My buddy Todd is a great guy. He’s a good friend to all and an adoring husband to his wife. He loves dogs and volunteers his time to numerous charitable causes. You'd like him.
Todd is also a golf nut, but practice time and lessons just aren’t in the cards for him because he has, you know, a life. He’s a high-teens handicapper who strikes the ball decently, is okay off the tee and is a streaky putter.
But put him in the sand or anywhere around the green and joyful, fun-loving Todd becomes head-twisting, pea-soup vomiting victim of Satanic possession Todd. It’s time to call a priest.
Or maybe Cleveland Golf.
Smart Sole 3
Cleveland is releasing the third iteration of its Smart Sole wedge offering this week, much to the horror of golf’s Torch and Pitchfork Nation.
Get lessons! Cheater club! Learn to hit out of the sand!
Stop. Just stop.
Some people only play golf every once in a while. And some - quite a few, actually - play golf just for fun, and there’s nothing morally or philosophically wrong with giving those folks a bit of help in the form of a super wide-flanged sand iron or - gulp - a chipper.
“There are a lot of golfers struggling to break 100,” says John Rae, Cleveland’s VP of R&D. “The reason is when they get stuck in a bunker, they can count on making an 8 on that hole. Or they get a tight lie, and they know they’re going to blade it over the green two or three times before they can putt. Those golfers would be so much better served by embracing a Smart Sole-type product.”
Cleveland’s Smart Sole offering consists of just two clubs - an S and a C. For the alphabetically challenged the S is for sand and the C is for chipping. We’ll discuss the philosophical rationale for sand irons and chippers in a bit, but let’s get the tech stuff out of the way first.
“3 Shall Be The Number”
Smart Sole 3 is loaded with 3’s. The S and C have 3 key tech upgrades from previous models: Cleveland’s Feel Balancing Technology, optimized loft and a really, really wide three-tiered sole.
Feel Balancing Technology moves the wedge’s CG more toward the middle of the face, which helps forgiveness on full shots, while the three-tiered sole makes the club more useful from both the rough and the fairway.
“That first section of sole is very similar in shape to any traditional wedge sole,” says Rae. “When you’re hitting a square, full shot from the fairway that’s the part of the sole you’ll engage and it’s going to play like a traditional wedge.”
“In the rough you’re going to engage the second part of the sole a little more, it’ll give you a little more lift and help you get through the rough better. And when you’re in the sand, the widest part of the sole - and all three sole sections - get engaged and almost force you through rather than stub the club in the sand.” - John Rae, Cleveland Golf
The S loft is 58 degrees, and Cleveland says that has purpose as well. “Since that type of golfer might not be skilled or knowledgeable enough to open up the face in the bunker,” says Rae. “We give him a bunch of loft to get it up and out.”
The net result is the ability to take a fuller, more aggressive swing in the bunker. Cleveland’s internal test panel of 31 golfers with handicaps of 12 or higher compared their gamers to the Smart Sole 3 S and found they were 50% more likely to get the ball out of the bunker, and 30% more likely to land the ball on the green.
“It’s depressing when you’re throwing buckets and buckets of sand out of the bunker and onto the green, just to have the ball roll back to your feet over and over again,” says Rae. “More than anything else this gives golfers the knowledge that they don’t have to hit the next shot from where they just hit the last shot,”
The C also has a three-tiered sole and Feel Balancing Technology, but Cleveland has changed the lie angle a bit in this version. The loft is still 42 degrees, but the club itself is shorter and more upright.
“It forces you to put your hands forward a little bit,” says Rae. “As a result the club forces you into a better posture and better alignment so you make a better stroke.”
You won’t find Cleveland’s Rotex face on either club. The C is your bump and run club, so spin really isn’t a factor. You want to get the ball to the hole, not check up and dance. With the S the ball never really touches the grooves - you hit the sand and the sand hits the ball - so there’s no benefit to optimizing spin.
Field testing of both products has been interesting. The C is the ultimate bump and run tool - very little carry and a ton of roll - and it’s virtually impossible to stub or chili-dip from the fringe or rough near the green. You still need to develop touch to get close to the hole, but at least you'll get the ball moving in the right direction.
The S is just plain fun to hit. Chipping and pitching are easy like Sunday morning, and again, it’s virtually impossible to stub or chili-dip. You’ll get more carry with the S, but don’t expect to be able to open up the sole and add some spin - that’s not what this club is for, and that’s not a skill the intended market generally possesses.
Out of the sand, the S is just plain silly. Again, you can’t open the face up, but that’s where the 58-degree loft comes into play - you simply don’t have to. The S does an amazing job of getting the ball up and out of the sand, but it’s a bit too blunt of an instrument if you're a golfer who wants to attack pins from the bunker. But again, that’s not what the club is intended to do nor is it who it is intended for.
The Tao of Smart Sole
Clearly, the intended market for Smart Sole 3 is your basic mid- to high-handicapper who is scared to death of landing in a bunker or chipping around the green. You know those guys - their whole body language changes, their shoulders slump and the whole fun part of the game starts turning to crapola.
None of us came out of the womb knowing how to play this game, and as far as the short game is concerned, for every Luke or Phil who can get up and down with ease there are 100,000+ Todds struggling just to get up-up-up and down. With that as a backdrop, it’s important to look at Smart Sole, and this entire product category, philosophically. Cleveland thinks of it all as a kind of a pendulum.
“At the beginning we believe golfers should be buying specific wedges to solve specific problems, whether it’s getting out of a bunker or chipping. As you get better and move into the 15 handicap range, now you should start thinking about wedge sets, so you can use all your wedges based on the shot conditions. Then, as you move towards single digits or better, that’s when you now have enough skill so that you can chip with anything. Then you can move back to an individual wedge with an individual feature that helps you solve one individual problem.” - John Rae, Cleveland Golf
Perhaps some perspective is needed. It’s very common to find a better player, or even a Tour pro, packing a hybrid or two in place of their long irons. When you ask why they’ll tell you it’s because hybrids are easier to hit.
Let’s let that little nugget of irony settle for a second.
“There’s an ego struggle that keeps some golfers from buying the right equipment,” admits Rae. “As a result, they play worse. So for the high handicapper who struggles in the sand or around the green, switching to Smart Sole means he’s going to enjoy himself a lot more, he’s going to play more and he’s going to get better.
“And then he’s not going to need Smart Sole anymore.”
Specs & Pricing
Fitting into Smart Sole 3’s S or C is a piece of cake - the only options you have are gender specific: it’s 58 degrees for the S and 42 degrees for the C. Standard shafts are the Smart Sole Steel or the Cleveland Wedge Flex graphite. Stock grip is the Lamkin Blue Cap for men and the Women’s Smart Sole grip for the ladies.
Both clubs are available now for pre-sale now on Cleveland’s website and at select retailers. Smart Sole 3 will be officially released July 24th.
MSRP is $119 in steel, $129 in graphite.