Since we had always been quite fond of the Cleveland Quadpro fairway woods, we were surprised when they were discontinued. These woods had worked well for every tester who had ever used them. We asked a representative of Cleveland why they replaced such a nice line with one that was so dissimilar. He explained that the Quadpro fairway woods had not been a problem. It had been the Quadpro driver that had failed to click with the public. Without a successful one-wood carrying the flag for a brand name, sales of matching fairway woods were bound to suffer.
While the mellow feel of the copper-rimmed insert faces had been sweetly solid on the Quadpro woods, it had been dull and somewhat dead feeling on the larger driver heads. The new Launcher line of woods are 17-4 stainless steel with maraging steel faces. There are no vibration absorbing face inserts. They offer a more lively and dynamic feel that is more typical of current offerings from rival OEM’s.
The Cleveland Launcher woods are available in stores with a number of shaft options. We tried them in the stock Launcher graphite, made by Fujikura Composites, and in the True Temper BiMatrix hybrid steel/graphite shaft. Both versions offer a crisp feel and a decided snap at impact. With the lightweight, 65-gram Fujikura graphite, these woods really zip through impact. The sound becomes a high-pitched “pting”. With the BiMatrix feel becomes more a bit more rigid. The sound is a lower-pitched “ptunk”. Our crew generally preferred the more mellow solidity of the BiMatrix version. Some other traditional-style woods such as the Titleist 975F and Cleveland’s previous Quadpro model sound and feel quite muted when compared to both Launcher versions tested.
One of the reasons that our crew preferred the Launcher-BiMatrix version was its appearance. The shiny steel tip section of the BiMatrix makes for a very sharp visual presentation of gold and silver. In the bag and at address, the BiMatrix looks cool. This wood appears simultaneously modernistic and traditional. The all-graphite Fujikura ends up having too much of the mustard-colored gold that is distinctive to the Launcher line. With the BiMatrix, the Launcher looks like a wood that just has to be hit. In the stock, all mustard motif, it does not.
The Launcher woods fly high and strong in both configurations. These are solid, dynamic woods. They generate a good sense of concentrated mass at impact. Balls give the impression of jumping off of the face with a real snap to them. Length has been excellent with both versions tested, but the edge has been with the Fujikura-shafted model. It seems to launch the Launcher with a bit more kick than does the BiMatrix model. In both renditions, our 4-wood demos leaned to 3-wood side of performance – strong rather than weak in terms of length and arc of trajectory. Trajectories have been “tour” in nature, as opposed to “arched” or “flat”.
The traditionally-styled head design of the Launcher is very workable. This wood can be easily closed down for distance, or opened up for added loft. The pear-shaped head is moderate in size. It is larger than the retro, tour spoon styled heads available from Titleist and TaylorMade, but not by a great deal. The relatively conventional head does not have the low profile and added sole weights of many modern woods. This classical design produces good workability, but limits the ease with which this wood gets the ball airborne. Thin shots off of the Cleveland do not launch with the same alacrity as those hit by woods with lower COG’s. The Launcher feels and performs better off of good lies and off of a low tee. As a trouble club, it is only mediocre. Those who normally land in the thick stuff may prefer woods that pick the ball up better.
As stated, the BiMatrix version most appealed to our group. The vast majority of our range and on-course hitting was done with this model. At impact, there is a real snap to the feel. Everyone enjoyed hitting this club. The BiMatrix R-flex we used tested out as a true regular flex, but felt more firm than most regular flex shafts. This was particularly the case for those accustomed solely to graphite-shafted woods. The reduced torque of the steel tip section made itself apparent early on. For those that were suited to the BiMatrix, shot patterns were particularly tight and consistent.
Two testers loved the BiMatrix Launcher, but had to abandon it because of a decided tendency to leave shots hanging out to the right. They needed more torque in a shaft. The Fujikura model with its mid-level, 4.0 torque brought the ball a bit more to the left than the BiMatrix. Distances were marginally longer due to an increase in draw and pull trajectories. While the Fujikura remained crisply firm feeling at all times, a trace of whippiness was present when compared to the more rigid BiMatrix. Patterns were a bit less tight with the Fujikura version.
In spite of its regular flex, the Launcher imparts a much stiffer, aggressive feel than most fairway woods. Testers found that they had a tendency to overhit this wood. They became a bit too aggressive. This stands in contrast to our in-house Cleveland Quadpro 4-wood. That has a stiff flex graphite shaft, but plays and feels more like a regular. Testers have been invariably more smooth with the Quadpro. Consequently, most have seen better consistency with the Quadpro in spite of its inherently less stable nature.
The Cleveland Launcher is a handsome, classy wood that is powerful and dignified. Ball flight can be strong and long. Feel is snappy and dynamic. In general, the head design and shaft choices are geared to lower-handicapped players. While the Launcher is a relatively forgiving wood on mishits, higher handicaps will probably be happier with woods that are more user-friendly. The Launcher is a “player’s wood.”