There's something magical — and extremely profitable — in being the first company to market with a better mousetrap. On occasion, though, that new mousetrap tanks.
A prime example over the past 10 years was Tommy Armour's Ti100, the industry's first all-titanium iron. These big, burly clubs debuted on the heels of the original titanium driver boom of 1995. The Ti-100 offered loads of forgiveness but sacrificed feel and didn't react particularly well in turf. Consumers didn't embrace Ti-100 and, sadly, the company hasn't fully rebounded from it.
I say "sadly" because the equipment biz is littered with "me-too" products. It's refreshing to see a company push conventional thinking, go out on a limb, and try something new.
Which brings me to Cleveland Golf. This respected company is entrenched (much like Armour ten years ago) in the club business. But it's not a true heavyweight. Instead, it's a traditional firm with no "firsts" in terms of cool, new metal wood designs.
And that's why the next few weeks or months will be so fascinating, so critical, for Cleveland. Its new HiBore driver hit stores in late March. The distinctive head has a much different profile than conventional drivers (similar to what Nike is doing with SasQuatch) to achieve specific design and playing characteristics.
I'm betting that Cleveland is onto something here. The HiBore driver, with beveled crown, is a bigger version of the current HALO hybrid. And I know HALO works well (it won our mini-ClubTest last October). In truth, HALO was born from the HiBore drawings. Cleveland released HALO first because:
1. It's easier to engineer a hybrid than a driver
2. The company wanted to gauge consumer acceptance for the new (suppressed top) shape, and
3. The R&D team needed more time to tweak HiBore's impact sound.
Should HiBore take off, it'll likely catapult Cleveland to new heights in the industry. It could also blaze a trail for a preponderance of alternative-geometries in woods. (You can be sure that HiBore fairway woods are set for fall deliveries.) But if HiBore is grounded, well, there are always wedges.
Rob Sauerhaft is the Managing Editor of Equipment for GOLF Magazine