Cleveland's HALO Hybrid is one of the more unique hybrids to hit the market. Featuring a "scooped back" design, the HALO succeeded at getting the ball in the air with a good amount of spin. Consumers voted with their wallets, and the HALO is the third-best selling hybrid at retail.
Cleveland, spurred on by the success of the HALO, has forged forward with the scoop-back design with the HiBore driver. The HiBore driver not only features the same dome-less crown as the HALO, but also the wider stance and lower center of gravity (CG). These changes, Cleveland says, marries the location of the CG with the center of the clubface, resulting in a super-long, super-forgiving clubhead.
That's what Cleveland says, anyway, but the real proof comes in the testing. I've been fortunate enough test the new HiBore long enough to get to know it pretty well. Read on to see whether this club blazes a new trail for Cleveland or whether people will some day be caught saying "remember that funny scooped driver way back in 2006?"
Design and Technology
The HiBore was designed with what Cleveland calls "Distance Driven Geometry" (or "DDG" for short). DDG emerged because the projected center of gravity (the spot on the clubface corresponding to the exact center of gravity of the clubhead) of domed-crown drivers is positioned above the point of maximum Coefficient of Restitution (CoR measures the trampoline effect of the driver face). This means that, in theory, traditional domed-crown drivers are leading players to hit higher on the clubface, missing the high-CoR zone. The HiBore's lower CG, Cleveland says, changes that.
In order to drag the center of gravity deeper and lower than in any modern driver, Cleveland had to throw the traditional clubhead shape out of the window. Imagine grabbing the back sole of a typical driver, pulling it back, and then pushing in the crown like one of those "DIET" bubbles on a soda pop lid. By dropping the crown and widening the chassis, the CG moves lower and further back in the clubhead.
This alignment of the sweet spot and the hot spot leads Cleveland to claim that the HiBore is longer and straighter than its leading competitor. On the HiBore website, Cleveland has a demonstration showing the spread pattern of eight balls struck on seven impact areas of the clubface: very high center, high center, dead center, low center, very low center, left, and right. The "leading competitor" is comparable to the HiBore for the very high, high and center areas, but the HiBore has a much tighter spread pattern than the competitor for the four other areas.
Whether or not Cleveland's claims are true remains very much up for debate. Personally, I don't quite believe their assertion that most drivers have a CG as high in the clubface as their diagrams lead you to believe. I think that the primary reason most people have tried to hit the ball above the center of the clubface in recent years has been due to the improvement in launch conditions - a ball struck higher on the face launches higher with less spin. Most drivers, like TaylorMade's r7, Titleist's 905 series, and others have a CG that projects through the center of the clubface. While striking the ball there provides the most ball speed, it often does so with a lower launch angle and more spin than is optimal.
Still, Cleveland insists that they have achieved an incredibly low CG and that other drivers indeed fail to align the projected CG with the high-CoR spot. As for me, well, count me out of further debate on the merits of claims made by marketing departments - I place a lot more weight on results than marketing, anyway.
Looks and Setup
The first thing anyone will notice about the HiBore is the huge scoop-out section where the crown should be. Obviously, this "scoop" is very apparent at address. While I really had no problem adjusting to this, most of my playing partners could not quickly adjust. As we all know, a club that inspires confidence at address is always easier to hit, and while the HiBore didn't exactly throw me off, it didn't inspire much confidence, either.
One thing the scooped-out or collapsed crown did was mask the HiBore's face angle, which appears quite closed at address. When you look hard at the angle of the face, it appears to be a good three to four degrees closed. While I understand the need to compensate for 95% of the golfers out there who slice the dickens out of the ball, I am not one of them.
When asked about an open-faced or "Tour" version, Cleveland's Director of Media Relations Keith Patterson said "we wanted to address the needs of the vast majority of golfers, but a more open or Tour version may become available eventually if the need arises."
The HiBore is actually one of the most attractive drivers on the market. The crown has been painted in a black matte finish that, while not exactly non-glare, definitely creates less glare than the glossy polishes of most other driver crowns. Like Cleveland's Launcher 460 Comp, the HiBore has no marking on the crown to indicate proper ball position. If you're used to drivers without such markings, you won't have any problems. I am used to the aid, so I found the lack of an alignment aid disconcerting. Fortunately, I eventually noticed that the grooves in the center of the clubface are grey, not white, and I began using the gap as my alignment aid (see above image).
I tested a 9.5° HiBore with a stock stiff Cleveland shaft designed by Fujikura as well as one shafted with a stiff UST ProForce V2. The stock shaft weighed 65 grams and featured a low kick point. My current driver, a TaylorMade r7, is equipped with a 65-gram Aldila NV. The two shafts are fairly similar in their specifications, though they felt quite different to me. I'm no Iron Byron, and while I pride myself on my consistency, I rely on nothing but my own feel to determine the differences between shafts. We're not talking nearly imperceptible differences: the stock Fujikura felt a good bit softer than my NV. The ProForce V2 felt similarly.
I tend to hit very high fades with softer flexes, and whether this comes from the shaft not "catching up" at impact and leaving the face open or a subconscious compensation on my part to leave the head open to prevent a snap hook, I do not know. With the stock shaft, these were the shots I hit. However, once I either got used to the shaft (or was able to defeat my compensations), the HiBore provided some noticeably longer drives than my r7.
It takes a solid wack with a carry of about 250-260 (with limited-flight range balls) to clear the back of my practice range and if I'm not striking the ball well, I sometimes struggle to clear it. However, once the HiBore and I were in sync, I pumped range rock after range rock out of the driving range.
I find nothing prettier than a golf ball on a low, boring trajectory moving slightly right to left. No matter what, I couldn't get the HiBore to provide this sight with the stock shaft. Don't get me wrong - the HiBore was quite long when well struck - but I found its ball flight to be higher than I like. The Fujikura shaft has a low kickpoint which may help explain this, as lower kick points can easily add a few degrees to the launch angle.
With the ProForce, I could keep the ball flight down slightly, but the closed appearance to the face led me to either hook the ball or try to hold off the face, creating a similar small cut. "Fear of a draw turning into a hook" is not a common problem among the average golfer, though, making the HiBore a great club for the masses, but one the low-handicapper will want to test thoroughly.
When I lose feel for my swing, my swing plane grows much too tall and I tend to strike down on the ball, producing the occasional pop-up. My normal driver is the rather deep-faced r7, so I hit more than a few pop-ups with the HiBore. This driver actually has a taller center-of-clubface than Cleveland's Launcher 460 Comp and roughly as deep a face as the Nike SQ. ALso, due to the HiBore's radical design, slight misses low or high traveled much further and straighter more than shots struck off-center with my r7.
The acoustics of the head took some time getting used to as well, it sounds rather like a half-full soup can at impact. That's not exactly an explosive sound, but not necessarily a negative. When hit dead solid perfect, it provides a little more growl, which contrasted sharply to the high-pitched "ping" of my r7. Eventually, I could tell quite easily by the sound the club made where on the face I'd struck the ball, a welcome (if unintended) feature.
Extras and Specs
This driver comes with an excellent headcover - one of the best I've ever used. The finely woven elastic fibers of the sock stretch more than enough to accommodate the oddly shaped club head and the attractive use of red, yellow, navy, and white lends itself to just a plain good-looking cover. It sports an "EZ Grab" handle that provides enough grip to quickly pull off the cover. I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but the ease of use of this cover rivals that of any other headcover I've ever seen.
The stock grip is very tacky, providing the necessary grip and feedback in colors that match the stock shaft. Usually the first thing I do with a new driver is replace the grip with the Tour Velvets to which I'm accustomed, but with this grip I felt no need.
This $399 club is available in lofts of 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, and 11.5° for righties and 9.5° and 10.5° for lefties, all at 45" in length. Standard shafts include the Aldila NV and NVS, the stock Fujikura, the Graffaloy Blue and ProLaunch Blue, and the UST ProForce V2, all in a wide range of weights and flexes. Custom shafts include the Aerotech SteelFiber, the Fujikura Speeder 652 or 757, the Fujikura Tour Platform 26.3, the Fujikura Vista Pro, the Graffaloy Prototype Comp NT, the Graphite Design YS6+ and 7+, the MCC/Apache MFS Matrix, and the Mitsubishi Diamana, again in varying weights and flexes.
I believe that if you struggle getting the ball into the air, or put a little too much spin on your drives, the HiBore could definitely be a nice addition to your bag. I could even see myself using the HiBore on a regular basis if it was mated with the right shaft. However, if you prefer a mid to low ball flight, you may be less than satisfied with the HiBore's high, arcing flight. Also, consistent contact is a must in order to play this driver as the shallowness of the clubface leaves less room for error. Overall, the HiBore performed more than adequately in the distance catergory, left little to be desired if you don't mind playing a fade, and sports an excellent head cover.