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The Cleveland Launcher DST Driver Review!
In my review of the Adams Speedline Fast 10, I discussed the fact that with driver head sizes and COR maxed out (at least as far as the USGA is concerned), golf equipment manufacturers are looking for alternative methods to squeeze out another 5-10 yards from what they hope will be your next driver. With Adams it's all about aerodynamics. Cleveland, on the other hand, with their latest offering, has chosen to take a slightly different approach. While I won't go so far as to say they've thrown aerodynamics to the proverbial wind, what is clear from the new Launcher DST (the latest offering from the company's popular launcher series), Cleveland is putting the emphasis on weight; that is to say they're eliminating it as much as humanly possible.
The Launcher DST features what Cleveland calls Sub 300G Ultralight Technology (quite a mouthful). Cleveland worked with Mitsubishi to develop a slightly longer (45.75") ultralight (47g) Diamana shaft. They paired that with an ultralight (40g) grip to create a driver that produces higher clubhead speeds, which of course translates to higher ball speeds, which of course further translate to more distance. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Lancher DST Technical Specifications
- Loft: 9°, 10.5°, 12° (RH Only)
- Length: 45.75″
- Volume: 460cc
- Swing Weight: D4 (Assumes stock shaft and grip)
- Stock Shafts: Mitsubishi Diamana Red Ultralight 44
What We Tested, and How We Tested It
Cleveland sent us a Launcher DST for testing. Our sample has the following specifications:
- Loft: 9°
- Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana Red Ultralight 44
- Flex: Stiff
- Grip: Cleveland Ultralight (40g) by Lamkin
Like we always do when we receive a new club, we tested the specifications against the manufacturers stated specs. I then taped the crown and sole with Ghost Tape to protect the clubs during our testing process and finally, I invited some guys to stop by, take some swings, and provide their opinions, and of course, provide us with actual performance data.
All performance testing was done using PGA TOUR Simulators, powered by 3Trac, from aboutGolf. Testing took place at Tark’s Indoor Golf Club; a state-of-the-art golf training, club fitting and repair facility located in Saratoga Springs, NY.
With our simulator’s data capture capabilities disabled so that distance and accuracy wouldn’t influence our subjective opinion polling, we asked several golfers to provide us feedback on the look, sound, and feel of the club. We also asked for their opinion on the overall value of the club, as well as their opinions on the overall quality and performance of Cleveland golf products in a more general sense.
A subset of testers including golfers with low, middle, and high handicaps, was asked to participate in more thorough tests where not only was data collected for the shots they hit with the Cleveland Launcher DST, but also for their current driver.
For full details of MyGolfSpy’s testing methodology, see our testing details page.
For the performance portion of our review, we had 5 golfers of varying skill levels hit both their own driver, and the Cleveland Launcher DST. In almost every case our testers increased their ball speed, as well as both their carry and total distances. Only one golfer (Ron) actually lost distance with the DST. Conversely, one could infer that the additional shaft length has a negative impact on the accuracy of the driver. Of our 5 testers, only Kent was equally as accurate with the Launcher DST as he is with his own driver. On average, our testers lost 6.5 yards of accuracy, which, while not as substantial as some accuracy losses we've seen, it's certainly enough to add up to a couple extra missed fairways over the course of a day.
Tossing our Ron's results for a moment, our testers gained between 3 and 9 total yards of distance compared to their present driver. The decision a potential buyer will need to make is whether or not that extra distance is worth risking a measurable loss in accuracy.
The Numbers For The 5 Golfers:
>> Performance Score: (53 out of 60)
If there's a word that sums up the general consensus of our testers as far as the looks of the Launcher DST are concerned, it's simply "ordinary" which is not a bad thing nowadays. Overall, our testers approved of the simple, understated appearance of the DST. Despite being described as having "no major bells or whistles", our testers like what was described as a "simple, classy looking club". One of 2 golfers named Dan to test the Launcher DST said that in his opinion, "some drivers out there are getting too crazy with their head shape. The Launcher has a classic look to it - not distracting in anyway. As one of the testers, I'd agree with that assessment, and another one of our testers was dead on when he described the Launcher like this:
"Very attractive club, classic pear shape, nothing weird about it. Set up square and looks wonderfully simple." - Ben, 10 Handicap
As with Looks, our testers consistently rated the Cleveland Launcher DST as average. While nothing negative was said about the sound, a couple of our testers thought the Launcher DST has "no real wow factor" at impact. Others said it sounds "fine", and "average for the state of the industry", adding that it's "nothing surprising in either a good or a bad way". Although one tester rated the Sound as a 9, most of the scores were in the 5 to 7 range.
Surprising to me at least, several of our testers commented that they don't care about sound one way or another. One of our Dans summed up his feelings like this:
"Sound is not the most important factor involved in picking out a driver for me, unless it had a really obnoxious, piercing sound to it which the Launcher does not have." - Dan (6 Handicap)
While our testers generally liked the feel of the club, there were some who pointed out that the feel is so consistent that the club doesn't always provide the desired feedback on mishits. Our 6 handicap said "the ball really seemed to explode off the tee", but like others suggested there is a "lack of feel", specifically citing mishits off the toe which "did not feel missed at all". Our testers were willing to overlook a bit of lost feedback; consistently rating the feel in the 7-8 range, but our 10 handicap, Ben, expressed the prevailing opinion when he said:
"Felt solid on just about everything, but that's par for the course these days. Wish it was a bit more obvious where you mishit the ball. Mistakes show up on the launch monitor, but it's hard to feel them". - Ben, 10 Handicap
Finally, I shared with the testers the retail price of the Cleveland Launcher DST and asked them to rate the overall value of the club. At $299, the Launcher DST is one of the more reasonably priced drivers on the market so it comes as no real surprise that it received its highest overall marks for value. While the scores ranged from 6 to 9, the average was roughly 8 out of 10. Tester Ron said that "based on price, the DST is a good club to round out your Cleveland set". Some testers rated it among the best they've tried this season, and I find myself agreeing with tester Mark:
"Compared to what else is available at $300.00, it's one of the best clubs available at that price." - Mark, 14 Handicap
>> Subjective Score: (29 out of 40)
For woods and hybrids, our current SpecCheck involves verifying length, Swing Weight, and Flex. The Cleveland Launcher DST we received was within tolerances for length. We measured Swing Weight a tad lighter than advertised, but we're willing to chalk that up differences in our scales. In the grand scheme of things, 1 swing weight is nearly imperceptible.
When measured on the DigiFlex (butt clamped 5"), the Diamana Ultralight Shaft measured 260 CPMs, which puts it right on the cusp of X-Flex (call it a strong stiff) on MyGolfSpy's Flex Chart. Given how many of the shafts I've seen (both as a reviewer, and as a guy who helps out with set analysis), that measure significantly softer than advertised, I'm absolutely delighted to find a shaft that's every bit as strong as it's supposed to be. Kudos to Cleveland and Diamana for getting it right.
(UPDATE:) - After discussing our review procedures with several OEMs, we've decided that, while still included in the review, SpecCheck will no longer be part of the total score. The methods and tools use to measure the specifications we track vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next. Because of these differences, SpecCheck, as it was originally conceived, was perhaps overly strict from a scoring perspective (though I still think it's a good idea). With that said, SpeckCheck will continue to be included in every review in order to provide a baseline for you to compare clubs from the various manufacturers. To account for the change in our review procedures, the subjective portion of our review will now count for 40% of the total score, while performance accounting for the remaining 60%.
Based on my observations and conversations with my testers, I'm inclined to say that although the Launcher DST performed admirably, there wasn't a whole lot of excitement for the club itself. The enthusiasm level of golfers we brought in to test the Launcher were, to a man, luke warm at best . The testers appeared more interested in what they might get to test next as opposed to what they were actually testing. Interestingly, one of the questions we asked (although we didn't calculate any portion of the score based on the answers), is "With respect to overall quality and performance, how would compare Cleveland Golf to others in the industry"? With respect to overall quality and performance, how would compare Cleveland Golf to others in the industry"? With a baseline of 3 for average, or no opinion, the overall majority of our testers rated Cleveland a (4 out of 5)
The slightly favorable opinion is not surprising considering the the assortment of Cleveland wedges scattered throughout our tester's bags. My suspicion is some preconceived notions about Cleveland woods vs. Cleveland wedges might have skewed the subjective testing a bit, although I have no actual proof. My personal takeaway from the testing experience is that, although they make a quality product, and a better than competitive price, Cleveland appears to have a marketing problem on its hands; insomuch as the level of buzz surrounding new, non-wedge, products doesn't appear to be nearly at the same level of products from its competitors. Not one tester indicated he would definitely purchase the Launcher, although we did have one tester ask to take it out on the golf course for some additional testing. All of this speaks to the notion that in many golfers mind, Cleveland is still considered primarily a wedge company.
With respect to overall performance, the Launcher is a pure distance machine. The ultralight design appears to have a measurable (although not necessarily substantial) impact on overall distance, and despite some loss of accuracy that we think is tied to the increased shaft length. Yet it's worth mentioning that while longer than standard, at 45.75" the Cleveland Launcher DST is shorter, and measurably more accurate than many of the comparable drivers we've looked at thus far.
At $299 the Launcher DST is competitively (if not bargain) priced considering its high overall performance (particularly the distance portion) score. There's not a doubt in my mind you could spend a lot more, and walk away with a whole lot less.
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- Fairway: TaylorMade SLDR S Mini, 12° Fujikura Speeder X
- 3-4H: TaylorMade SLDR TP S
- 5-GW: PXG 0311 w/ KBS C-Taper S+
- SW: TaylorMade Tour Preferred EF Tour Grind (54° bent to 55°)
- LW: Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind 60°
- Putter: PING Karsten TR ZING