When a company that for decades has been synonymous with wedge designs suggests wedges have been inefficiently constructed since, well, forever, you take notice.
So it is with Cleveland and its retooling of wedge theory in the new RTX-3 line. The good news is all those changes do not come at the expense of traditional wedge aesthetics.
The main initiative is to move the RTX-3’s center of gravity more in line with the center of the face for more consistent performance. Typically, the center of gravity for many wedges is more toward the heel side, as much as 10 millimeters. Cleveland engineers shifted that position closer to true center by saving nine grams of weight in the hosel. First, the hosel is shortened slightly allowing for seven grams of weight savings, and then an internal microcavity in the hosel carves out an additional two grams.
“It’s not that wedges have gravitated away toward the wrong center of gravity position,” said Jeff Brunski, Cleveland/Srixon’s director of research and development. “To my knowledge, it’s sort of always been flawed. The structure of a wedge having a longer hosel is inherently going to move the CG toward a heel bias location. So in the structure of what a wedge is I think it’s always been wrong.”
Cleveland’s RTX-3 line includes both traditional blade designs and cavity back models and a full complement of 34 loft and bounce combinations with three sole grinds.
The company is calling the repositioned center of gravity “feel balancing,” but Brunski thinks it’s much more than that.
“It’s an improvement in performance beyond feel,” he said. “If you hit a shot closer to the sweet spot, there are all sorts of benefits, more consistent ballspeed, more consistent spin on all shots, the head is going to rotate less so the shot is going to stay online toward the intended target and it’s going to reduce that off-center vibration. Yes, it’s called feel-balancing but I wish we could call it feel-, spin-, dispersion- and distance-balancing, as well.”
The key is to make those changes and still retain the look of the hosel at address that its staff of tour players prefer. It’s more than just changing the length of the hosel.
“There was a lot of 3D printing to get the shorter hosel to look right, a lot of detailed work and shaping done because if you just put an iron hosel on a wedge, it can look extremely goofy,” said Brian Schielke, Cleveland’s senior product manager for golf clubs. “You do all that work so even the most discerning eye still recognizes this as a Cleveland wedge.”
As an example, Cleveland/Srixon staff player Shane Lowry put the RTX-3 wedges in his bag at the WGC-Bridgestone without doing any additional custom grinding.
Beyond the shift in center of gravity, the RTX-3 line makes upgrades in two other vital areas. First, the three sole grinds all incorporate a larger initial bounce angle around the front part of the sole and leading edge. The goal here is to improve the way the club moves through the turf so the head loses less speed. The theory is that with less speed loss due to ground forces, there’s more consistent energy delivered to the ball at impact.
Cleveland also made some subtle tweaks to its three-tiered approach to grooves and surface roughness on the face for better spin. First, the grooves are deeper and narrower compared to the RTX 2.0. The idea is that this shape will promote consistent spin on full shots from the rough (to reduce the effects of so-called “flier” lies) while promoting spin on shorter greenside shots. Second, there are laser-milled lines between each groove to maximize the allowable surface roughness under the rules.
Finally, the surface roughness includes a micro-milling pattern that changes with loft. On the lower lofts (46-52 degrees) the pattern is vertical since most of the time these lofts are used for square-face shots. The pattern is angled from low heel to high toe on the higher lofts (54-64 degrees) for improved spin on open face shots.
“You can get up to the USGA limit for grooves using a lot of different geometries,” Brunski said, but he noted the surface roughness is also particularly calibrated. “The more able you are to make consistent roughness from heel to toe, the better, and these patterns are more consistent heel to toe in roughness.”
The RTX-3’s cavity back model features a slightly larger clubhead for increased stability on off-center hits. More weight is positioned toward the toe (and less in the heel) to better align the center of gravity with the center of the face. There’s also a thermoplastic urethane insert within the slight back cavity to dampen vibration.
The cavity back model is made from 431 stainless steel, while the blade versions use 8620 carbon steel.
The lofts range from 46 to 64 degrees on the blade model (18 total loft/bounce combinations) and 46 to 60 degrees on the cavity back model (16 loft/bounce combinations). A lightweight, graphite-shafted women’s model is also available (48 to 60 degrees, seven loft/bounce options).
The blade model is available in three finishes (Tour Satin, Black Satin, Tour Raw) with the raw finish expected to be put in play by many of the Cleveland staff players. The cavity back model is available only in Tour Satin.
The RTX-3 line of wedges is expected to be in stores Sept. 16 ($130).