Let’s face it – these days to compete in the very competitive golf club market you need to have something unique. Companies like TaylorMade and Callaway spend lots of time and effort (and cash) in promoting their new clubs with flashy ad campaigns and PGA Tour endorsements. With every new driver model that comes out, the golf manufacturers almost always make claims to add distance and/or accuracy to your game, but let’s get real. If all these claims of more distance were true, we’d all be flying it 400 yards by now. I see lots of new club introductions every year, so when something truly unique hits the market I take note.
Cleveland Golf/Srixon made a splash last season with the Z-Star golf balls, the new XL, SL & TL series drivers (which I think are the most underrated on the market) and the re-birth of Never Compromise as a premium putter brand. Not resting on their laurels, they reintroduced one of the most popular wedges of all time in the 588 series, and this time around they are forged. Coming in 2012 is a new line of 588 forged irons in both a cavity back and blade model, and a complete line of Mashie fairway woods, hybrids and irons for the mid to high handicap players. There is also a fantastic new golf ball called the Srixon Q-Star. But the most exciting new product introduction for Cleveland in 2012 are the new Classic drivers.
With drivers becoming more and more complicated with adjustable weights and hosels, interchangeable shafts and busy graphics, Cleveland went the other way with the Classic Driver. With a unique design and color scheme inspired by the persimmon drivers of the 50s and 60s, the Classic driver is sure to turn heads. I know this for a fact, because every time I pull it out of the retro leather barrel head cover, people want to see it. The Classic driver has a traditional pear shaped profile and a large, deep club face. In fact, it’s the deepest club face Cleveland has ever produced. The sweet-spot of the driver is framed in by a brass colored section, just like a brass insert from a persimmon driver of yesteryear. The paint is a nice deep reddish brown, as most wooden drivers would have been painted back in the day. The word “Classic” is written along the top as an alignment aid, but I could have done without that as I prefer a clean look with no marks on the top. Either way, this club truly is a modern representation of a persimmon driver, but how does it perform?
I put the Classic up against my current gamer, which is Cleveland’s awesome Launcher TL310 driver (8.5 degrees loft). When I switched to the Launcher TL310 from the Cleveland Launcher DST, I went from a 43 gram shaft at 46 inches long to a 56 gram shaft at 45 inches, and picked up 10 yards in the process. Not only was I hitting the sweet-spot a bit more with a shorter shaft, but the head and shaft combo on the TL310 worked better for my swing. For this test, Cleveland Golf sent me a Classic 290 driver (7.5 degrees loft) along with a custom Miyazaki C.Kua 56x shaft. This is the same shaft that is in my Launcher TL310. My club maker then built the Classic driver to match the playability characteristics (frequency, shaft deflection & swing weight) of the TL310. As a result, both drivers feel much the same while swinging, and the shafts perform almost identically.
After about two months of testing, both in practice sessions, casual play and even some competitive rounds, I can conclude that the Cleveland Classic 290 driver is going to stay in the bag. I can’t say with confidence that the Classic is any longer than my Launcher TL310 driver because I’ve hit bombs with both clubs, and there are too many variables like ambient temperature, wind and course conditions to take into consideration. I’ll have to get on a launch monitor for a while to determine which is longer, and if I do I’ll be sure to update everyone on the results. What I can say is that the Classic driver spins less than the TL310 and other drivers I’ve hit recently. In my two months with the Classic, I’ve noticed that the ball flight is more penetrating and solid shots launch with less spin and seem to knuckle through the air with no ballooning, even into a strong headwind. When you catch a tee shot on the “hot area” of the driver (A shot struck just above the sweetspot), it launches high with very little spin and goes forever. Less spin means more fairways, and I’ve noticed that I’m hitting the ball with less movement left to right and right to left with the Classic. I’ve never been a very straight driver so I really notice when my tee shots don’t curve as much. If I had to make an educated prediction, I would say that tee shots with the Classic driver carry less but roll more, and the Launcher TL310 hits a ball that carries more but rolls less than the Classic driver.
The sound and feel of the Cleveland Classic are a little different than most titanium drivers on the market today. I have to admit I prefer the sound and feel of the TL310, which is a nice high pitch click. At impact, the TL310 feels like the face is flexing, almost like a trampoline. The Classic driver however feels a bit harder, and you can’t feel the ball on the face as much at impact. Perhaps this is part of what makes the driver spin less than the TL310. It certainly doesn’t feel bad, but its not as smooth as the TL310. If you hit a hard two-piece distance ball with the Classic driver, you might want to wear ear plugs. I recently played in a “glowball” night golf event and the sound of that hard glow in the dark golf ball with the Classic driver left my ears ringing. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.
I had a chance to ask Nate Radcliffe, Cleveland Golf/Srixon’s Metalwoods Development Manager, a few questions about this driver:
ITG: What was the origin of the design and the retro theme of the Classic driver?
NR: The design of the Classic driver was inspired by our heritage and history in creating persimmon woods decades ago. Cleveland is one of the few remaining OEMs that originally produced a Tour quality persimmon wood.
ITG: Is the brass colored face insert area actually an insert, or simply painted differently?
NR: The brass colored trapezoid is actually a thin metallic coating that is deposited over the titanium face and sole. The trapezoid hints at original persimmon designs but has drawn many extremely positive comments from our tour staff regarding alignment.
ITG: Is the driver a one piece construction, or several pieces welded together?
NR: The driver is created from several pcs using multiple, and carefully selected titanium alloys.
ITG: How does the Classic driver differ in performance compared to the TL series clubs?
NR: The Classic’s deep face provides the potential for players with elevated tee heights to produce a high launching yet penetrating ball flight. Relative to the Launcher Ultralite, the Classic will spin slightly less for most players.
As far as specs go, there will be something for just about everyone in the Cleveland Classic Driver. There are three different models to choose from: The Classic 270, 290 and Classic Tour. The number designations refer to the club’s overall weight. The Classic 270 is the lightest model, with a 460cc club head and a super-light Miyazaki C.Kua 39 shaft and a 25g Golf Pride grip, making it one of the lightest drivers on the market to help slower swingers to gain a few yards by swinging the club faster. The Classic 290 is a bit heavier, with a Miyazaki C.Kua 43 shaft and 36g grip. Also 460cc in size, this one favors a wide range of golfers that want a stronger shaft and more playability. Both the 270 and 290 drivers have a square face angle at address. The Classic Tour driver has a smaller club head that measures 440cc, and sits one degree open at address. Designed for better players and strong swingers, the Tour driver is fitted with a premium Miyazaki Kusala Black 61 shaft that promotes a penetrating trajectory with a very stable feel. This model weighs in at 310 grams.
Model: Classic 270
Lofts Available: 9, 10.5, 12
Shaft: Miyazaki C.Kua 39
Model: Classic 290
Lofts Available: 7.5, 9, 10.5, 12
Shaft: Miyazaki C.Kua 43
Model: Classic Tour
Lofts Available: 8.5, 9.5, 10.5
Shaft: Miyazaki Kusala Black 61
The Cleveland Classic driver will be available in retail locations on Feb 17, 2012. You can also pre-order from Cleveland at shop.clevelandgolf.com
Because the Classic driver is a low spin club, I suggest hitting this one before you buy. You may find that you’ll need a bit more loft than usual, which will produce the ideal high-launch, low spin ball flight that is desireable these days for maximum distance. The Classic 290 will probably be the most popular model, with loft options from 7.5 to 12 degrees and a square clubface. With so many custom shaft options it’s a good idea to get fitted by a reputable club fitter, should you choose to go with a custom shaft. For 90% of golfers out there I’ll recommend the stock Miyazaki shafts. I’ve been playing them for a few years and they are among the best in golf for stability, consistency and light weight.
Cleveland Golf keeps coming up with great clubs, and the Classic driver is no exception. I thought the Launcher XL, SL and TL series drivers were as good as anything on the market, but with the Classic driver they have managed to make a uniquely styled, high performance driver that separates itself from the pack. Not only that, but its price point is better than most of the clubs it competes with. This driver is going to make a big splash in the marketplace, and in my opinion it is worth a demo for everyone serious about their game!
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