Golf Irons: How to Buy the Best Irons for Your GamePublished on 05/15/2023 · 13 min readWith so many options when it comes to irons, it can be difficult to choose! Golfing Expert Joe Mallock gives a rundown of how to decide on the right irons for you!
Photo by Courtney Cook
TL;DR: When buying golf irons, consider your skill level, clubhead design (cavity-back or blade), shaft material (steel or graphite), shaft flex (regular, stiff, or extra-stiff), loft and lie angles, and set composition.
As a Curated Golfing Expert for the past year, I've worked with hundreds of customers to recommend the right irons for their game, which requires extensive knowledge about the clubs available on the market. In addition, as a contributing writer and author, I dive deep into each brand's irons to discover what separates their product lines and how they stand out from their competitors.
I know what a difference it makes when a golfer plays the right irons for their game. The ball launches on a better trajectory, each swing generates more distance, and accuracy improves as well. A new set of irons can radically improve your game, so picking the right set is the key. So let's do an iron review!
What Are Irons?
Golf irons are a type of golf club used for various shots on the course. They feature a flat, angled clubface and grooves that impart spin on the golf ball for control and distance. Irons are numbered 1-9, with higher numbers indicating shorter shafts and more loft, resulting in higher, shorter shots. Plus, all sets of irons include a Pitching Wedge (PW), and some include a Gap Wedge (GW) and Attack Wedge (AW). The PW, GW, and AW are all shorter than a 9-iron and produce more lofted shots.
Golfers use irons for approach shots, tee shots on shorter holes, or shots from difficult lies. Different designs cater to players' skill levels, helping them achieve optimal distance, accuracy, and ball flight.
What to Consider When Buying Irons
1. What Is Your Skill Level and Playing Style?
Determine if blade irons, cavity-back irons, or game improvement irons are most suitable for your skill level and playing style, considering factors like forgiveness, control, and shot-shaping ability.
2. What Shaft Material and Flex Are Appropriate for You?
Choose between steel or graphite shafts based on your swing speed, strength, and desired feel. Additionally, determine the appropriate shaft flex (regular, stiff, or extra-stiff) based on your swing speed and consistency.
3. What Is Your Budget? How Much Should Irons Cost?
For a set, golf irons can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. As a general rule, clubs that cost $300 are entry-level clubs. You'll find higher quality clubs from $400-$900; from $1,000-$1,500, you'll find premium clubs. However, don't pick a new set of irons based only on the price. A set of irons for $800 can pack a ton of technology and feel for a low-handicap golfer, and another set for the same price can offer game improvement and forgiveness for a high handicapper.
In short, there are irons out there to fit every budget and skill level. You can have quality and affordability.
4. How Many Irons Do You Need in Your Set?
Most golf iron sets now include a 4-iron through Pitching Wedge (PW). However, many golfers opt for customized sets, potentially replacing long irons (3-5) with hybrids or adding extra wedges for improved short-game performance.
What Are the Different Types of Irons?
There are three main types of iron golf clubs, each catering to different skill levels and preferences:
1. Blade Irons and Muscle-Back Irons
Blade irons have a thin clubface, a small sweet spot, and a solid back. They have a softer feel and provide excellent feedback and control, allowing skilled players to shape their shots. Due to their minimal forgiveness, blade irons are recommended for low-handicap golfers. Muscle backs have a little more forgiveness, but not much, and are still only recommended for highly skilled players.
- Excellent control and shot-shaping ability: Skilled players can manipulate the ball's trajectory more easily with blade irons.
- Enhanced feedback: The solid construction provides better feedback, allowing players to identify mishits and make adjustments.
- Aesthetically appealing: Many golfers appreciate blade irons' sleek, classic design.
Keep in Mind
- Less forgiving: Blade irons have a small sweet spot, making them more challenging for players with inconsistent swings.
- Not suitable for beginners or high-handicap players: These irons are better suited for low-handicap golfers due to reduced forgiveness.
2. Cavity-Back Irons
These irons feature a hollowed-out back, redistributing weight to the clubhead's perimeter and increasing forgiveness on off-center hits. Cavity-back irons are suited for mid-handicap to high-handicap players who seek improved consistency and distance.
- Greater forgiveness: The hollowed-out back and perimeter weighting increase forgiveness on off-center hits.
- Improved consistency: Cavity-back irons help mid- to high-handicap golfers achieve better shot consistency and distance.
- Easier to hit: The larger sweet spot makes cavity-back irons more user-friendly than blade irons.
Keep in Mind
- Reduced feedback: Cavity-back irons dampen vibrations, providing less feedback on mishits.
- Limited shot-shaping: These irons are less versatile for shot manipulation compared to blade irons.
3. Game Improvement Irons
This is a category of cavity-back irons, and game improvement irons have larger clubheads, wider soles, and more offset. They are designed to provide maximum forgiveness and higher launch angles for beginners and high-handicap golfers.
- Maximum forgiveness: The larger clubhead, wider soles, and increased offset provide optimal forgiveness for beginners and high-handicap players.
- Higher launch angles: The design and low center of gravity promote higher ball flight, making it easier to get the ball airborne.
- Enhanced distance: Game improvement irons often have strong lofts, increasing distance on well-struck shots.
Keep in Mind
- Limited control and shot-shaping: These irons prioritize forgiveness over versatility, making them less suitable for players seeking advanced shot manipulation.
- Bulky appearance: Some golfers may find the larger clubhead and wider soles visually unappealing or difficult to handle.
Some golfers opt for a mixed set, combining blade or cavity-back irons for shorter clubs (8-iron through wedges) and game improvement irons for longer clubs (3-iron through 7-iron), to balance control and forgiveness.
Features to Look for When Buying Irons
When selecting irons, consider the following features to find the best match for your playing style and needs:
- Shaft Material: Select between steel (heavier, more durable, and consistent) or graphite (lighter, more flexible, and shock-absorbing) shafts depending on your preferences, swing speed, and strength.
- Shaft Flex: Identify the appropriate shaft flex (regular, stiff, or extra-stiff) based on your swing speed and consistency. Some golfers may require softer and more forgiving senior or ladies' flex options.
- Loft and Lie Angles: Customizing your irons' loft and lie angles can improve ball flight, distance, and accuracy. A professional club fitting can help determine the right specifications for your swing.
- Grip Size and Material: Choose a grip size and material that feels comfortable and secure in your hands, providing optimal control and feedback during your swing.
- Offset and Sole Width: Consider irons with more offset and wider soles if you struggle with getting the ball airborne or tend to slice the ball, as these features promote higher launch angles and straighter ball flight.
- Set Composition: Determine the ideal combination of irons, hybrids, and wedges for your bag based on your strengths, weaknesses, and course conditions.
By evaluating these features, you can find a set of irons that best suits your game and helps improve your performance on the golf course.
Features to Avoid in Irons
Avoiding features that do not match your skill level, swing characteristics, or personal preferences when buying irons is essential. Keep the following points in mind:
- Inappropriate clubhead design: Avoid blade irons if you are a high-handicap or beginner golfer, as they offer less forgiveness and may hinder your progress. Similarly, low-handicap players seeking greater control and workability should avoid game improvement irons.
- Incorrect shaft material and flex: Using a shaft material or flex that does not match your swing speed and strength can lead to inconsistent shots, reduced distance, and improper ball flight. Avoid overly stiff or too flexible shafts, and choose the right material for your needs.
- Poorly fitted clubs: Avoid purchasing irons with incorrect lengths, lie angles, or lofts, as these can negatively impact your swing mechanics, accuracy, and consistency. Consider a professional club fitting to ensure optimal specifications.
- Oversized or undersized grips: Grips that are too large or too small for your hands may lead to a loss of control, reduced feel, and inconsistent shots. Choose grips with the appropriate size and material for your comfort and playing style.
- Unnecessary or gimmicky features: Avoid irons with unproven technology, excessive marketing claims, or features that do not align with your specific needs. Stick to reputable brands and models that have been tested and reviewed by professionals and other golfers.
By avoiding features that do not suit your game, you can make a more informed decision when purchasing a set of irons and ultimately enhance your performance on the golf course.
How to Choose the Right Irons for You
Persona 1: Beginner Golfer and Casual Player
Needs: Forgiveness, ease of use, affordability
Advice: Focus on game improvement irons with larger clubheads, wider soles, and more offset for maximum forgiveness and higher launch angles. Look for cavity-back designs and graphite shafts to reduce weight and increase swing speed. A hybrid set with fewer long irons and additional hybrids can make the game more enjoyable. Consider purchasing used or discounted sets from reputable brands to save money while learning the game.
Unlocked Potential: Greater enjoyment, faster progress, and increased confidence on the course.
Irons to consider:
- TaylorMade SIM2 Max Irons: This game improvement iron is packed with forgiveness and power thanks to the cavity back design and perimeter weighting around the clubhead. You'll still get a surprisingly good result whether you miss on the toe of the club or the heel. These are easy-to-hit irons and a perfect choice for beginner golfers and casual players, especially those who prefer to play a well-known brand like TaylorMade.
- Tour Edge Hot Launch C523 Irons: These irons feature a low center of gravity (CG) to make it easier to launch your iron shots like a pro. Plus, the offset clubface design makes it easier to connect squarely with the ball, which helps lots of beginners who struggle with a slice. Tour Edge is not as well-known of a manufacturer, but it's just as high of quality as the other irons on this list, making it the best value option.
- Cleveland Launcher XL Halo Irons: Yes, the design looks a little funky. These irons have wide soles, so wide that they almost look like hybrids. And that’s the point! The club's wide sole helps it glide through the surface during contact with the ball, preventing chunking and making it easier to connect consistently with the ball. If you’ve ever gone to the driving range and fallen in love with how easy it was to hit a hybrid, you should strongly consider these irons. The feeling will be similar.
Persona 2: Intermediate Golfer and Weekend Warrior
Needs: Consistency, improved accuracy, moderate forgiveness
Advice: Consider cavity-back irons that offer a balance between forgiveness and control. Steel shafts with the appropriate flex can provide better consistency and feel. A mixed set with game-improvement long irons and cavity-back short irons can optimize performance throughout the bag. Look for irons with moderate offset and sole width to promote straighter shots and improve turf interaction. A professional club fitting can help fine-tune club specifications.
Unlocked Potential: Lower scores, more consistent ball striking, and the ability to tackle various course conditions
Irons to consider:
- Titleist T200 Irons: If your goal is to become a better player, ball striker, and scorer, then the T200 irons should be at the top of your list. The progressive set design means the longer irons are optimized for distance and forgiveness, so your 4-iron will go longer and straighter, helping you keep the ball in play and increasing the chances of making par. And the shorter, scoring irons are optimized for control and accuracy, so you’ll be sticking your 8-iron, 9-iron, and PW tighter to the pin with a chance to make more birdies.
- Callaway Paradym Irons: If you’re focused on this section of the article, odds are you’ve played with big, cavity-back irons, and you’re ready to advance your game. If you’re looking for a premium forged feel, extra distance, and players’ shape, the Paradym irons are the way to go. But don’t worry. If you’re not playing your best on a given day, these irons are built to give you lots of forgiveness, too. These irons offer a perfect balance of feel, power, and forgiveness.
- TaylorMade P7 Muscle Cavity Irons: These player irons are for the intermediate golfer who’s on the verge of becoming a low handicapper. The muscle cavity provides a little forgiveness for mishits but is not as forgiving as the other options on this list. You choose the P7MC irons because you’re a solid ball striker and want to start shaping your shots. For example, if it’s a windy day and you want to hit a low cut or if you need to bend a high draw around the trees, these clubs will enable you to change the shape and trajectory of your shots.
Persona 3: Advanced Golfer and Avid Competitor
Needs: Control, shot-shaping ability, precise feedback
Advice: Opt for blade or muscle-back irons that offer excellent control and workability, allowing for greater shot-shaping and precise distance control. Choose steel shafts with the appropriate flex for optimal feel and consistency, likely stiff or extra stiff. Custom fitting to ensure the correct length, lie angle, loft, and grip size is crucial for maximizing performance. Research the latest technology and materials from premium brands for the best quality and performance.
Unlocked Potential: Enhanced shot-making capabilities, precise distance control, and improved ability to navigate challenging course setups.
Irons to consider:
- Mizuno Pro 225 Irons: Mizuno irons are arguably the best golf irons and are the gold standard for players' irons and blades (in this author's opinion). The MP225 irons offer a perfect balance of soft feel, exceptional distance, and the ability to shape shots. If you are a confident ball striker and want compact blade-length irons to match your skills, these irons should be on your shortlist.
- Titleist 620 MB Irons: Muscle back irons are a great choice because they are forged, which gives them exceptional feel and control, so skilled golfers can control the shape and height of their shots. The advantage of a muscle back over a blade is the extra forgiveness. Even the best golfers mishit shots on occasion. When the difference between 150 yards and 148 yards is hitting the green or landing in the water, the muscle back can help ensure that even a slight mishit reaches the green.
- Srixon ZX7 MKII Irons: Just because you’re an advanced golfer doesn’t mean your irons must look like a spinach leaf. These irons have a thin topline, a narrow sole, and the shot-making abilities of the other irons, but at the same time, there is much more forgiveness. Brooks Koepka is one of the best tour pros in the world, and he plays the Srixon ZX7 4-PW. Why? Because he knows that the extra forgiveness in these clubs helps improve his percentage of greens in regulation, and if he needs to, he can still shape his shots with these irons.
Playing the right irons can improve your game dramatically and make the game more fun. Is your goal to keep the ball in play, hit more greens in regulation, or go after the pin whenever possible? The answers to those questions will help you determine the best clubs to play. And if you aren’t sure, that’s why the Curated Experts are here to help. We’ll help ask you the right questions to guide you through the process and figure out the best irons for your game together!