launcher Turbo – you can see it at the very back with a callout that reads Deep Weighting.
In total, the CG is 10% deeper in the new HB Turbo, with 8% more heel-toe MOI compared to the original Launcher.
The original Launcher was also a left-bias driver; this new model not quite as much.
“One knock on the original Launcher HB was, if you had a higher swing speed or if you turned it over a little, you can miss it left, so it didn’t fit everyone,” says Schielke. “The new Launcher is still left biased, just not as much as the first generation.”
If you need more right-to-left help, Cleveland is adding a 10.5-degree draw-biased model to the HB Turbo lineup. That sounds kind of odd at first: a draw model of a driver that’s already left biased, but remember the target golfer, and remember the standard HB Turbo isn’t nearly as draw biased as the previous generation Launcher.
It goes without saying that if you absolutely, positively must see an open face at address, neither driver will particularly appeal to you, but then again, they’re not supposed to.
“When we show these to better players they go ‘uh, how could you do this? It looks like it’s going to go left!’” says Schielke. “Well, yes, that’s the point. If you’re missing it in the right trees every hole, you don’t want an open face angle. You want a club with a closed face to give you confidence. For the people we’re going after, it’s a benefit.”
Shaftwise, the Launcher HB Turbo still features the Miyazaki C. Kua with a bit of a twist: it’s been counter-balanced with a bit more weight up towards the hands to make it easier to swing faster with the same amount of effort. The C. Kua is 55 grams as qualifies in Miyazaki’s performance matrix as Mid-High trajectory.
The standard grip is the Lamkin 360. Optional shafts and grips are available through Cleveland’s Custom Order department.
The Launcher HB Turbo will retail for $349 and will hit stores October 4th.
Launcher HB Turbo Fairways
When metal woods are announced, the big story is always the driver. It’s always the star of the show, and the hope is its light will shine on the rest of the lineup. As a result, the companion fairway metals always seem to get the short end of the stick.
I’m not a big fairway wood fan – they usually only get out of the bag when it’s a tight tee box, and in my hands, they’re not much of a weapon off the deck. That said, the Launcher HB Turbo fairway might be worthy of a look-see, as it features the same technology as the driver.
“You get the same benefits,” says Brekke. “It has a Cup Face in the 3-wood for more carry, along with variable face thickness, flex channels on the sole and deep weighting.”
Low, back weighting is hard to do in a 3-wood since it’s flatter and smaller than a driver, but the HiBore Crown, the Ultralight Hosel, and other design features free up mass for the journey back and down. The new models also have a noticeably larger footprint than the first generation fairways, which helps with forgiveness.
Nearly every OEM product presentation we’ve ever witnessed here at MyGolfSpy features a look at that OEMs own head-to-head testing against competitive products. And every single time we’re shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that the presenting OEMs products always come out on top. We’ve often said if an OEM shows us tests they don’t win, we’ll throw a parade.
Well, cue the band.
During our product presentation, Brekke and Schielke showed a fairway wood ball speed test, and as Vijay Singh as my witness, the HB Launcher Turbo came in second.
“It happens, we don’t win every time in everything,” says Schielke. “We didn’t win ball speed in this particular test (TaylorMade M6 did), but we were the straightest, and we had the tightest left-to-right dispersion.”
“Ball speed is a very large dial for distance, and distance is what people are looking for,” adds Brekke. “By keeping it straight and actually having it go a little bit right to left, and having the MOI in the footprint we have, we’re overall winning the test. Ball speed is important, but without everything else, it wouldn’t win overall.”
It should be noted the ball speed winner also went the farthest right and had the biggest overall dispersion in the Cleveland test. But still, a parade is a parade.
Oddly, the new HB Turbo fairway metals are only being offered in 3- and 5-woods for both men and women at 15 and 18°. Not so oddly, given the target golfer, there’s no strong 3-wood option.
You’ll also notice there are no hybrids included in the HB Turbo lineup. There’s a reason for that, which we’ll learn next week.
The Launcher HB Turbo metal woods feature the same Lamkin 360 grips as the driver, and the same counterbalanced Miyazaki C. Kua stock shafts.
Retail is $219, and as with the drivers, they’ll be available October 4th.