The Cleveland Launcher family of irons and hybrids drew their inspiration from desperation, specifically the desperation of average golfers with their relative lack of success hitting shots toward the green. According to data Cleveland’s engineers have studied, from 150-200 yards, average golfers are only hitting the green 15 percent of the time from the rough, only one in five times with similar approach shots from the middle of the fairway, and less than a third of the time even when the ball is on a tee. All those mis-directed approach shots means more strokes on average to get the ball in the hole.
The design team’s attempts to answer these struggles lies in irons and hybrids built explicitly for forgiveness and high launch, specifically the hybrid-like Launcher HB Turbo iron set, the more traditional-looking, hollow-design Launcher UHX and the dual-rail Launcher Halo hybrids.
Speaking of the Launcher HB Turbo irons, Cleveland’s Brian Schielke could have been commenting on the entire lineup when he said, “There are a lot of players who just want easier to hit irons. They’re not working on their games with top instructors. They just want a design that will help them hit better iron shots, which admittedly are difficult to hit even for the better players.”
The solution to hitting better iron shots takes three forms, but the most radical is where Cleveland has had the most success in recent years, the full-hybrid set. The Launcher HB Turbo iron set, which expands on 2017's Launcher HB set, will bring the most speed in this type of iron for Cleveland, thanks to a five percent thinner face insert constructed of HT 1770M steel. But while speed is nice for these “super game-improvement”-type players, it’s forgiveness that rules the day, said Dustin Brekke, Cleveland’s director of engineering. Specifically, he’s speaking about center of gravity, and the Launcher HB Turbo irons have a center of gravity that’s six millimeters deeper and three millimeters lower than typical cavity back irons.
“They are radically different from traditional cavity back game improvement irons out there and most of that is going to be seen in terms of CG depth,” Brekke said. “You can see from the cross section how much that allows you to move the CG deeper. CG height is a big part of it, as well. This player needs to be able to hit below the center of the golf ball without chunking or hitting it thin so the lower we can get that CG the more opportunity there will be for impact to be above it.
“We don’t have a specific philosophy to keep it the same height through the set, but I think we’re trying to keep it low, to get it under the ball to help get it in the air so the player that has struggled gets some help.”
The Launcher HB Turbo manages the hybrid-like construction through the set by progressively transitioning the sole width (wider in the lower lofts, narrower in the higher lofts), while still maintain the turf-forgiveness of a full hollow construction through the set. The “HiBore crown,” which drops distinctly from the topline, helps significantly lower that center of gravity in the lower lofts.
“Progressive shaping is really a key feature to control in this product to give a player comfort throughout the set,” Brekke said. “Transition in sole widths, CG depths, topline thicknesses help us maintain a set that when a player is looking at it and he’s going to switch from a 7-iron to an 8-iron to a 6-iron that there’s not some kind of mental or physical gap between those clubs.”
The Launcher UHX iron set takes a more traditional approach in terms of look, but again the mission is about providing forgiveness and speed where these players need it. Toward that end, the set uses two different constructions, featuring a hollow, utility-iron construction in the long irons (4- through 7-iron) and a more traditional cavity back iron design in the 8-iron through gap wedge (D-wedge). The hollow irons use a variable thickness cupface and the design saves 5-6 grams compared to the 2017 Launcher irons.
The Launcher UHX irons also feature the same groove design ideas found in Cleveland’s wedges, including laser milled grooves in between each main groove for increased surface friction. The idea, Brekke said, is more consistency of contact.
“We know that effect diminishes with loft, that the 9-iron and wedges are going to benefit more, but we think there is a benefit in terms of more consistent launch conditions,” he said. “More consistent launch conditions mean more consistent performance downrange.”
Like both past Cleveland and Srixon irons, the Launcher UHX set also uses the ideas of the V-shaped sole to smooth turf interaction. That’s especially challenging with the wider sole shapes of the Launcher UHX set. “We’ve seen from player testing data of how that attack angle changes with loft,” Brekke said. “You can see how with the long irons you’re not going to need that aggressive a bounce angle on the leading edge because of the shallower attack angle, but the short irons will need a more aggressive angle because of the steeper attack angle.”
The sole design also played a key role in the development of the Launcher Halo hybrid. Like the Launcher HB hybrid irons, there’s a high-strength HT 1770M variable thickness face insert to improve ball speed, but Cleveland’s team dug deep to find the right sole to help average golfers launch shots under all conditions, especially the toughest.
“We knew we wanted to attack that with a prominent rail-type feature, but with these different type of conditions there isn’t a standard answer for if you want this to happen, this is what you do,” Brekke said. “So it became a very large exercise to understand what was the right number of rail features, or the type of rails, or the absence of rails, the direction of rails, the widths, the bounce angles.”
Brekke said the team used a computerized simulation of turf conditions to study dozens of sole designs to settle on the eventual three-rail shape on the Launcher Halo.
“The leading edge to this feature has a big impact,” Brekke said, noting that the simulation showed a 25 percent improvement in reducing the amount of club head speed lost through the turf compared to previous Cleveland hybrids. The benefit to average golfers is more forgiveness on slightly fat shots, as well as a lower CG for easier launch.
The Launcher HB Turbo iron set is offered in a seven-piece set ($800 in steel, $900 in graphite); the Launcher UHX irons will also be a seven-piece offering at those prices, but individual long irons (3-iron through 5-iron lofts) can be purchased as utility irons for $170 each (graphite). The Launcher Halo hybrids (16, 19 and 22 degrees) will retail for $200 each. The irons and hybrids will be available in stores Oct. 4.