Iron design has been evolving since the earliest days of golf. Though crude and often unwieldy, the first primitive tools quickly proved to be indispensable in situations where accuracy was the primary goal. In the modern era, the iron has become the staple of the set, and accordingly, iron designs are now better than ever. Of course, muscleback blades are still around for the most accomplished players, with some that actually incorporate advanced technologies to make them more player-friendly than your father's VIPs or Goosenecks. Game-improvement designs, which now dominate the iron market, feature multi-material, perimeter-weighted designs that allow all types of players to hit towering approach shots from all types of lies. And what's left in between? Combo sets, which meld the best of shotmaking in short irons, and extreme forgiveness in the shape of a hybrid as a long-iron replacement. So you ask, have we come a long way since the early days of raw iron and hickory shafts? You bet we have.
Be Picky! When it comes to irons, golfers tend to get picky. Reason being, irons are quite sophisticated and each set is designed to accommodate a different type of player. This begs the question, what kind of player are you? Do you like to work the ball? Is distance a big factor for you? Either way you slice it (no pun intended), choosing the right iron set means selecting the most important clubs in your bag. Why? Not only are there more irons in your bag than any other club (even though that number is decreasing), you're more likely to hit more iron shots than you will with any other club except for your putter. So, before you spend a few dollars, assess what kind of irons you want, what you want them to do and, most importantly, GET FITTED. Iron fitting is a must if you truly want to see better results, and don't forget to get the right shafts. That, too, can make a big impact.
A New Tradition Though the forged blade is slowly becoming only a bit player in the iron game, they still look and feel the best—if you can handle them. For those with the talent, blades like Mizuno's MP-67s are more advanced and even a bit more player-friendly than the old-school models that hacked up golf courses all through the '70s and '90s. Features like Mizuno's Cut Muscle and Grain Flow Forging techniques now allow for true blades that dampen some unwanted vibration on mis-hits and provide superior shotmaking consistency. Other advances to look for in the blade market are new clubhead materials, a variety of sole grinds and degrees of offset, progressive set makeup and outstanding custom-fitting options.
Techno-Blades Better players still demand irons that feature a specific type of profile. Limited offset, thin toplines, relatively sharp sole designs with less bounce and compact clubheads are all part of the formula. But even the best players in the world are less concerned with appearances and more with performance these days, and players' clubs are slowly but surely taking on a new look. Exhibit A is TaylorMade's r7 TP, which is built with all the aforementioned players' characteristics and more. Most notably, TaylorMade engineers designed the TP with the company's Inverted Cone Technology, which increases COR for greater ball speed, more distance and enhanced forgiveness. Basically, it's a game-improvement blade, believe it or not.
Hollow Bodies Are Here To Stay Game-improvement is a relative term. For some, it means a blade with a tiny bit more offset or a slightly wider sole, while some expect sole weights, graphite shafts and flexible clubfaces. When it comes to iron designs, however, many players wouldn't expect what the HiBore irons bring to the table. Featuring Cleveland's Inverted Crown Design and Full Hollow Construction, the HiBores are more hybrid, less iron, with the performance to prove it. A low and deep CG location promotes high launch angles throughout the set, making it easy for all players, even those with slower swing speeds, to get the ball airborne with an optimal trajectory. An extremely wide sole and added sole weight enhance performance from all types of lies.
Multi-Material Performance Some companies like Nickent have taken a unique and innovative approach to iron design by letting go of the old and being brave enough to bring in the new. Spearheaded by industry veteran John Hoeflich, the 3DX irons are a great example of what a club designer can do with a bit of creativity and a bunch of different materials. Consisting of a composite cap and two heavy steel plugs at the rear heel and toe areas of the clubhead, which is hollow, by the way, the 3DX Hybrid is made to launch the ball high and produce maximum distance. Mated with matching hybrid woods that are designed specifically to bridge the necessary distance gaps, the 3DX set could be the model for what will become the standard in iron design in the very near future.
Understanding Our Charts Clubhead: The primary material from which the club is either forged or cast, usually a form of stainless steel or softer-feeling carbon steel. Clubface: The material used for the strike area. Design: Here you'll find whether the club is forged or cast and its general shape. Basically, irons fall into two shape categories—blades or cavity-backs. Size: Standard, midsize or oversize. Clubs: Lists the clubs available in the line, the presence of extra wedge options and whether or not the clubs are available for lefties. Shafts: These are the stock graphite and steel shaft offerings. Almost all irons are available with custom shaft options, however. See the manufacturers' Websites for more details. Features: The primary design elements that make the iron noteworthy. Advantages: How the primary design elements are meant to elevate the club's performance. Benefits: A general recommendation as to which skill level or player type would best be served by the iron model in question. What We Like: We have our preferences, too. A quick description of what impressed us in our review and on-course testing. Lineup: The other models available from the manufacturer.
Adams IDEA Pro Forged adamsgolf.com (800) 709-6142 | $799 The new IDEA Pro Forged combo set from Adams proves that even the best players in the world have opted for iron/hybrid sets. Features: The irons are classically shaped with no offset and forged for a Tour-wanted, soft, resounding feel. The thin topline gives better players the look they like. Advantages: It's not all irons here. This set has two hybrids that replace the 3- and 4-iron to help make the task, from 190 yards and up, a less difficult one. Benefits: This set is designed for the better player, but don't let that deter you if you want forgiveness. What We Like: The irons are smooth and have a buttery feel. The hybrids are easy to hit. Lineup: IDEA Tech OS, IDEA a2 OS, IDEA a2, IDEA Pro Forged Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged cavity-back Size: Midsize Clubs: 5-PW, 3-, 4-iWood (available LH) Shafts: True Temper Black Gold (S, R); Aldila NV graphite (S, R) Bridgestone GC Midsize bridgestonegolf.com (800) 358-6319 | $699
The latest iron from Bridgestone has the ideal genetic makeup for the player looking to hit better shots. Features: The uniquely shaped cavity of the new GC Midsize irons has a Gravity Chamber aperture in the back, further enhancing the iron's MOI and perimeter weighting. Advantages: The Gravity Discs located on the corners of the irons aid in keeping weight away from the center of the clubface and more toward the heel and toe. The results are short irons for shotmaking and long irons for forgiveness. Benefits: Just about everybody will see better results from the GC Midsize. If more forgiveness is needed, the GC Oversize irons are a great choice. What We Like: Great looks married with outstanding performance. Awesome! Lineup: GC Oversize, GC Midsize, J33 Cavity Back, J33 Blade Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 3-SW Shafts: Nippon N.S.Pro 950GH steel (S, R)Callaway X-Forged callawaygolf.com (800) 588-9836 | $799
Better players will be drooling over this slick new iron from Callaway. Features: The X-Forged is shorter (from heel to toe) and has less offset than other Callaway irons. Advantages: The X-Forged has a thinner sole and topline than any other Callaway iron, but seemingly, these irons remain more forgiving and playable than a standard set of blades. The Notch-Weighting design provides the needed blend of forgiveness and shotmaking ability. Benefits: Low-handicappers and elite players. What We Like: These look great, and the low CG in the long irons helps with forgiveness. The raised CG in the short irons makes them versatile. Lineup: BB Fusion, BB Fusion WS, Big Bertha, X-18, X-18 Pro, X-20, X-20 Tour, X-Tour, X-Forged Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged cavity-back Size: Standard Clubs: 2-PW (available LH) Shafts: Royal Precision Project X Flighted steel (X, S, R) Callaway X-20 callawaygolf.com (800) 588-9836 | $699
The hippest Callaway iron to date is also the company's best. Features: Thanks to a Progressive Wall Reduction System design, the new X-20 has a lower CG than the older X-18s. Advantages: Extreme Notch Weighting and Callaway's Variable Face Thickness design lends ample perimeter weighting and stability, thus proving an easy-to-hit iron need not look clunky, but instead smooth and refined. Also, the 360-Degree Undercut Channel makes the sweet spot bigger. Benefits: Virtually all players can take advantage of Callaway's newest X-iron design. Better players can choose from the sexy X-20 Tour option. What We Like: The ball launches high and straight. Lineup: BB Fusion, Fusion WS, Big Bertha, X-20, X-20 Tour, X-Tour, X-Forged Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 2-LW (available LH) Shafts: True Temper Steel (uniflex); Callaway X-20 graphite (S, R, A) Cleveland HiBORE Irons clevelandgolf.com (800) 999-6263 | $599
We weren't sure where to classify this set at first, considering there's not a single "iron" in the mix. Features: Every club in the HiBORE iron set features Cleveland Golf's Inverted Crown Design and Full Hollow Construction, resulting in an "iron" with a deep and low CG. Frankly, the HiBORE Irons are the company's most forgiving irons ever. Advantages: A progressive sole width, bulge and roll on long irons and a high COR equate to the optimal blend of power and forgiveness in an iron set. Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers. What We Like: The HiBORE irons are easy to look at, and with minimal effort, the ball launches high with a penetrating trajectory. Lineup: HiBORE, Launcher, TA6, CG1, CG2, CG3, CG4, CG4 Tour Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Hollow-body Size: Oversized Clubs: 3-PW Shafts: HiBORE steel (S, R, A); HiBORE Silver by Graphite Design graphite (S, R, A) Cobra S9 cobragolf.com (800) 225-8500 | $599
According to Cobra, the S9 is "the most technologically advanced and most forgiving iron" made by the company. Features: Multi-material technology isn't just for drivers, as Cobra's new S9 proves it's possible to merge polymer and urethane with steel. Advantages: The polymer topline displaces a chunk of weight, and the urethane insert in the cavity of the iron yields a soft, unique feel. Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers can't help but love a set of irons that play like cavity-backs but have the feel of a forged blade. What We Like: Smooth looks and the optional Graphite Design graphite shafts are a nice touch. Lineup: S9, FP, Forged CB Clubhead: Stainless steel, polymer, urethane Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversized Clubs: 3-LW (available LH) Shafts: Nippon 1030H steel (S, R, A, L); Graphite Design YS-5.1 graphite (S, R, A, L)
F2 F2 Series Plus Irons f2golf.com (800) 476-0507 | $599
The popular, odd-shaped wedge line that's virtually unshankable is proud to introduce a full line of irons. Features: Like the wedges, the F2 Series Plus irons feature the company's Face-Forward design, which effectively places the hosel away from the leading edge of the irons, thus making them a cinch to hit. Advantages: The Face-Forward design not only eliminates shanked shots, but also is an effective means to prevent twisting from thick rough and in the sand. It's also effective from tight lies too, as it seems just as easy to make contact. Benefits: Geared toward the high-handicapper. What We Like: The fun-to-hit factor Lineup: F2 Series Plus Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 4-PW Shafts: F2 Proprietary graphite (S, R) HiPPO XXLHiPPO XXL hippo-golf.com (800) 204-2807 | $279
HiPPO does golfers a favor by replacing the hard-to-hit long irons with two hybrids. Features: An Extreme Launch System design that employs a deep, full cavity that effectively lowers the CG for a higher and longer ballflight. The two XXL hybrids replace the 3- and 4-irons, helping golfers not only hit the ball higher than they would with a long iron, but also straighter. Advantages: Mixed sets aren't new, but having a couple of hybrids makes a difference. Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers who need an extra boost with hybrids and who prefer perimeter-weighted irons. What We Like: The incredible price and HiPPO habit of providing outstanding value. Lineup: HiPPO XXL Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast progressive set Size: Midsized Clubs: 3, 4 hybrid; 5-PW (no LH) Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (S, R); HiPPO XXL graphite (S, R, A, L) Infiniti 658 infinitigolf.com (800) 253-6370 | $399
Smooth looks and classic lines dominate the newest gem from Infiniti Golf. Features: The 658 has minimal offset to attract better players and a 4-way cambered sole that affords supreme shotmaking versatility. Advantages: The relatively shallow cavity-back design gives better players the opportunity to work the ball without compromising the needed forgiveness found in a traditional cavity-back platform. The extra weight on the lower region of the cavity aids in stability and in lowering the CG. Benefits: Mid- to low-handicappers who want a classic, clean look from a cavity-back design. What We Like: The looks of the 658 are refreshing, and the 4-way cambered sole really makes a difference when hitting off varied surfaces. Lineup: 302, 422, 658, AW-3, Assure Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 3-LW (available LH) Shafts: Custom shafts are available upon request Innovex Type S innovexgolf.com (866) 402-6097 | $276
Designed to feel like a forged blade but perform with the strength of a cast cavity-back. Features: The large, undercut cavity-channel elevates the MOI and lowers the CG, resulting in iron shots that fly high and straight. The enhanced perimeter weighting enlarges the hitting area on the clubface, for minimal loss of distance on off-center strikes and mis-hits. Advantages: The two-way cambered sole lends exceptional shotmaking abilities from anywhere. Benefits: Average players who want the forgiveness of a wide sole, a hefty cavity and progressive offset through the set. What We Like: The looks are great, but its options, such as custom lie and loft configurations, really make the Type S a winner in our book. Lineup: Type S Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 4-PW (available LH) Shafts: FST Pro White steel (S, R); Custom graphite shafts are available KZG CB III kzgolf.com (800) 200-8800 | Custom Order
A solid blend of forgiveness and playability from a top-notch oversized design. Features: The CB III irons have moderate offset, a wide sole and a low CG to help get the ball airborne faster. The ample perimeter weighting ensures optimal forgiveness across an extended area of the clubface. Advantages: Typically, an iron designed for forgiveness is cast, but not with the CB III. These irons have the forgiveness of castings, but the feel of a forged blade. Nice! Benefits: Mid- to high-handicappers. What We Like: KZG has been popular for die-hard clubfitters, and judging by the look and performance of the CB III, KZG's success is destined to continue. Lineup: OC-1, MC-II, PC III, Evolution, CB III, CB II, CB, Blades, ZO Blades Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged cavity-back Size: Oversized Clubs: 3-SW Shafts: Complete shaft customization available Louisville LG33 louisvillegolf.com (800) 456-1631 | $749
From a company whose tradition is built on persimmon comes a beautiful new forged blade...or is it? Features: Designed for the purist (who probably uses wooden woods), the LG33 irons combine the feel of a forged blade with the rugged performance of a cast cavity-back design. Advantages: Better players will notice the forgiveness in the long irons, but will also revel in how versatile the short irons are when it comes to delicate shotmaking. The ballflight is a penetrating one, just like a what a pro would want, but not so low that the average player can't benefit._Ê Benefits: Moderate to skilled players. What We Like: The LG33 had us fooled! We really thought these were forged, even though they're not. Lineup: SMART, LCd.31, LG33 Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Same Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Standard Clubs: 3-LW Shafts: True Temper steel (X, S, R, A, L); Louisville Golf graphite (X, S, R, A, L)
Mizuno MP-67 mizunousa.com (800) 966-1211 | $849
Look for the new MP-67 to make a big impact this season. Features: The next generation of irons with Cut Muscle technology, the MP-67 irons use a more slender Cut Muscle design, which is slightly adjusted for each club to optimize that club's CG. Nice. Advantages: A slender cavity means more trajectory control, enhanced feel and better ball control. The rolled leading edge and trailing edge, as well as the cambered sole, make hitting a variety of shots from different lies an easier task. Benefits: Low-handicappers and professionals will reap the rewards of Mizuno's sexiest iron. What We Like: The slenderized MX-67 looks so good, golfers might be afraid to actually use them. Lineup: MX-17, 19, 23, 25, 900; MP-30, 32, 60, 67 Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged muscle-back Size: Standard Clubs: 2-PW Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold steel (X, S, R); Exsar IS2 Tour Spec graphite (X, S, R) MacGregor NVG2 Mid macgregorgolf.com (800) 841-4358 | $699
MacGregor's newest iron is ready to win. Features: Where to begin on this one! Cup Face 360 design, Hollow-Body Structure and a variable face thickness are just a few of the advantages in the NVG2 Mid. This is MacGregor's most forgiving and playable iron ever. Advantages: The Hollow-Body Structure moves the CG away from the face and the Cup Face 360 design creates a bigger and hotter hitting area across the clubface. The Triple Action shaft adds significant yardage. Benefits: All golfers who want ultimate forgiveness. What We Like: It looks powerful and is among the easiest to hit and longest irons we've tried this year. Lineup: NVG2, NVG2 Mid, M685, M675 Clubhead: Stainless steel Clubface: Maraging steel Design: Cast cavity-back Size: Oversized Clubs: 3-GW Shafts: Micro-Step steel (S, R); Fujikura Triple Action graphite (S, R, A) Mizuno MX-25 mizunousa.com (800) 966-1211 | $749
The MX-25 is poised to do what the MX-23 did for the game-improvement category: become the best-selling Mizuno iron. Features: The wide and deep CNC-milled cavity of each MX-25 iron affords what Mizuno calls H.E.M.I. (High Energy Mass Impact) COG, otherwise known as an iron with a very low CG and ample perimeter weighting. Advantages: By the way, this forgiving iron is Grain Flow Forged, resulting in one of the best-feeling irons ever made by Mizuno—cavity-back or not. Benefits: Even though these babies are designed for mid- to high-handicappers, don't be surprised to see the MX-25 irons in a Tour pro's bag. What We Like: The cambered sole and rolled edges are shaped to perfection. Lineup: MX-17, 19, 23, 25, 900; MP-30, 32, 60, 67 Clubhead: Carbon steel Clubface: Same Design: Forged cavity-back Size: Midsized Clubs: 3-PW (available LH) Shafts: True Temper Dynalite Gold Superlite steel (S, R); Exsar IS2 graphite (S, R, A, L) Nickent 3DX Hybrid nickentgolf.com (888) NICKENT | $599
Are these the longest irons ever? Give them a whack and see. Features: The most innovative iron ever from Nickent, the 3DX Hybrid irons combine a hollow-clubhead construction, a composite cap and two heavy steel plugs at the rear heel and toe regions for an iron that yields awesome power. Advantages: The hollow body shares COR and flight characteristics with fairway woods, and there are no traditional irons in the set. Benefits: Virtually all abilities who want significantly more distance from the fairway with not just long irons, but mid- and short irons as well. What We Like: The 3DX irons look great at address, and they're easily the most forgiving irons from Nickent. Lineup: 3DX Hybrid, 3DX, 3DX Pro, GENEX ARC Blades Clubhead: Stainless steel, carbon composite Clubface: Stainless steel Design: Cast hollow-body Size: Oversized Clubs: 3-4 Hybrid, 5-GW (available LH) Shafts: Nippon 850 steel (Uniflex); UST Speedrated 2 (S, R, A) Nike CCi nikegolf.com (888) 799-6453| $700
These irons sound and feel awesome. Features: The CCi irons feature a composite insert in the cavity, a Tungsten plug in the sole and two polymer-filled ports, resulting in an iron that yields a soft feel. Advantages: The CNC-milled face e