The iron market can be a little confusing with most brands offering a number of different styles from cavity-backs to blades. We explain the differences
Once you’ve been playing a while, it will dawn on you that not all irons looks the same. The days of every iron being a pure blade are long gone, and though a number of top brands do still offer them as an option, cavity-backs of varying depth and style are where most of the iron market is at, even out on tour. But why the change? All is explained here from cavity-backs to blades and shallow cavities in between…
Mid to deep cavity irons
90% of irons made in the past 20 years fall into this category. The basic principle is that weight from the club’s centre is moved to the perimeters to place more mass behind the impact point on off-centre strikes. The heads are bigger too, to further enhance these benefits. Their large sweetspots deliver greater forgiveness, which is why they have proved so massively popular. Most of us have an innate ability to use every part of the clubface but the middle, and cavity-backs have helped limit the damaging effects of some of our poorer efforts. The other big advantage is that with much of the extra weight in the sole, even the notoriously difficult long irons are easier to get airborne.
Shallow cavity irons
Shallow cavity irons or semi-blades are in many ways the new blades and some manufacturers even refer to them as such in their literature. They would be best classed as “players’ clubs” and cater for former blade players happy to admit they might need a little help or improving golfers who want to control ball flight a little more. The heads are often smaller than cavity-backs, and a thinner topline – the edge you look down on at address - gives them the appearance of a true blade from above. But behind the scenes a shallow cavity allows some weight to be relocated to the perimeters. The overall effect is a manageable head for those who would lean towards blades, but a degree of assistance for days when their striking is a little off.
Blades and Musclebacks
True blades make up a very small percentage of today’s iron market. Their flat, uniform heads offer none of the forgiving qualities of cavity-backs, and are often forged, making them fairly expensive, since forging is a more elaborate and time-consuming process. Many of the blades that are available today actually tend to be musclebacks, which appear to fly in the face of cavity-back technology as they place extra mass directly behind the central impact point rather than around the perimeters of the head. The advantage for pure ball-strikers is that dead-centre hits get a more solid feel than a true blade. If you’re not the greatest ball-striker, then blades are probably not for you and best left to very low handicappers who strike it well enough to appreciate the extra feel and workability many believe they offer.
Some brands blend clubs of each style into one ‘progressive’ or ‘combination’ set, so you get extra assistance and forgiveness in the longer clubs where you most need it.
The cavity-back iron’s forgiving sweetspot, which benefits the majority, probably makes it trickier for better players to manoeuvre the ball and get the feedback they desire from their ball-striking. But if they’re good enough for hundreds of demanding pros, it is difficult to be overly critical of them!
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft
Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)
Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response
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