Callaway Golf built its position in the golf business on the strength of its Big Bertha woods. The company later became a force in the irons market, its Odyssey brand of putters is a top-seller, and its golf balls are gaining traction at retail.
Wedges, however, probably aren't what you think of in conjunction with Callaway. But the company's lead golf club designer is a fellow named Roger Cleveland - the founder of Cleveland Golf and designer of many classic wedges, like the enduring 588 line. The X-Tour wedges are the third line of forged wedges he has designed for Callaway. Is the third time the charm?
Roger Cleveland left his namesake company and joined Callaway Golf in 1996. He combined with Big Bertha inventor Richard C. Helmstetter on several designs, including the X-12 irons. The duo collaborated on the Big Bertha Tour Series wedges in 1997, which were cast from stainless steel and aluminum bronze, and the cult favorite X-14 Pro Series wedges in 2000.
But it was big news when Callaway released its Cleveland-designed Forged Wedges in 2002. Years in the making as tour prototypes, the wedges weren't carbon copies of Cleveland's 588 wedges as many people had expected. Instead, the simply titled Forged Wedges had rather small heads and a very rounded leading edge - both design elements that were meant to help the wedges get the ball out of nearly any lie.
Well, if there's one thing tour players like, it's familiarity with their wedges. The Callaway Forged Wedges were just a little too far outside their comfort zone. Two years later, the line was revamped as the Forged+ Wedges, with slightly larger head sizes and a different sole grind.
In the meantime, Roger Cleveland's old 588 wedges were still popular on tour and were facing a new challenge from Titleist's Vokey Design wedges. The Vokey wedges had some unique design twists, but had a very 588-esque look at address - which made it easy for tour players to quickly feel comfortable with them.
Callaway and Roger Cleveland don't seem content to let the 588s and Vokey wedges rule the Darrell Survey. After winning over many tour pros and better amateurs last year with the forged X-Tour irons, Callaway has released the X-Tour forged wedges. They offer something both old and new in an attempt to offer both performance and confidence. I've played several rounds with a 58° degree X-Tour wedge, and here's what I found about how they look and how they play.
Forget the swooping, rounded teardrop look of previous Callaway forged wedges. At address, the X-Tour wedges are unmistakably a Roger Cleveland design. The straight leading edge, the squarish toe, the high heel - the X-Tour forged wedges look nearly identical to the 588s and Vokey 200 series. That removes a serious stumbling block for tour professionals and other players who trust the look of familiar equipment.
The X-Tour wedges are available in two finishes. The Satin Chrome finish is very rich-looking and less prone to glare than a more polished chrome finish. The Vintage finish is a dark, non-reflective finish that will wear off and rust over time.
The model I've been using has the Vintage finish. After two months in the bag, the finish is gone from the sole and lower part of clubface, quickly worn away after a couple full sand shots to reveal the raw 1020 carbon steel beneath. There's a fair amount of rust already formed along the top half of the club face and on the back of the club, which I like. If you prefer a cleaner look, and more durability and a slightly firmer feel, go with the Satin Chrome finish. But if you like a darker, rougher look, the Vintage finish is for you.
Previous Callaway forged wedges had only a large V-shaped Callaway chevron logo on the back along with the club's loft. The X-Tour wedges are a bit busier, as they have graphics (red and black on the Satin Chrome version, red and white on the Vintage models) that mimic the medallions in the X-Tour iron cavity. It's not as clean as previous versions, but it isn't over the top, and it doesn't take away from the classic lines of the wedges. The loft of each wedge is on the back, with a circle and smaller number designating the amount of bounce for that wedge. The word FORGED is stamped on the hosel of each club, and there's a neat little bit of knurling just below the ferrule for an old-school look.
The X-Tour wedges are forged from 1020 carbon steel, a very soft, mild steel alloy. This allows the wedges to be bent to custom lofts and lies fairly easily, and the soft metal also leads to great feel at impact. Many popular wedges, including the aforementioned 588s and other Cleveland Golf models, as well as the Titleist Vokeys and TaylorMade RAC wedges, are cast from stainless steel. Many people can't tell the difference between cast and forged, but some people find forging to have real benefits in terms of feel and sound.
While the X-Tour wedges have a look that looks back in Roger Cleveland's career, the design is very forward-looking. Among the eight different loft and bounce angle options are two special versions of the X-Tour wedges. The 58-11 and 60-11 models have the PM Grind and MD Grooves, two design elements that are quite distinctive.
The PM Grind is named for Phil Mickelson, who worked with Roger Cleveland to create a wedge that had enough bounce to work well in bunkers, yet still be able to pick the ball cleanly from tight lies. The solution was to create a sole that is the opposite of the typical rounded sole design you see on irons and wedges. Instead, the PM Grind creates a concave sole, where the leading and trailing edges of the sole are lower than the center of the sole. As a result, the club plays differently from various lies. On a tight lie, the leading edge of the club gets to the ball easily before the trailing edge, thanks to the concave sole. But on explosion shots where the bounce is needed to power through sand or grass, the trailing edge has plenty of bounce to keep the club moving. It's an ingenious solution, and it enables better players who prefer low-bounce wedges to get the best of both worlds on tight lies and explosion shots.
The MD Grooves are what Mickelson dubbed the "Mack Daddy" grooves. The grooves on the 58-11 and 60-11 X-Tour wedges are slightly larger and have more aggressive angles to them than the standard modified U-grooves on other Callaway wedges. Wedges with souped-up grooves are all the rage these days, with Titleist's Vokey Spin Milled wedges and TaylorMade's RAC TP wedges with Y-cutter grooves getting plenty of play. Callaway's MD Grooves are also designed to improve trajectory and help regulate distance control.
The X-Tour wedges utilize True Temper's Dynamic Gold S300 as their stock shaft, though other models are available by custom order, and the stock grip is the Golf Pride Tour Velvet.
As Erik noted in his review of the Vokey Spin Milled wedges last year, aggressive grooves can be a lot of fun. The MD Grooves of the X-Tour wedges generated tons of spin in the 58-11 model I've been using. It's noticeable on full shots in the 75- to 80-yard range, as shots with a full swing tend to hit, hop and come back up to six feet (if you're using a premium urethane-covered ball, that is) instead of just dropping and stopping.
But the extra spin is most pronounced on partial wedge shots and even on little chips around the green. On 40-yard shots, I'm used to having my 58° wedge hit the green and release forward a few feet. Not anymore. The X-Tour wedge lets me hit the same shot and have it hit, take a quick hop and spin back a foot or two. On chip shots, I can pick the ball cleanly (thanks PM Grind) and have the ball take one hop and stop. I'm not usually a big spinner of the ball, so this is both fun and productive, as I've been able to hit several wedge shots stiff that I wouldn't normally have been able to stop the same way.
The downside of the MD Grooves and other high-spin grooves is that they can shred urethane balls but good. If you're hitting a full lob wedge shot, you're picking slices of golf ball cover out of your wedges. That's the tradeoff for being able to generate so much spin. If you don't like it, go with the non-MD Grooves models and you'll be fine. The two models that have the special groove/grind combo are designated by a MD GROOVES stamp on the hosel.
In terms of sound and feel, the X-Tour wedges are as soft and solid as you'd expect from a true forged blade. The Vintage model I've been using feels like butter on good swings, and even mishits aren't too harsh. The sound at impact is a muted click that is very satisfying.
A word of caution to any 15-handicapper thinking about buying these or any other classically styled wedges: These are not forgiving clubs. These are great tools if you know how to use them. But if you struggle to find the center of the clubface even with your wedges, stick to cavity back designs and save yourself some strokes.
A friend of mine says Roger Cleveland is to wedges what Fender is to electric guitars. Namely, the maker of fully functional, esthetically pleasing designs that produce the exact results players want. And while I'm a hack with both guitars and golf clubs, I think my man is right on with is assessment.
Callaway's X-Tour wedges are a formidable entry in the increasingly competitive premium wedge market. By refining the esthetics - and stealing a bit from his own design guide - Roger Cleveland has created a set of wedges that fits a player's eye like a comfy old pair of jeans. And with the PM Grind and MD Groove options, there are some significant new performance wrinkles to set the X-Tours apart from the crowd. I've enjoyed having the 58-11 model in my bag, and it's helped me hit some very satisfying shots. If you're in the market for new wedges and want to add some spin to your short game, try one of the X-Tour wedges with the PM Grind and MD Grooves.
The X-Tour wedges are available in right-handed lofts of 50°, 52°, 54°, 56°, 58° in PM and non-PM versions and 60° in PM and non-PM versions. Lefties will have to settle for the 52°, 56° and 60° (with PM Grind and MD Grooves) options. MSRP for the Vintage models is $150 and the Satin Chrome lists for $135, but street prices are more like $120 and $110, respectively.