Golfers are allowed no more than fourteen clubs in their bags. Of those fourteen- each one a precious piece of equipment carefully curated for success- the majority are irons. Irons are an integral part of the game. They’re versatile. They’re measurable. Plus, there’s no greater feeling than hitting one pure.
As technology continues to improve, there’s an overwhelming number of options on the market. From blades and cavity backs to brands and price points, we’re here to answer any burning questions you may need ironed out.
Types of Golf Irons
As data becomes more detailed, companies are forging irons to suit every skillset:
Blades are the original irons that have been around since the dawn of golf. They have a smaller strike zone and clubhead size. This means that contact must be made consistently in the center to get a solid strike. Blades are precision irons and are tailored to low-handicap and Tour players. Despite being more difficult to hit, they give immediate feedback to a player. A mishit off-center is vital information that allows experienced players to tweak their swings during a round. As well, they favor playability by being able to work the ball and shape shots.
Cavity backs, also known as game improvement irons, are perfect for both high and mid-handicappers. With a thicker sole, they bear a larger strike zone (or ‘sweet spot’); this makes it easier to crush the ball despite uneven swings. They aid in minimizing sidespin so that shots are not only higher, but straighter. Ultimately, their forgiveness makes them a great option for newer players to enjoy the game. The downside? They don’t reflect when your swing needs a mechanics change. Since you can still get away with slight mishits, cavity backs don’t show the full picture of where you swing is at.
Muscle back irons are a happy medium between blades and cavity backs. They are modified with added mass on either the back of the clubhead or sole which yields more height to the ball flight. Per Golf Insider UK, “Muscle back irons tend to make an excellent choice for golfers who are good ball strikers but want some extra forgiveness over a true bladed iron.” That said, they’re still a moderately-tough club to hit.
Hybrid irons have surged in popularity over the last decade as a replacement for long irons and woods. They are a cross between a wood and an iron, taking the best parts of each. Hybrid irons have the grooves and face of an iron but the wide back of a fairway wood. I would consider them a game improvement iron. A few years back, I replaced my 4-iron with a Ping 5-hybrid. I not only get more reliable ball flight than I did with my 4-iron, but I find it easier to hit the ball out of the rough. I don’t have any cons to add for this one, except that I wish I had more in my bag!
Golf Club Brands
Titleist, Taylormade, Cleveland, Cobra and Callaway are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to choosing irons. Dozens of brands have multiple series that promote distance, accuracy and comfort. Each year, they come out with shiny new engineering that promises to trump the years prior. Some golfers may prefer a uniform bag of all Titleist. Others might lean towards a mixed bag – let’s say, Mizuno blades and Ping woods (speaking from personal experience). Everyone’s feel is different which works in a day and age where we have a plethora of choice. Check out this Insider 2022 guide to the best irons for some inspiration!
Iron Set Pricing
A new set of irons can run anywhere from just shy of a grand to nearing $3,000. (Remember Justin Rose’s old partnership with the Japanese club manufacturer, Honma, whose iron sets near 40 grand?) On the other, much friendlier, end of pricing, you can find affordable starter sets from the likes of Costco for less than $500. Outlets like the PGA Superstore, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy also run deals throughout the year so you can plan your purchase to save some bucks. Depending on how frequently you play and what playing level you’re at, you can set a price range that’s comfortable for you. Iron sets are certainly an investment so don’t feel rushed to pull the trigger.
What Is an Iron?
Irons are characterized by their narrow heads forged of metal. They’re playable off the tee, fairways and around the greens. These clubs are numbered from a 10-iron (today’s pitching wedge) down to a 2-iron. (The fabled 1-iron from Hogan’s day went extinct. Given Lee Trevino’s infamous joke that not even God could strike the club, we’re not surprised it was replaced by more amicable equipment.) The pitching wedge, despite its moniker, was originally considered the 10-iron “of a matched set, and to this day it follows the normal loft progression of numbered irons.”
A set of irons is broken down into three categories. The first, long irons, are 2, 3 and 4-irons. They have longer shafts and thinner heads. True to their name, they carry the ball the furthest. They’re useful on longer par 4s where the approach shot leaves much to be desired, on windy days where only stingers will suffice or where nerves of steel have a player going for that par 5 green in two.
Middle irons (or mid-irons) are the 5, 6 and 7-irons. Their shaft length is shorter versus the prior group. These fall in the middle of a player’s driving distance. Because they produce a higher ball flight than long irons do, they land more softly. This comes in handy for hard greens where a lower ball flight would most certainly run off the back of the green.
Short irons round out the set. The 8, 9 and 10-irons have the shortest shafts and widest club heads of the lot and are used for shorter yardages. These are clubs primed for the approach shot. With their lofty ball trajectory and ability to generate spin, they are optimal tools for pin-seekers.
Loft: How Low Do They Go?
The lower the iron number, the greater the distance the ball goes. This is due to longer shaft lengths (think of a driver’s length in comparison to a sand wedge’s) and the ‘flatter’ lie angle which that creates at impact. Additionally, lower-lofted clubs generate less ball spin, resulting in a piercing launch angle that carries the ball further. While specifications will vary by brand, as a rule of thumb there are 3 to 4 degrees of difference in loft between club choice. The spec chart from Titleist lays out the loft specs for the company’s T-Series and 620 irons. The pitching wedge in the T100 set has 46 degrees of loft; on the other end of the spectrum, the 3-iron has just 21 degrees.
Distance Standards: PGA and LPGA
How far do irons go? TrackMan, who launched the cutting-edge Doppler radar system that gives you every detail of your swing path you didn’t know you needed, released the PGA and LPGA Tour’s driving averages.
PGA Tour pros carry their 9-irons 148 yards; their 8-irons carry 160 yards. Each 3 to 4-degree decrease in loft between irons produces about 10 to 12 yards of distance. Players’ 3-iron stats – 212 yards of carry – also showcase the lower spin rate and launch angle of long irons. I’ll throw my eye on LPGA driving averages on occasion to check my numbers. It’s a good idea to learn your yardages so that you choose the right clubs on the course.
Because irons are so adaptable, they encourage course management calls on the course. Having trouble trusting your driver off the tee? You can put the driver in the bag for the round and go with a reliable iron instead to keep the ball in play. I know golfers who don’t have a driver in the bag at all. And they don’t miss it. Are you off the fringe with miles of green to work with? You can bump-and-run a 7-iron to cover the distance instead of making a full swing with your putter. Are you blocked out by trees? I once caddied for my husband in a tournament and watched him punch out of the woods – left-handed – with his righty 8-iron. Shots can be shaped to draw or fade on whim. There’s no shortage of shots that can be made with a little creativity and your irons.
If your skillset has outgrown your iron set, it may be a good idea to go for a club fitting. Beginners who managed with a starter set and are coming up to the next level can jump in distance and accuracy by upgrading their set. Those who have had their irons for a few years, especially juniors, may find they are now physically stronger and need heavier shafts. Find a reputable expert to analyze your swing with a fine-tooth comb and provide you with options. It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion, either.
Irons Final Say
What would golf be without irons? From tee shots off par 3s to wild punchouts from the brush, I depend on my irons throughout my round. If you’re considering upgrading your set, lean on online reviews and in-person club fittings to narrow down which type of irons best suits your game.