Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

Cleveland Golf Fitting Studio

Cleveland Golf Fitting Studio

Tucked away in the little Hamlet of Huntington Beach just off the 405, in an unassuming office complex surrounded by Konica Minolta and Boeing buildings, lies Cleveland Golf headquarters, the site of our latest visit in our continuing series on golf club fitting and performance centers.

Arranging a fitting session at the Cleveland Fitting Studio can be done online or by calling the Fitting Studio directly. And whether you select a fitting for woods (driver, fairway and hybrid), irons, wedges, or a putter the cost is the same. Zero. That’s right. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Apparently something in life is free! That’s not reason alone to drop everything that you’re doing and head on over, but it’s one on the list.

The Fitting Studio has its own entrance and dedicated space on the side of the Cleveland/Srixon/Never Compromise building, where I was met by Ruben, the Club Fitting Specialist at the Fitting Studio, for my afternoon fitting. After finding out that Ruben has a background of 20 years of teaching and fitting, including eight years at the Fitting Studio, I knew I would be in good hands.

Cleveland Fitting Studio

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The Fitting Studio looks much like a small retail shop, with two desks for the fitting team, a hitting bay surrounded on three sides by netting, a putting area, a television tuned to the day’s televised golf tournament, all the latest clubs and a rack of Cleveland golf attire. The session is held entirely indoors (the nearby driving range is restricted to use by Cleveland professionals), which has its positives and negatives, and our focus for the session was on irons, wedges and putters.

As I warmed up for the afternoon, I spoke with Ruben about the basics of my game and he took a look at my current clubs. Based on my swing and level of play, history playing forged clubs, and the configuration of my current set, he recommended we focus the iron fitting on the Srixon Z-TXS, the only forged iron in the Cleveland/Srixon family, and the Cleveland CG16.

After I was warmed up, we started with a Srixon Z-TXS 7-iron that Ruben paired with a stock S300 Dynamic Gold Shaft. The 7-iron is the club of choice for fitting at Cleveland, as opposed to the 6-iron we have used at every other fitting (not good or bad, just…different). As I worked out the kinks (I blame those on the early morning flight to Southern California), Ruben added more information into their software system, including basics such as my height (thankfully not my weight), the general pattern of my misses, and the expected carry distance with my 7-iron. Ruben reviewed my grip size and, on the basis of how close my left hand fingers were to my palm when holding the club, recommended a standard grip.

After some initial swings with the X-TXS, Ruben applied face tape to capture information on ball impact location, as well as lie tape on the bottom of the club to provide insight into whether he would need to modify the club lie and/or length. I managed to keep things interesting for him by mis-hitting shots both off the heel and the toe. Based on the initial information, he adjusted the club up one degree, and after a few more shots, he took the adjustment up another degree. With the lie tape indicating that even more adjustment might be necessary, we went ahead and captured some data from the launch monitor (which uses high-speed photography to capture club head and ball flight information) for shots with the Z-TXS at 2 degrees up. Comparing this information to the data from my current set of forged Mizunos, along with my feedback of how I liked the look of the club as well as how I loaded it, Ruben decided the best course was to revert to a standard lie (62 degrees for the 7-iron). This is a great example of where having an extremely knowledgeable fitter like Ruben can make a difference, because after several swings with a standard lie, the launch monitor confirmed that I was able to achieve better launch angle, side spin and more consistent results compared to the slightly more upright lie angle that the lie tape had indicated (and that some fitters would use without questioning). Go figure!

I continued to swing with the Z-TXS irons, which were able to greatly reduce my side spin and correspondingly reduced my average offline distance by nearly 7 yards (the sample size is on the small size, as the best few shots with each club were selected to use for comparison). The shot data showed increased distance as well, but this is where it’s wise to know your current specs before arrival – my current 7-iron has a 35 degree loft, as compared to the Z-TXS’s 34 degrees of loft.

Ruben was correct in focusing our time on the Z-TX series to start, because when we switched over to the CG16s (still with the same S300 shaft), there was an immediate jump in side spin rates. Although I gained a few yards with the CG16s, it came at the expense of accuracy, with the CG16 trailing both the Z-TXs and my current set. We had found the right model, and though I have never played Srixon clubs in the past, I was pleased with both the feel and, more importantly, the results. This was a good example of the benefits of following the lead of the fitter and avoiding focusing on brands or model you think will be right for you. At our local retail store, I bet I would have focused more time on Cleveland irons than Srixon. Ahh the power of a name and in-store marketing!

Wedge Deceit and Intrigue

Moving on to wedges, I was looking forward to hearing Ruben’s analysis on whether my current Cleveland 52 and 58 degree wedges were the right models and lofts for me. He pulled them out of my bag and remarked that the 6 degree difference between my 52 and 58 degree pitching wedges were a good start to ensure that there are no gaps in club distances. That’s where the fun ended and our story moves to a tale of deceit and intrigue…dark corners and mysterious dealings in back rooms and alleys of China (or at least to a golf retail store in Palo Alto, California).

As soon as Ruben lifted my 52 degree CG10 wedge to take a look, he virtually immediately said “this isn’t our club.” Um, excuse me? “This isn’t our club. The shaft feels different, and the grip is slightly smaller. The logos on the club head are a bit smaller too.” Ugh. Though I knew where this was going, I simply couldn’t believe it. I’m the guy who is so worried about counterfeit clubs that I won’t purchase clubs through companies I don’t know well – either online from companies I don’t know, through eBay or Craigslist, or from the unmarked van parked just outside the golf course parking lot. I had purchased this wedge right off the rack, as new, from my local store!

Ruben went on to show me the subtle differences. And no, for those cracking jokes at my expense (go ahead…), the logo did not say “Cloveland” or “Cleaveland.” Ruben seemed somewhat impressed by the well-imitated hosel and the correct swing weight of the club. It was the fractionally smaller logo on the grip, the slightly different font for the loft number, and paint color used for the grip logo (correct for some previous Cleveland wedges, but not used with the CG10). The shaft was thinner and lighter (noticeable to Ruben as soon as he picked it up, but certainly not to me), with the club overall weighing a few grams less than it should have. I’ve had this club some time, had the loft adjusted by a local pro, used by friends, had other fitting centers take a look, and one fitter even measure its specifications. I’d love to say that I took solace in the fact that nobody else had recognized it as a fake, but it didn’t improve my disposition. The best guess from Ruben was that the club was “returned” to the store (for credit, no doubt!), put back on the rack with the rest of the CG10s, and then purchased by your truly from a stack of similar-looking wedges.

I still trust my local store and will continue to purchase products from them. I certainly don’t think they knowingly purchase (or accept as returns) counterfeit clubs, and I’m sure processes are in place to make sure they don’t stock counterfeit clubs. How a company gets to the level where they can train a retail employee to recognize a counterfeit when someone tries to return it as new…well, that’s one I can’t answer.

If there was any upside, it was that I had the opportunity to test a counterfeit against the real thing (with the fake CG10 was going up against a new CG15). The counterfeit produced much more backspin and was far less consistent than the CG15, and though the total distance averages were approximately the same, the CG15 had a launch angle and peak height closer to our targets. Thank goodness. At least I can have one more excuse for my lousy short game (that I will now leave in the past). The good news, at least for consumers today, is that manufacturers have stepped up their fight against counterfeit clubs, and Cleveland wedges now include both serial numbers etched into the hosel and stickers with holograms. You can be sure I will look for both on future purchases!

Putt for Dough

I shook off the counterfeit wedge news as we shifted our attention to putters. To start off, we used Mitchell fitting equipment to determine the appropriate putter length and lie.

After I took a few putts with my current Scotty Cameron Newport, Ruben attached the SAM PuttLab, a putter analysis and training system, to track a variety of data for my putting stroke. I took a few swings and then viewed the results (Science&Motion’s system provides a wide variety of information to help break down your putting stoke), which certainly weren’t pretty– the swing path back and forth was not smooth, and the location of impact of ball on the face of the putter wasn’t consistent. Ruben measured my current putter at 4 degrees of loft (to which I was compounding by adding additional loft during my stroke) and 340 grams.

Based on this information Ruben recommended a putter that is more face-balanced. Never Compromise (another brand within the Cleveland family) only makes one face-balanced putter, and Ruben pulled their latest, a 350g mallet Gambler Flush putter from the rack. I’ve never used a mallet style and have been hesitant to try different putter head shapes, but the Flush quickly felt comfortable, and the result was a much more consistent swing path as well as more accurate clustering of impact spots the face of the club. The new style would take some getting used to, but I couldn’t deny the results.

All the Information

The takeaways from the session included data captured during each portion of our fitting:
Shot data sheets. Includes flight data with averages for irons and wedges (and a few drivers I briefly tested)
– Cleveland / Srixon Fitting Form, which provides the specs on recommended irons, wedges and ball (Z-Star) for use in ordering (all stock). Some additional driver swing information is also included here.
– Never Compromise putter stroke summary. This data, provided by Science&Motion, provides extremely detailed information, including face angle at address/impact, side/top view of the putter path, impact spot, and angle of club face at impact. This is a level of data where you need a fitter to help assess the results…just what IS my club head rotation supposed to look like anyways?

Unfortunately, even if your session at the Cleveland Fitting Studio has convinced you of the need for new clubs immediately (and I saw the need for some changes in my bag), you won’t be able to purchase from the Fitting Studio on the spot. The Fitting Studio doesn’t sell clubs directly, but rather provides customers the information to take to their local pro back home to order, or they can point you to the Roger Dunn down the street.

Wrapping it up

With the exception of my bad news about my “Cleveland” wedge, the afternoon at the Cleveland Fitting Studio was thoroughly enjoyable. The environment combined a seasoned fitter who was extremely easy to work with in a well-polished studio that included all the latest equipment. Having a strong fitter allowed me to be comfortable with his knowledge of how equipment attributes and swing type interrelate and ultimately what drove his selection of the best equipment for my game.

In addition to the level of quality of the experience, the Cleveland Fitting Studio is the only fitter that provides this level of staff and technology at no cost. Our recommendation is that if you live in, or are planning to visit, Orange County, give them a shout as soon as you can and reserve yourself a time slot. Who knows how much longer they’ll be free?

Contact information (tell ‘em you saw them on Critical Golf):
Cleveland Golf Fitting Studio
5610 Skylab Road
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Please contact the Fitting Studio for appointments at:
1-714-889-6495
fittingstudio@clevelandgolf.com

Fitting date: February 2011