Cleveland Golf builds some of the finest iron sets in the world, yet rarely seems to receive the recognition rightfully heaped on other manufacturers. Despite having a small PGA Tour staff – Cleveland famously dropped David Toms at the beginning of 2007 – Cleveland players such as Jerry Kelly, Vaughn Taylor, Brett Wetterich, and Vijay Singh continue to have success on the PGA Tour.
Cleveland marches to a slightly different drum than the other manufacturers. They don’t offer a square or triangular driver, instead choosing to stay with the swooped-back HiBore model, which met with lukewarm reviews in its first incarnation before delivering an incredible club with the HiBore XL.
In 2007, Cleveland added to its venerable irons lineup with the CG Red and the CG Gold – a pair of cavity-back irons aimed squarely at separate niches in the golf community.
We’ve given the CG Reds a thorough testing, and the results are in. Read on to see what we think: are they duds like the first-generation HiBore drivers or has Cleveland skipped that phase and gone on to greatness?
Design and Technology
The CG Red and Gold are both cavity-back irons, and as cavity-back irons go, they’re fairly standard. The cavities themselves are relatively normal in shape and appearance. What make the CG Red and Gold unique is the “Gelback” material Cleveland has put in the bottom of the cavity of each set of irons.
The Gelback is a lightweight, visco-elastic, vibration-dampening material. Situated directly behind the hitting area in the cavity and reaching from heel to toe, the Gelback is “vibration-tuned to remove unwanted vibration” from mis-hits. Cleveland says the Gelback will still allow the better player to feel the necessary feedback from the clubhead, yet will result in an overall softer feel.
Cleveland has also employed the next generation of their “Micro-Cavity Technology” (MCT) to provide better stability and more forgiveness. The MCT removes weight from the topline and re-distributes it to the perimeter of the clubhead. Cleveland engineers were able to re-distribute 10 grams, choosing to move the weight low in the clubhead and away from the face to improve the center of gravity “by 15%.” In other words, the shifted weight will help you to get the ball up in the air more easily and the club will offer a somewhat larger, more forgiving sweet spot.
The hosel of each CG Red and CG Gold iron has three lines on it. The inner line corresponds to a standard lie angle while the outer lines correspond to flat or upright lie angles. Think Ping’s color-coded system but with a few degrees less flexibility.
The irons differ from each other by more than the color of their Gelback. It turns out it’s not just a fashion statement! The CG Red “Tour Spec” iron is the preferred iron for the better golfer (as well as Cleveland’s Tour staff). It features a classic player’s profile with a thinner topline, reduced offset, and a medium heel-toe width. The Red Gelback is firmer than the Gold, and will reduce vibrations less, transmitting more feedback to the golfer.
I’m a fan of simple looking irons. I’ve always preferred the look of a clean muscleback iron. When I play a cavity back, I like something along the lines of Titleist’s 735.CM – very little writing, very little color. Just a golf club.
Cleveland, it’s readily apparent, does not share my decorating sensibilities. Instead of going the minimalist route with the CG Reds, Cleveland designers have touched up virtually every available square centimeter of the clubhead. The obvious and most prominent decoration is arguably the most functional, of course: the red Gelback that gives the club its name and purpose.
The back of the club itself has several textures, patterns, and colors along with the Cleveland logo and the words “CG RED” and “TOUR SPEC.” The underside of the upper edge of the cavity has “MCT” inscribed, and the three lines that indicate the lie angle can be seen on the back of the hosel. The sole of the club features a medium-sized black number along with the word “Cleveland” in script. I wasn’t a fan of the scripted “Cleveland” on the sole in the CG12 and I’m not here either – it simply gets dirty too easily and is tough to clean with only a wet towel.
I like the look of the Gelback, but feel Cleveland should have stopped shortly after adding that and realized that a big red piece of rubber on the back of a club is going to do a pretty good job of grabbing attention all by itself. The rest just feels like clutter.
Fortunately, none of the decorations are visible at address. Though you might expect a dash of red on the hosel, it’s plain black and sits atop a clubhead with a low to medium amount of offset. The shiny silver finish contrasts nicely with the duller, satin finish of the hitting area. The clubs, in the address position, look like the players clubs they are intended to be and easily overcome all the clutter on the back.
I’m a bit of a rare breed, I suppose. When I make a bad swing, I expect to pay the consequences. I like to be able to feel whether I’ve struck my ball dead-center or just a smidgen towards the toe. I’ll take all the feedback I can get. I find that I get sloppy when the clubs start “helping” me more than I like, and my swing begins to deteriorate. It’s a slippery slope, and one I like to avoid.
However, I’m in a very small minority. Even the PGA Tour is filled with guys playing cavity-backed, semi-game-improvement clubs. The CG Reds, like Titleist’s 755 irons, TaylorMade’s r7 TP irons, and others strike to blend a little game improvement with the tour-approved looks and enough feel to satisfy the good players. It’s a delicate balancing act, but I think the CG Reds pull it off quite well.
The first questions people asked of me while I tested these irons was “Does that rubber thing work?” or “Do they feel okay?” The answer to both questions is yes.
The CG Red is an incredibly solid feeling club. Though center-of-the-face contact will not feel nearly as sweet as it does with a forged muscleback, slight mis-hits towards the toe, heel, or low on the clubface feel virtually the same as a pure strike. The Gelback does its job. Contact high on the face feels a bit more dead than I’d like, and the ball flies a fair amount shorter than I’d expect, but you generally only miss high when you’ve teed the ball up on a par three.
Turf interaction is good but, at times, can feel a bit thick, likely due more to the Gelback than the club’s bounce, camber, rolled leading edges, or general design. The CG Red’s leading edge is nicely curved from heel to toe, though, and made it very easy to hit the ball solidly from sidehill lies.
The CG Red’s game improvement features are limited (as they should be for a “Tour”-level club). This is still a cavity-back club, so there’s still a lot more shot correction than you’ll find in a muscleback, but among its cavity-back peers the CG Red is clearly aimed at the better ballstrikers. The CG Reds allow a fair amount of shot shape left and right, but controlling the trajectory proved more difficult. In other words, the CG Reds feel as though they have more shot correction vertically than horizontally.
Aside from balls caught high on the face, mis-hit shots traveled nearly as far as well-struck shots. Spin levels were about what I’d expect. The stock shaft, a DG S300, does what it can to help keep the ball flight down on a more “tour-like” trajectory, but the D2 swingweight is a notch below what I like.
All told, the CG Red is a solid performer that delivers a fairly solid feeling across an ample portion of the clubface. These clubs seek to do what many clubs aimed at the better-player niche try to do: offer enough feel and enough forgiveness to appeal to both sides of the low-handicap golfer.
Unfortunately, no club can offer both – at a certain level those two goals become almost diametrically opposed to each other. The CG Reds sit squarely in the middle, performing both tasks well without excelling in either. I almost wish Cleveland had taken an approach more like the one Titleist took with their 735.CM irons and built a progressive combo set that offers a little more forgiveness in the long irons and more feel in the short irons. As it stands, performance in both categories is essentially a flat line from 3-iron right on through the pitching wedge.
The CG Red are available for both righties and lefties, 2I-PW. A standard set of eight irons (3I-PW) will run about $700 retail – a virtual steal in this day and age of $1200 sets of irons. The CG Red has fairly standard modern lofts and lengths. The standard D2 swingweight may be a step low for some and just right for others.
Loft Lie Length Swingweight Offset ---- --- ------ ------------ ------ 3-iron 21° 60° 38.75" D2 0.181" 6-iron 30.5° 61.5° 37.25" D2 0.123" 9-iron 42° 64° 35.75" D2 0.074"
The stock shaft is the Dynamic Gold from True Temper (R300/S300/X100), with Rifle, Rifle Flighted, Project X, Dnamic Gold Lite and SuperLite, and Sensicore shafts available via custom order.
If the club’s looks bother you as much as they bother me, do yourself a favor and look at them in the address position. You won’t see the overdone back of the club – just a clean hitting area. Over time, you may come to appreciate what the “red rubber” does for you.
Cleveland has delivered a solid performer that attempts the impossible and, as is bound to happen, comes up a bit short of perfection. The two goals – feel and forgiveness – exist in an almost zero-sum game. Add feel and you take away forgiveness and vice versa.
Though each player will have to decide for themselves where on that curve they fit, the CG Red has positioned itself squarely in the middle of the “better player” section of the curve. The clubs aren’t as forgiving as the r7 TP or the Titleist 755s, but they feel a bit better. They don’t transmit as much feel as the Mizuno MP-67s or the Titleist 695.MBs, but they’re more forgiving.
In the end, the CG Reds aren’t for me. I like clubs that are closer to the MP-67s and 695.MBs. I like controlling my ball flight in both directions, vertically and horizontally, and the CG Red fought me more than I’d like vertically. I like feeling where I’ve struck the ball (and expect to pay a penalty for mis-hits), but the CG Red’s Gelback soaked up the “bad vibrations” and the cavity back delivered a good amount of forgiveness.
If you’re closer to the “forgiveness” side of the curve than I am way down here at the “all feel, no forgiveness” side, give the CG Reds a try. You may surprise yourself.