As Cleveland Golf’s engineers show you the new RTX 4 wedge line, their talk keeps returning to a concept that on its face sounds almost sacrilege in golf equipment’s world of constant change and new ideas: Sometimes the best way to innovate is to not do something completely different.
And while the RTX 4 offers Cleveland’s most heavily tour-influenced and diverse lineup of lofts and sole grinds in company history, it’s the guts of the design—the grooves, the surface roughness, the center of gravity alignment and sole shaping—that reflect not wholesale change but more the result of working to improve what it’s been doing with its wedge designs for the last decade.
John Rae, vice president of research and development, makes it clear that other ideas are studied all the time, but that research keeps pushing the design back to the groove and spin philosophy behind the original “tour zip” groove design.
The fourth-generation of Cleveland’s “rotex” groove and surface roughness design, RTX 4’s improvement in spin reflects a better understanding of how to manufacture a groove at the limits of the rules.
“Because we’re doing very similar designs from generation to generation, we know the bits well, we know the machines, we know the material we’re using, we’re able to refine that again and again,” he said. “We got better with our manufacturing process so we’ve been able to push it that way, and we’ve gotten better with our inspection process so now we can push it, too.”
How much can Cleveland’s team push the limits? Jeff Brunski, director of research and development, puts it this way, referencing the typical range that the USGA allows for conforming groove design: “We don’t even worry about the USGA’s tolerances anymore. It’s more about what’s the max? There’s only one number we care about anymore.”
It means that unlike a groove that might be completely different thus necessitating a test manufacturing run of 500 at a time, Cleveland has the benefit of millions of grooves produced and updated over time. In short, the RTX 4 benefits fully from the learnings of the RTX-3, 588 RTX 2.0 and 588 RTX.
The improvements in the RTX 4’s approach to spin include the company’s sharpest groove since the groove rule change a decade ago. That means sharper edge radii, as well as groove volume, all thanks, Rae said, to a new laser scanning system that measures groove profiles on all wedges to ensure the finished products are meeting design parameters.
In addition, a more defined face milling pattern, including an extended section out on the toe, helps create what Cleveland engineers characterized as a “three percent increase in spin on all shot types.”
Another key element that RTX 4 carries over and improves is the idea of better matching the center of gravity with the center of the face. That includes removing even more weight from a cavity in the hosel, first seen on the RTX-3 wedges. That saved weight is distributed selectively with each loft to optimize spin and trajectory control.
Of course, the education from the past also include mountains of input from the company’s current staff of tour players, many of whom already have been playing prototype versions of the RTX 4 for the past year on tour (conveniently labeled “RTX-3 Proto”). The RTX 4 made its official debut on tour in its new name this week at the PGA Championship. That information helped shape the sole designs that now include four options in the new line-up. Those four sole grinds are the Full, Mid, Low and XLow.
The workhorse is the Mid, which is available in lofts ranging from 46 to 60 degrees. An evolution from the RTX-3’s V-Sole design, which features more leading edge bounce and followed by flatter trailing edge that keeps the leading edge closer to the ground on open-face shots. New is the XLOW, which has the widest sole of the four and is designed for tight lies and firm conditions and is offered only in the 58- and 60-degree lofts.
The Full, offered in lofts from 56 to 60 degrees, features a uniform bounce across the sole. The Low is Cleveland’s traditional, versatile low-bounce offering with a C-shaped grind with heel, toe and trailing edge relief. It is offered in lofts ranging from 56 to 64 degrees.
Overall, the RTX 4 presents a more compact look and the lower lofts will feature a straighter leading edge and a lower heel height that makes for a more direct transition from the short irons.
Offered in 18 loft-bounce options, the RTX 4 also is available in three finishes: tour satin, black satin and raw. The RTX 4 ($140) will be available in stores September 14.