A while back I wrote a bit of a rant about the Cleveland Classic Driver and its relevance in today’s market. My original take on the Cleveland Classic was that I simply did not buy into the “classic looks” concept – the fact that it was designed to evoke memories of the old persimmon woods was not something that sparked my interest. And maybe I took a few jabs at the folks who actually would buy into such a “gimmick”, but that was only because I am so charitable in nature. Well it appears that Cleveland was paying attention, because they called my shot and immediately shipped out a Cleveland Classic driver of my choice. The package may as well have had the words “eat crow” spray painted across it, because surely that was their intention.
First things first, you gotta hand it to Cleveland for standing by their product and taking the curmudgeon challenge. I actually had mixed emotions upon opening the box: on the one hand, as a guy who still can’t cruise by a golf store without jacking a few drives into the net, receiving a new club is always an exciting prospect. On the other hand, I recently dropped $400.00 on a new driver, so any chance of that cash being all for naught was a somewhat disturbing proposition. What if I like the Cleveland Classic better than my current weapon of choice? O’ how disloyal that would be to my current driver, as well as my wallet . . . the humanity!
So while Cleveland has certainly earned my respect as a company, it is the Cleveland Classic driver that takes the spotlight today, and I do not take my job as a reviewer lightly. I went with the Cleveland Classic 290, which is the middle-ground offering between the lighter 270 and the Tour version, which is 20 grams heavier and only 440 ccs. I figured I can swing the club pretty well, but not Keegan-Bradley-well, so let’s just meet in the middle.
Having seen countless photos of the club, I knew what to expect as far as looks go. One thing that did jump out, however, was how sharp-looking the sole of the club was. The gold plate stands out brilliantly against the crimson paint, and overall it perfectly combines old-school design with the look of modern, quality materials . . . it just ‘pops’ and looks cool.
The crown of the club was as expected, a crimson paint with a cursive “Classic” written as the sightline, and this look still failed to do anything for me. I guess I have no real passion for the old-school motif; standing over the club I had no unique excitement to be looking down at this sucker at address, it just looks kind of boring to me. Also at address, you can see the gold trapezoid on the face of the club, again meant to mimic the old sweet spots of the persimmon days. This is an understandable nod to the true look of the old persimmon woods, but again, not anything that really affected my opinion of the club for better or worse.
The deep face is really noticeable – I’m not sure if it was dictated by having to cram 460 cc’s into a traditional pear-shaped profile, or if Cleveland was going for a deep face from the start, but the face is definitely taller than any driver I’ve had in recent memory. The clubface appears to be a bit closed, but take that with a grain of salt because I am admittedly perplexed by that concept in general – why would each clubmaker tweak the face angle differently? Do different sole designs affect it at rest and when it’s time to swing we just aim at the target regardless? Sincerely, Confused.
On to the range!
I brought my own driver and the Cleveland Classic out for a comparison test, and of course the Cleveland was at the top of the batting order. My first few swings were a little dicey, and the ball felt really hard coming off the face. I quickly switched to my driver just to see if there was a noticeable difference . . . ah, this is what a driver is supposed to feel like. My driver had that softer, trampoline-effect feeling that we’ve all gotten so accustomed to over the past decade. But wait, you didn’t think this was a done deal already, did you?
I went back to the Cleveland, and after grooving my swing a bit, I realized that the Cleveland Classic driver is essentially a wrecking ball on a stick. I became addicted to the feel of the club hitting the ball, it was like a new definition of what ‘power’ felt like. I can’t quite explain it – say, 5 years ago, did you ever notice the difference between hitting a Callaway driver and a Titleist driver? The Callaway was a softer, almost spongey-er feeling that endeared us to whatever technology was supposedly working on our behalf; the Titleist was more of a hard, solid “thwack” that only better players could really take advantage of. Well, the Cleveland Classic is like a new level of that Titleist feel – what I first thought was a “hard” clubface soon had me feeling like I was absolutely hammering the ball with only my swing, no techno-whizz involved (when of course there’s plenty of technology packed in . . . this clubface is hot!).
I’m thinking this is where the genius of this club lies: they tried to recreate the look, sound, and feel of an old persimmon wood – I don’t necessarily care for the looks, I don’t care about the sound (not sure why anyone ever does), but somehow in this process Cleveland seems to have nailed down the most authentic/satisfying ballstriking sensation to date. I wish I was a righty, then I could get my buddies to try it and tell me if I’m crazy.
This is a stretch, but the whole thing reminds me of that movie Alpha Dog that had Justin Timberlake in it. At first glance, it’s gotta be a horrible movie if they had to resort to the gimmick of hiring Justing Timberlake for his first acting role. Turns out, the movie is completely legitimate and Justin Timberlake gave the best performance of the bunch. I think Cleveland pulled a similar move – they went with the old-school concept and turned off folks like myself who thought it seemed like a silly trick to stand out in the driver market. But oddly enough, the club is for real, and it could be the old-school vision that made the driver as good as it is. Does that make sense? My head hurts. I have to wonder if Cleveland would eventually be better served to offer the same technology in a clubhead with modern style . . . perhaps it would just be lost in the shuffle of all other drivers claiming to be the longest, hottest, most-likely-to-be-president driver yet.
This isn’t exactly a nail-biter at this point – this club is now in my bag. I still prefer the look of my old driver when I address the ball, but that’s a novelty that wears off after a few months anyway. When it comes to moving the ball out into the fairway, I’m going with the Cleveland Classic driver all day . . . until further notice, of course.
P.S. – Yes, the headcover is cool, but . . . are you serious?! Who cares!