We here at Golf Tips like drivers and, of course, spend hours in the office rolling balls down the hall with the industry's newest putters. But nothing beats the thrill of poring over the latest pool of irons on our annual pilgrimage to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. To us, irons are mind-boggling. They're easily the most sophisticated items in sport (auto racing aside). Just getting our heads around the technology to hopefully explain what they're meant to do in the pages of this magazine is sometimes a daunting task. But that's half the fun. Realizing the extent of a thickness variable in the toe region of the face and its effect on center of gravity and moment of inertia is about as mentally rewarding as solving the New York Times Sunday crossword in a single cup of coffee. In other words, we like it.
Hybrid Irons The all-hybrid set is making its way into the mainstream and in '06 represents key launches by several major manufacturers, including those you'd normally associate with forged blades. Also expect a number of traditional irons complete with hybrids at the top of the set.
Hot Technologies: There's a method to the design madness, especially when you consider that popular iron technologies have been developed and employed to help you on the course. Here are the top innovations and design schemes you'll find in the pool of new irons.
Low And Deep CG An oft-recurring theme in today's iron design is positioning center of gravity (CG) as close to the sole (low) and as far away from the face (deep) as possible. The advantage of a low and deep CG is that more clubhead mass lies under the equator of the golf ball at impact, thus assisting higher launch angles without the need for high-spinning golf balls. The deep CG placement is a relatively new reversal of a previously strongly held theory that the more mass placed closer to the strike area, the greater the energy transfer at impact. As it turns out, energy transfer increases as the CG moves farther away from the face. You'll see the same concept in driver design (see our May issue next month).
There are many ways to achieve a low and deep CG. Some are fairly obvious (the addition of heavy weights toward the sole) and some sublime. Undercut channels, for instance, are very effective in moving mass away from the face while also distributing weight from the center of the club to the sole. You'll find extensive use of undercut cavities (or channels) in the new iron pool.
Game-Improvement Meets Players' Irons In years prior, if you needed game-improvement features, you got a large, clunky club with a huge back cavity. If you desired a more traditional club, you got a tiny blade with no offset and a sweet spot the size of a pinhead. But thanks to computer-assisted design, new materials and innovative construction methods, you can have your game improvement and classic aesthetics in the same package.
_ÊMulti-Piece Construction Long gone are the days when manufacturers casted clubs from a single mold or forged a blade from a single block of steel. Today's irons feature multiple parts, whether they be plasma-welded faceplates, tungsten inserts, urethane feel cartridges or weight-displacement bars. In most cases, multiple pieces and multi-piece construction methods are used to precisely pinpoint the CG in each iron to deliver specific launch conditions for every club in the set.
Progressive Sets We like the idea of the progressive set, traditionally taking the shape of cavity-back long irons and blade-like short irons. But today's progressives are far more advanced, with not only shape variances, but face thickness, CG location, blade length, material and shaft differences to truly enhance your performance with all eight irons.
Short Hosels Take a look at one of your old Hogan or Wilson sets. Now peruse the photos of the new irons in this guide. What you should instantly recognize is the difference in hosel length, which now runs universally shorter, especially in game-improvement irons. The short hosel (brought into current popularity by the likes of Callaway and PING) effectively lowers the CG (with less hosel mass above the club's center) as well as provides for the distribution of saved weight to key spots on the perimeter, which greatly aids in increasing MOI and lessens the ill effects of a mis-hit.
Vibration Dampening Feel is very important in iron play, and the last thing you want is the memory of that rocky feeling that occurs on a poor shot as you face a difficult approach. Enter a slew of vibration-reducing and shock-absorbing technologies in the clubhead, hosel and shaft. These typically take the shape of urethane-based inserts, but in some cases, the design and shape of the iron itself–as well as the material from which the iron is constructed–can direct vibration away from your hands to other areas of the clubhead. Amazing!
Advanced Sole Designs Advanced bounce angles, specially shaped leading and trailing edges as well as wider sole widths all work to ensure crisper contact in a variety of turf conditions. Furthermore, the wider sole shape, common now in even players' clubs, tends to lower the CG, which we know to be of great benefit in terms of helping golfers achieve the desired high-launch parameters.
Understanding Our Charts Features: The primary design elements that make the iron noteworthy. Advantages: How the primary design elements are meant to elevate the performance of the club. Benefits: Which skill level or player type would best benefit from the design. What We Like: We have our preferences, too. Basically, what impressed us in our review. Lineup: The other models available from the manufacturer, listed from least forgiving to most. Clubhead: The primary material from which the club is forged or cast. Clubface: Indicates the material used for the strike area. Design: Indicates the club's general shape and whether it's forged or cast. Generally, irons fall into two shape categories–blades or cavity-backs. Size: Three sizes listed–standard, midsize and oversize. Clubs: Lists the clubs available in the line, wedge options and left-hand availability. Shaft(s): The stock graphite and steel shaft offerings from the manufacturer._Ê Tech Talk Offset Is Good–Discuss By Don Wood For Golfers Only! GT Equipment Panel Illustration By Phil Frank"©
The offset feature of an iron refers to the blade position in relation to the shaft axis. When viewed from the player's perspective, increased offset means that the leading edge of the blade is shifted back from the forward side of the neck of the iron. If the leading edge protrudes in front of the hosel, the iron is called "face progressed."
Average golfers and those who struggle with slicing benefit from offset irons in two ways: 1) it helps them to get the ball airborne easily; and 2) it reduces the tendency to slice the ball, especially with long irons.
Offset affects the rotational behavior of the clubhead because the shaft and CG of the head are naturally balanced to be in line with one another. When the clubhead is moved away from the shaft axis, the effect is that of more face closure as the head approaches the ball just prior to impact. This is why it's easier to draw the ball with an offset iron.
Offset also has a direct effect on CG. By shifting the clubhead back relative to the shaft axis, the CG is moved as well. Offset irons impart less spin and often produce higher launch angles, which is why offset is a prominent feature in game-improvement designs.
Adams IDEA a2 www.adamsgolf.com (800) 709-6142 | $499 ($599 graphite)
Tour-inspired short irons, hollow-back mid-irons and 3 and 4 hybrid iWoods. Features: A progressive set with Tour-inspired hybrid woods to replace the long irons. The iWoods are state-of-the-art, while the hollow-body mid-irons make for a smooth transition between the cavity-back short irons and the hybrids. Advantages: Excellent game-improvement benefits in each section of the set with a shape and profile even better players will find pleasing. Benefits: It's certainly a game-improvement set, but one that isn't limited to higher-handicap golfers. What We Like: The shape_â–a great example of "classic modern." Lineup: GT 2, IDEA A1 Pro, IDEA, IDEA A1, IDEA a2, IDEA a2 OS, IDEA a2 OS Senior Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back irons, cast hybrid iWoods Size: Midsize Clubs: 5-PW, GW, SW, LW; 1-4 iWood (no LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynalite steel (S, R); Aldila NV-85 graphite (S, R)
Bridgestone J33 Forged Cavity Back www.bridgestonegolf.com (800) 356-6319 | $899 ($999 graphite)
We loved last year's J33 Forged Blades, but are thankful for the new extra dose of forgiveness. Features: A medium-sized cavity and traditional lines with rolled leading edges for superb playability. Inside, a horizontal shift of the CG in each iron makes the short clubs extra-stable and the longer irons much easier to hit. Advantages: What's not to like about a near-perfect marriage between classic construction, feel, design and game-improvement technology? Benefits: If you need forgiveness but want an iron that screams "player," this is your club. What We Like: Performance aside, we love the look and Bridgestone's dedication to quality during every step of the manufacturing process. Lineup: J33 Forged Blade, J33 Forged Combo, J33 Forged Cavity Back Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged cavity-back Size: Midsize Clubs: 1-PW (no LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (X, S, R); Aldila NV Pro 105 graphite (X, S, R)Callaway Big Bertha www.callawaygolf.com (800) 588-9836 | $760 ($1,000 steel)
Callaway has been a game-improvement iron leader for years, but nothing in its past can match the level of forgiveness achieved with the new BB. Features: Callaway's core game-improvement technologies (S2H2, VFT and True Bore shaft) with extreme perimeter weighting via an undercut channel and notch weighting. Advantages: The notch weighting and undercut channel take perimeter weighting and club stabilization to all-new levels. Benefits: Offers everything a golfer looking for game-improvement performance could want. What We Like: Never having to worry about mis-hits ever again and the constant-width sole. Lineup: Big Bertha Fusion, X-Tour, X-18 Pro Series, X-18, Big Bertha Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize_Ê Clubs: 2-PW, GW, SW, LW (available LH)_Ê Shaft(s): Royal Precision Micro Taper steel (uniflex); Callaway Golf graphite (S, R, A) Cleveland CG4 www.clevelandgolf.com (800) 999-6263 | $864 ($1,000 graphite)
Cleveland's softer-feeling, vibration-absorbing Carbon Metal Matrix (CMM) material takes shape as a cavity-back iron. Features: CMM, a revolutionary material that's said to be less dense and 15% softer than carbon steel. Advantages: The CMM allows for a redistribution of weight to key areas for extra perimeter weighting, a high MOI and an extra-large strike area. Benefits: The CG4 is an iron with which all skill levels will find favor. Better players might prefer the newly introduced CG4 Tour. What We Like: The extra-low CG and wider sole–these clubs are a blast to hit! Lineup: CG1, CG2, CG4 Tour, CG4, Launcher Launcher LP, TA6 Clubhead: Carbon Metal Matrix Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsize Clubs: 1-PW, GW, SW (available LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (S, R, A); Cleveland Tour Action graphite (S, R, A)
Cleveland Launcher LP www.clevelandgolf.com (800) 999-6263 | $500
Cleveland's Launcher iron was a major step forward in the game-improvement arena. The new LP version offers even more forgiveness and the ability to launch long irons high and long. Features: The new LPs retain many of the features of the original Launcher, including a cavity that spans nearly the entire length of the clubface, a low and deep CG and an ultra-high MOI. The LPs differ in the low-profile head shape of the long irons. Advantages: Extreme forgiveness, high-launch ability and less loss of distance on off-center hits. Benefits: Those who desire a higher ballflight. What We Like: The look–plenty of technological help, but a very classy profile. Lineup: CG1, CG2, CG4 Tour, CG4, Launcher, Launcher LP, TA6 Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize_Ê Clubs: 3-PW, GW, SW (available LH)_Ê Shaft(s): Cleveland Action Lite steel (S, R, Al, L)
Cobra Inertia Series www.cobragolf.com (800) 917-3300 $560-$750 ($680-$875 graphite)
Regardless of whether you're a man, woman or a senior golfer, or if you like to hit the ball extra-high, high or just medium-high, there's an Inertia iron for you. Features: A superior Sweet Zone, resulting in greater accuracy and distinct launch characteristics. Each iron has an inertia rating that relates to the degree of forgiveness and particular trajectory provided by each model. Advantages: An undercut cavity allows for specific feel, forgiveness and launch characteristics. Benefits: All golfers will find favor with the Inertia Series. Better players should opt for the I/M. What We Like: The undercut cavity is filled with a urethane plug for great vibration absorption and feel. Lineup: 2300 I/M, 3100 I/H (men's, women's, seniors), 3400 I/XH (men's, women's, seniors) Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize_Ê Clubs: 1-PW, GW, SW, LW Shaft(s): Nippon steel (X, S, R, A, L); GD YS-5.1 graphite (X, S, R, A, L)Element 21 Eagle One LGL www.e21golf.com (800) 710-2021 | $1,200
An aerospace-grade polymer insert bolsters the Eagle One LGL's perimeter weighting and effectively lowers the CG. If you think the clubhead is cool, check out the shaft. Features: E21's breakthrough Scandium shaft, which is stronger and lighter than steel but more consistent and durable than graphite. Also, ShockBlok technology redirects vibration away from the hands into the golf ball for better distance and feel._Ê Advantages: The lightweight Scandium shafts promise an increase in swing speed. Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers who want maximum distance with the weight advantages of graphite and the consistency and feel of steel. What we Like: Scandium is new to golf, but we anticipate it will soon be a must-have alloy. Lineup: E21 Eagle One LGL Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsize_Ê Clubs: 3-PW, SW (no_Ê LH) Shaft(s): E21 Scandium alloy (X, S, R, A, L) Infiniti Assure www.infinitigolf.com (800) 253-6370 | $349 (5-PW)
Designed for the player who wants game-improvement performance without the hunky looks. The Assure irons are flat-out easy to hit. Features: The dual-stepped flange sole enables golfers to strike down on the ball while stabilizing the face from twisting for straighter, more accurate shots. Advantages: The oversized clubface of the Assure iron is enlarged out toward the toe (where most mis-hits occur). Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers who prefer traditional looks at address but don't want to sacrifice looks for game-improvement characteristics. What We Like: The dual-flange sole prevents both thin shots and excessive digging. It's hard to miss with that combination. Lineup: AW-3, 422, Assure, 302 Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsize Clubs: 5-PW (available LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (S, R, A, L)
KZG OC-1/OCx-1 www.kzgolf.com (800) 200-8800 | $479 ($579 graphite)
Custom-fit leader KZG is known for its forged blades and cavity-backs. Yet recently, the company is pushing high-quality game-improvement models. The OC-1 features a little of both worlds. Features: A cast, stainless-steel cavity-back model that undergoes a special heat treatment process to soften the steel and create "the feel of forged." Perimeter-weighted forgiveness doesn't compromise the traditional feel and look. Advantages: Great blend of playability and forgiveness with the added bonus of customization. Benefits: The OC-1 is an iron for everyone. What We Like: Options–if you like graphite shafts, opt for the heavier OCx-1 head. Lineup: Blade, Evolution, Cavity Back, Cavity Back-II, Cavity Back-II-M, PC-III, OC-1, U-Irons Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize Clubs: 3-PW, GW, SW (no LH) Shaft(s): KZG offers complete shaft customization in both graphite and steelLouisville LCD.31 www.louisvillegolf.com (800) 456-1631 | $499 ($599 graphite)
You may associate Louisville Golf with only persimmon woods, but the LCd.31 is an iron that will definitely change that perception. Features: State-of-the-art game-improvement features, such as an undercut cavity, perimeter weighting, a wide sole and a low and deep CG. Advantages: The no-nonsense game-improvement design works, and if you have difficulty launching the ball high, then the LCd.31s will help. Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers. What We Like: This iron has the design features that translate into easier iron shots, yet it looks great at address. Plus, you can have your name stamped on the cavity for free! Lineup: LCd.31, SMART System Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsize_Ê Clubs: 3-PW, GW, SW, LW (no LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (S, R, A, L); Louisville REM-Z graphite (X, S, R, A, L)_Ê
MacGregor MacTec NVG2 www.macgregorgolf.com (800) 841-4358 | $699 ($799 graphite)
A technological marvel impressive in its modern looks, design and performance. Features: Several noteworthy design elements make the NVG2 a game-improvement wonder. The Cup Face 360__ design creates a high-rebound strike surface for extra distance. Hollow-body construction creates the desired low and deep CG while tungsten weights fine-tune the CG in each iron for optimum forgiveness and trajectory. Advantages: These irons are very easy to hit (and we do mean easy). Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers will certainly save strokes with the NVG2. What We Like: The face–maraging steel, no welds, extra pop and an extra-wide COR area. Lineup: N675 Forged Blades, MacTec Forged M685, MacTec NVG2 Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Maraging steel Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize Clubs: 3-PW (no LH) Shaft(s): Micro-Step steel (S, R, A, L); Triple Action graphite (S, R, A, L)Mizuno MP-60 www.mizunousa.com (800) 966-1211 | $849
Mizuno debuted its Cut Muscle design in '05 with the MP-32 and now ups the ante with game-improvement features in the larger MP-60. Features: Cut Muscle technology produces the ideal CG and great forgiveness and stability. Grain Flow Forged carbon steel is used for incredible sound and feel. Advantages: The MP-60 is 4% bigger than the MP-32 and has a 10% larger sweet spot. Benefits: While still a players' iron, the MP-60 is easy to hit and the feel is superb. Nonetheless, high-handicappers need not apply. What We Like: Mizuno still makes the best lead and trail edges in the business–contact is always extra-crisp. Lineup: MP-33, MP-37, MP-32, MP-30, MP-60, MX-22, MX-17, MX-900 Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged muscleback Size: Midsize Clubs: 2-PW (available LH) Shaft(s): True Temper Dynamic Gold (S, R)
Nickent 3DX www.nickentgolf.com (888) NICKENT | $499 ($599 graphite)
Veteran iron designer John Hoeflich makes game-improvement magic in his first design for Nickent. Features: An oversized, wide-cavity design with tungsten polymer inserts. Advantages: The design and insert structure makes for everything a game-improvement iron needs–forgiveness, stability, a low CG and a higher launch angle. Benefits: More traditional golfers and better players may shy away from the modern looks, but mid- to high-handicap players will praise the 3DX's heightened performance. What We Like: The thin, high-COR face–expect some distance gains with each iron in the set. Lineup: Genex ARC, Genex 3DX, 3DX Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversize_Ê Clubs: 3-PW, GW, SW (available LH)_Ê Shaft(s): True Temper ST-90 steel (uniflex); UST Speedrated 2 graphite (X, S, R, L)
Nike Slingshot OSS www.nikegolf.com $799 ($899 graphite)
The second-generation Slingshot irons are easier to hit than the originals. Features: The CG has been moved even farther beyond the face by deepening the Slingback design, widening the sole and utilizing a light steel face. Advantages: Ultimate forgiveness. Benefits: This is the club for high-handicappers. Better players will find favor with the Slingshot Tour. What We Like: The 3-D Flow Weighting. The long irons have weight concentrated low and rearward and, as the irons get shorter, the Slingback design shifts weight higher and toward the toe to help better control trajectory and spin. Lineup: Forged, Pro Combo Tour, Pro Combo OS, Slingshot Tour, NDS, Slingshot, Slingshot OSS Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Carpenter steel Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversized Clubs: 2-PW, GW, SW (available LH)_Ê Shaft(s): Nike Speed Step Lite steel (X, S, R, A); Nike iDiamana CW-Light graphite (X, S, R, A)
_Ê Tech Talk The Big Deal About CG By Don Wood For Golfers Only! GT Equipment Panel Illustration By Phil Frank_©
While sometimes mistakenly referred to as the sweet spot, the CG, or center of gravity, location of an iron is crucial to its performance. Not only does CG location have a great deal to do with the type and amount of spin an iron creates, it also directly affects ballfight, forgiveness and overall performance._Ê_Ê
A lower CG helps to get the ball airborne by promoting a more vertical (higher) launch angle by placing the club's center of gravity below the equator of the golf ball. Similarly, a CG location that's back along the target line (away from the clubface) will impart reduced spin with a high launch angle. This combination tends to produce high, low-spinning shots that travel a maximum distance with minimal sidespin. Most recreational golfers are recommended to use so-called game-improvement irons that feature low and deep CGs for this exact reason. Long-iron alternatives (hybrids) also work very well because their CG is much lower and deeper into the head than that of comparable irons, thus producing much higher trajectories.
Another key benefit of a low and deep CG location is significantly enhanced forgiveness. Although most golfers associate perimeter weighting with forgiveness, a low and deep CG also has a great deal to do with a club's forgiveness simply by making it much easier to get the ball airborne, regardless of where on the face contact is made. Any golfer whose ballstriking and swing speed isn't strong enough to produce adequat