Over the past couple of months I have been experimenting around with the Cleveland Niblick. For those of you who haven't seen it, the Niblick is a "short game hybrid". According to the company, it combines the best features of a wedge, putter, iron and hybrid to create the "ultimate hybrid scoring club". It looks like a chipper but with 42 degrees of loft it can also be used for full shots which increases its utility. Chip, pitch, approach, and recovery shots are all possible with this club. Cleveland has come up with a new product category here. And its like nothing you've gamed before.
Many mid to high handicap golfers lose valuable strokes by failing to get up and down - hitting chips and pitches fat or sculling them over the green. If you struggle at times with that portion of your game then this club is for you.
The Niblick has an upright lie angle with putter length, 8 degrees of bounce, and very effective alignment aides. After some adjustment, a normal chipping stance with a putting stroke yielded shots that stayed low and checked up quickly.
Cleveland has incorporated all the goodies from its popular CG14 wedges including the milled zip grooves and the vibration damping gelback technology. The result is soft feel and enhanced spin around the green. During my first round with it in the bag, I chipped in two shots from the fringe on very fast greens. This is something I can get used to.
The Niblick is also very forgiving on full shots. It has a heavy swing weight and as a result it took time to dial in distances. But after some practice, I found it to be a very stable and forgiving club from the fairway and a wonder from the rough. Everyone will be different, but I hit the Niblick on full shots the same distance as my gap wedge.
It is also an excellent recovery club. During one round, my driver kept leaving me under tree cover and I effectively used the Niblick to chip back out into the fairway.
OK, this is not the cleanest club you will ever look down upon at address. For those who play game improvement and hybrid clubs it will not be a huge transition, but I suspect players who game a more traditional set will find the topline and offset decidedly unappealing.
Players who put a Niblick in their bag will face a hard decision on what club to take out. Depending on which loft is chosen, for most this club will replace a gap or pitching wedge. But that will be a hard pill to swallow for some because a skilled wedge player will lose some versatility around the greens by doing that. However, I would argue that a skilled wedge player isn't the target demographic for this product and the rest of us are in denial.
The biggest issue perhaps is perception. Purists will scoff at the Niblick. Mike Stachura, Golf Digest's Equipment Editor in a recent article suggested it was a "moral outrage" and called it a "pathetic crutch". I've had a couple of playing partners accuse me of playing an illegal club (its not). This is a frivolous reason not to play a new category of equipment and I'd imagine many of the same things were said about hybrids when they first arrived on the scene. But the stigma associated with this club is still worth noting.
If there are days when you struggle with your game around the greens, then having the Niblick in your bag is like carrying a warm security blanket. Not all of us have time to become expert wedge players and therefore this product definitely fills a niche and I would highly recommend at least giving it a run. You might just find it will shave a few strokes off your score, reduce your frustration level, and increase your enjoyment of the game.
The Niblick is available from Cleveland Golf and is sold at most major golf outlets. It is available in lofts of 37 and 42 degrees and retails for $109.99.