Here’s a question for you golf geeks to ponder: If you were an OEM, and you only made one wedge, who would you make it for?

The most obvious answer is, of course, everyone. But it’s also the wrong answer.

All OEMs have the same basic irons lineup: blades, players cavity backs, two game improvement irons (standard and Pro), a super game improvement iron and a super-duper game improvement iron.

Wedge offerings, however, are mostly variations on the standard blade wedge theme.

Last year, Cleveland released the CBX wedge – a mold-breaking, cavity-backed wedge aimed at the big, fat middle of the market: the game improvement player. If you play cavity back, game improvement irons, mused Cleveland, then why wouldn’t you play a cavity back, game improvement wedge? It’s not for everyone, but it hits the meaty part of the bell curve.

Today’s article is to introduce you to the new Cleveland RTX-4 wedge, but it’s important to note that without the CBX, Cleveland probably wouldn’t have been as aggressive in its evolution from the RTX-3 to RTX-4. Instead, Cleveland is going full Tour-mode with RTX-4, a wedge aimed at the better player, without compromise or apology.

Diff’rent Strokes

“Everyone has a different short game and different needs,” Cleveland Marketing Director Brian Schielke told MyGolfSpy in an exclusive sit-down last week. “Some people need more versatility, thinner soles, heavier shafts, more compact shapes. Others need a little more forgiveness. They’re not trying to do a lot of different things with their short game; they just want something easy.”

“So if you make one wedge model, who do you make that wedge for? Do you make it for Tour players and let other people suffer?”

The existence of the CBX line has given Cleveland the freedom to refine its flagship wedge with the better player – and its Tour staff – in mind. As Schielke says, “we don’t have to compromise.”

The RTX-3 was a fine wedge. It sold well and remains a solid performer. Cleveland’s Tour Staff, however, was, uh, lukewarm to it.

“There wasn’t as much adoption as we would have liked,” Cleveland Brand Manager Zack Oakley says. “I think the V-Sole was a little polarizing to a lot of those guys.”

RTX-4, however, is a different story. Prototypes have been in use on Tour since last December, with Ted Potter bagging them in his win at Pebble. With RTX-4, Cleveland is focusing exclusively on what the better player/Tour player wants in a wedge: more aggressive milling, more grind options and a more compact styling that’ll make the wedge junkie in you jump up and say howdy.

Face Facts

RTX-4 represents the 4th generation of Cleveland’s unique Rotex face milling pattern, and Schielke says this iteration has the sharpest Tour Zip Grooves of any Cleveland wedge to date, largely due to a deepening understanding of tool wear during the cutting and milling processes.

“We’ve evolved Tour Zip Grooves over four generations,” he says. “We know exactly how the form cutter is going to wear over time, when we have to change it, how sharp we can go and still stay within USGA limits.”

“These form cutters are really small with really precise angles to them. If you start from scratch, you have to be on the conservative side because we don’t want these to be illegal and we wouldn’t know exactly how the tool design is going to wear. We have tens of millions of data points of grooves we’ve milled, so we can be more aggressive than ever before because we know exactly how they’re going to come out.” – Brian Schielke, Cleveland Golf

Cleveland takes a unique – and proprietary – step to protect wedge grooves during manufacturing. After milling, Cleveland fills the grooves right up over the edge with a sort of protective goop. This is particularly important during sandblasting, which can dull the edge and affect performance. When manufacturing is complete, it melts the goop out, leaving a shiny, pristine groove.

Like most OEMs, Cleveland looks at data from real golfers. It even has what it calls its “Launch Squad,” a team of two thousand golfers in Southern California it can call on to test products during development. One of the juicy tidbits Cleveland learned is when it comes to amateur golfers, roughly 70% of the shots we hit from 100 yards and in are either from the rough or the bunker.

“We’re trying to optimize spin from those conditions because that’s where you need it the most,” says Shielke. “If you’re hitting wedge shots off a tee, you don’t really even need grooves to create spin. Where you start losing control is when there’s grass, dirt or debris. We’re trying to create consistent spin on all shots, so our grooves will help a shot from the rough act more like a fairway shot, while a fairway shot won’t overspin.”

As always, you have to consider the source, but Cleveland says its testing shows as much as 50% more spin on lob shots from rough compared to Callaway or Vokey, and upwards of 500 RPM more on full shots from the rough.

Sole Grinds – How Low Can You Go?

When it comes to sole grinds, if three is good, well four must be better, right? Cleveland still has low, mid and full sole grinds (with slight modifications, as we’ll see), but it’s also offering a fourth grind, a super-low bounce grind called XLow.

For some reason, Cleveland is using its dot classification for only the Low (one dot) and Mid (two dot) sole grinds. The Full and XLow grinds have no dots. If you’re not sure what you’re holding in your hands, just check the toe, as each wedge grind is clearly marked.

“The Full sole is our traditional 588 sole,” says Zack Oakley. “Not much grind, a good amount of camber and it plays like a mid-bounce on full shots. But when you start to open it up, since there’s no really grind to it, the leading edge kind of comes up off the ground, so it’s really good for fluffy bunkers, soft turf conditions or deep rough.”

The Mid bounce has a slightly modified V-Sole, with a wee bit less bounce in the leading edge for full shots and some trailing edge relief for the golfer who likes to open the face a little bit around the green.

The Low bounce option is a traditional C grind, with trailing edge and heel/toe relief for players who really like to open it up and manipulate different shots around the green. It’s meant for tight lies and firm turf conditions, and is popular with Cleveland’s Tour pros.

“The Mid and the Full sole have the same bounce number,” says Schielke. “But they’re a little different. The Mid has the V-Sole while the Full has more a traditional sole. Both play like a mid-bounce wedge on full shots, but when you open the wedge, the V-Sole stays lower to the ground while the full will actually increase the bounce.”

The XLow is where the fun starts.

“It’s the lowest bounce we’ve ever made in a wedge,” says Oakley. “It’s available in 58 and 60 degree only, and it’s for the player who has the confidence to really open up the face around the green as much as he wants and who hits high, soft, spinning shots. The leading edge still has a little bounce to it, but if you flop it open, it sits really close to the ground.”

Some on course testing with the XLow does bear this out – it’s scary easy to hit flops and delicate little pitches to tight pin placements, without too much fear of skulling it across the green.

Shaping & Feel Balancing

When you first gaze down at an RTX-4 at address, it looks, well, different, especially compared to an RTX-3. It’s nothing drastic, but it is noticeable. For starters, the head itself is more compact than RTX-3, and there’s noticeably less offset – both modifications made with Tour players in mind.

“A little bit shorter blade length, a little bit shorter blade height, heel height and less offset,” says Oakley. “They’re more compact and make for a nice transition from our 5, 7 and 9 series Srixon irons.”

The lower lofted wedges feature a considerably more compact head and a straighter leading edge, while the higher lofts will have a rounder leading edge with progressively larger heads, although still more compact than RTX-3.

Cleveland has also made some enhancements in its Feel Balancing Technology, first introduced in RTX-3 and included in the CBX wedges.

“Wedges have always had pretty big, long heavy hosels,” says Patrick Ripp, Cleveland’s Senior Design Engineer for Wedges. “That pulls a lot of weight toward the heel. Historically, the center of gravity has been about eight millimeters towards the heel, so even when you hit it in the center, the head can rotate and act like a mishit.”

Feel Balancing Technology moves the CG closer to the center by shortening the hosel and milling a microcavity in the hosel. That weight can now be redistributed to move the CG closer to the center, which is kind of a trend in wedges: Callaway, Vokey, and others have also taken steps over the years to shift CG toward the middle.

With RTX-4, Cleveland has added some back flange shaping to each wedge to help move the CG even closer to the middle.

“Every sole grind has different weighting, for obvious reasons,” says Ripp. “If you take weight out of the heel, you have to put it back somewhere. We have a unique back flange for each loft and grind, so we can get the weight exactly where we want it.”

“Even though this is a Tour-driven blade wedge, the center of gravity is actually closer to the center of the face than it is even with the CBX wedge.” -Patrick Ripp, Cleveland Golf

Cleveland is a cast wedge company, and RTX-4 is no different, made from 8620 carbon steel. Don’t expect Cleveland to jump onto the forged wedge bandwagon.

“If it’s made out of a soft material, it’ll feel great – especially with the CG in the right location,” says Schielke. “There no real benefit to a forged wedge other than marketing and saying, ‘this is forged.”

Facts, Figures, Pricing & Availability

RTX-4 will be available in three finishes: Tour Raw, Tour Satin, and Black Satin – which Cleveland claims is an extra-durable PVD that shouldn’t wear off for quite a while. It’s hard to tell at this point, but a couple of rounds of golf and several practice sessions are showing no visible wear.

As stated earlier, there are four grind options available: Full in 56-58-60 degrees, Mid in 46 thru 60 in 2-degree increments, Low in 56 thru 64 in 2-degree increments, and Low in 58 and 60 degrees.

Cleveland is touting its Tour bona fides when it comes to the stock configuration, with a Tour issue DG S400 and Golf Pride Tour Velvet grip standard. There are a handful of no upcharge shaft options, including the KBS 610 and KBS Tour, the Dynamic Gold 115 and the Nippon Modus3 105. There’s no stock graphite offering (Cleveland says better players aren’t playing graphite), but you can get a Recoil shaft for a $10 upcharge.

The RTX-4 sells for $139.99, a $10 jump over RTX-3, but still below current models from Callaway, Titleist, PING, Mizuno and others (offerings from Cobra, Wilson, and Hogan are priced lower). You can pre-order RTX-4 at select accounts starting August 31st, with the formal release at retail and online scheduled for September 14th.