People you should know in golf: Roger Cleveland
Roger Cleveland has had a huge impact on the golf equipment industry.
He founded Cleveland Classics which later became Cleveland Golf and was responsible for making some of the best woods and wedges in the game.
After selling Cleveland, he went to design clubs for Callaway and still designs some of the best wedges in the game today.
We met him at the PGA Show in Orlando…
Where did you grow up?
Long Beach, California.
How did you get into golf?
I was 12 and some friends of mine were going off playing one weekend. I asked where they were going and went along, got a rental set and really enjoyed it. It started there.
I then bought a set that had a 3, 5, 7, 9 iron, a 3-wood, a driver and a putter.
Within a year-and-a-half I broke 80.
What was your first job in golf
I was in sales and I worked for a company that’s not in existence now. They did putters, then came out with an iron set but that gave me a taste of it and I enjoyed it.
Then I was with a travel company that only specialised in bringing professional golfers to tours.
Back in the late 1970s there weren’t places to play so we had US pros who didn’t get on tour and we took them to Asia and Australia.
The first club I made was a reproduction of Bobby Jones’ Calamity Jane. I took it back to the PGA Show to see if there was any interest.
I sold about 500 of them and then felt like I was really in the golf business.
The big companies at that time were Spalding, Macgregor and Wilson but they weren’t making really good persimmon woods at that time.
A lot of the art had gone out of it. I thought I could make better ones so I took a chance, I didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t have anything to lose.
So I started making persimmon woods with some really talented wood makers back in California.
I started Cleveland in 1980 and sold it in 1990 to ski equipment manufacturer Rossignol. I worked for five years then I was shown the door by a French gentleman.
Callaway called me and asked me to come and help them with design and I have been here for 21 years.
What was the best decision you ever made?
Making the decision to go with Callaway.
What was the worst?
There was a decision I made at Cleveland that was not a very good one that took me back a little bit. It was about a line of metalwoods.
If you had one piece of advice what would that be?
If you’re stating in the golf business that is going to be difficult these days.
You’ve got to stay focused on the product that you are really good at. You can’t be all things to all people unless you have a huge amount of money and resources.
If you weren’t working in golf what might you be doing?
I would probably be trying to work in the wine industry somehow.
Little winery down in Napa would be nice.
A few quick ones… Current golf handicap?
Just below 10. I have a better short-game than a long-game. I have two short-games now. Sometimes it fails me but not often.
Ever had a hole-in-one?
I’ve had three. I remember them all fondly. Who wouldn’t?
I haven’t had one yet but every time I stand on the tee of a par-3 I think ‘this is the one’…
Maybe you shouldn’t think that, just let it happen.
Tiger or Jack?
Jack. Mr Nicklaus.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
What has been the best golf equipment innovation in your lifetime?
Metalwoods. The ability to take what we started with to what we have now with the Epic is amazing. Last year’s model, the XR, which is a great driver, took about 500 process steps – which is a lot.
The Epic takes over 1,000. There’s so much attention to detail to create the performance.
We have a special material in the crown which is less than 9 grams. The ability to move weight around is the key.
The focus on that weight distribution is the key to performance.
For more information visit the Callaway website.