Cleveland Classics HB2i Putter Review
There’s a fine line between having hipster cred for liking things before they’re cool and just being strange for liking things that nobody else likes. I’m choosing to believe that Cleveland Classic putters are going to help me cross the line from the latter to the former, because they are too good to not be cool. I have long said that if you removed the branding I would be hard pressed to tell the difference in a Scotty Cameron putter and Cleveland Classic of the same style, and if you blindfolded me I wouldn’t have any more chance of figuring out which one I was using than I would of making putts.
Sure, they’re not individually hand-crafted boutique putters, or even “affordable luxury” goods like the popular (and pricey) Scotty Camerons, but don’t let the lack of name recognition and off-the-rack background of Cleveland Classics putters put you off – these are high-quality tools, available for the cost of a weekend’s greens fees.
The Cleveland Classics line of putter has long been on my list of great value sleepers – with 7 different heads and your choice of standard or “near-belly” lengths, Cleveland had something for everyone. Or rather, Cleveland had something for everyone as long as everyone liked their putters with a milled face. Now with the introduction of the inserts line of Cleveland Classic putters, the only thing missing is a luxury price tag.
For this review Cleveland provided the Classic HB2i putter. A midsized mallet putter with a swan neck and a heel shaft. Like all the i putters in the Cleveland Classic line it replaces the milled face of its standard sibling (in this case the HB2) with Cleveland’s new copolymer insert. To further distinguish the new insert Classics, Cleveland has added a third finish to the line – all of the new insert putters come in a charcoal grey finish that reduces glare, looks sharp, and matches the black insert nicely.
The HB2i has the clean lines I expect from the Cleveland Classic line. As you would expect from the “Classic” name, this is not a Buck Rodgers ray gun putter. The head shape is immediately familiar to users of any of a number of mid-mallet putters. The top line is substantial without being chunky. If you have trouble hitting the ball all the way to the hole you might prefer a slightly thinner line to encourage you to hit harder, but the HB2i checks in at a pretty standard 350 grams, and the top line puts enough of that mass behind the ball to give solid contact without being so hefty that it’s scary to swing. I’m a big fan of the swan neck, which flows from the top into a half-shaft offset and looks (and sounds) far more elegant than the ubiquitous “plumber’s neck”. The heel and toe weighting is de rigeur for increasing the moment of inertia (MOI), helping you to keep the face square and minimizing the penalty for missing the center of the face. The bumpers transition smoothly into the flange, which sports a single white alignment line that I found very effective in aligning putts. As an added bonus the flange is perfect for scooping up your ball when your opponent concedes a putt.
From behind the HB2i is still comfortingly familiar. While the lines are clean, the branding looks a little busy to my eye – the designer in me can’t help but notice that there are three different fonts, in three different colors, on the back of the putter. Fortunately colors are easy to change – a little acetone, a Q-tip, and a quick trip to your local big-box auto parts store and the lettering can be any color you like, or even none at all. Honestly, this is one of those items that only golf bloggers and the mentally unbalanced pay much attention to, but since I’m 2-for-2 in those categories, I had to mention it.
The same busy branding continues on the sole of the HB2i, where the sole plate limits itself to only two fonts but adds a fourth color and the Cleveland Golf logo. The plate itself helps the putter glide nicely over turf, and as an added bonus it’s ferrous, so you can use it to pick up your magnetic ball marker.
The user interface for the Cleveland Classic HB2i should also be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a putter. The Cleveland branded Winn AVS grip is a touch softer than I prefer, but the market says that I’m in the minority, as this grip is branded for nearly every putter maker with more than 3 models, and in this application it works just fine (in the praise hierarchy “just fine” falls somewhere above “adequate” and just below “well”, for those keeping score at home). With 350gs moving at the far end of the lever I would appreciate a mid-sized grip, but grips are cheap and easy to change and I’d rather Cleveland spend their time working on the club than trying to be all things to all golfers with the grip. If my home course is any indication, 7 out of 10 golfers will replace the stock grip with some kind of fat grip before they even go to the practice green.
In every show bill the headliner is listed last, and so it is with the Cleveland Classic HB2i. Just like an Apple press event, if it weren’t for that i we’d all have wandered off already and done our best to demolish the buffet. The i is what makes the Cleveland Classic HB2i different.
At the business end is the copolymer elephant in the room. In basic black with an almost-understated Cleveland Golf logo, the new Cleveland insert is what makes these new putters different from all of their milled-face Classic classmates, and different from the other versions of the classic head shapes. If you think I’m picky about the fonts and color on the sole of my putter, you can only imagine how tough I am on inserts. I putt by feel, so I get leery of adding any extra layers between my hands and the ball. The new Cleveland Classic insert is probably the best putter insert I’ve used. The feedback from the HB2i is outstanding, from the feel in my hands to the sound of the impact. I didn’t feel any spring in the insert, which uses a textured face to grip the cover of the golf ball and start it rolling as quickly as possible, eliminating the skidding that can make distance control difficult and the bouncing that can move a ball offline.
I like to try putters with a variety of types of ball, and the Cleveland Classic HB2i performed very well with all of them. I was particularly impressed with how well it worked with extremely low compression balls like the Wilson Staff Duo and the Callaway Supersoft. These balls are not known for being insert-friendly, but you’d never know it from the way the HB2i handled them. I spent a practice session using 6 different balls and found that I didn’t have any trouble with distance control, and was even able to tell from the putter feedback which ball I had just hit. If you putt by feel, you really owe it to yourself to give the Cleveland Classic line a try, in both milled and insert versions.
As I bring this review to a close, I can’t help but notice that I’ve dinged the HB2i for a few things. It’s a measure of how much I like this putter that I actually feel a bit bad for pointing out its shortcomings. This is a very solid putter with classic lines, understated good looks, and top shelf performance. Prices weren’t available at press time, but the Cleveland Classic line has traditionally been one of the best values in putters, and I would be surprised if the insert versions didn’t continue that tradition. So if the graphics aren’t to your taste or look a little busy, take that as a sign that Cleveland Golf has their priorities right – they’ve delivered a great putter. Do the paint fill yourself in whatever colors you like best, and when your golfing buddies ask you about your new “custom” putter, just tell them it’s the Cleveland Classics HB2i, but they’ve probably never heard of it because it’s not mainstream.
Of course even underground hipster putters need a website, and you can check out the HB2i and her three new insert-endowed siblings on the Cleveland website. Tell them Steve sent you.