Utility Irons vs. Hybrid Clubs: The Rumble of the Long Irons

Published on 03/14/2023 · 7 min readGolf Expert Rob H. pits utility irons against hybrid clubs to see which one comes out on top—and helps you decide which one is right for you.
Rob H, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Rob H

Photo by Rob H.

In a space that has been dominated for years by hybrid golf clubs (aka rescue clubs for the TaylorMade fans out there), major club manufacturers have been bringing out utility irons to give you options for your long iron replacement. I have personally owned both types of clubs, mainly because of the hype on the particular clubs. I would switch them out every time I had a bad outing in hopes of some better forgiveness, accuracy, and scoring better with these longer clubs in the bag.

This has led me to the question, which one is the best for me? Time to go hit these side by side to see which one works better, and it might help you decide, too. Please don't hesitate to reach out to a Curated Expert anytime for advice on finding the right gear for your game. These clubs come with various club head models, flexes, steel or graphite shafts, and manufacturer technologies from brands like Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway, Srixon, PXG, and many others.

Utility Irons

The Srixon ZU85 above and the Ping G410 below. Photo by Rob H.

About five to six years ago, a few of the major club manufacturers started making driving irons in very strong lofted irons: 1-iron, 2-iron, and 3-iron, and down to the 5-iron. Over time, these have morphed into the utility iron. These are bigger iron heads with a wider sole, usually featuring a hollow-body construction to allow for easier launch than regular irons due to a lower center of gravity. Most often, they blend nicely into sets of irons; for example, the Srixon ZU85 blends well into the Z585 set.

Utility irons are usually larger than your typical iron. They are not super game improvement irons by any means but are more forgiving for mishits towards the heel or toe than a typical blade iron. Typically they have the same amount of offset that you would find on a players distance iron; they have some offset but not a lot. Also, the loft options are usually on the stronger side. Look at the TaylorMade P790 UDI, which only has a #2-17 degree option. The Srixon ZU85, meanwhile, starts at the #2-18 degree and goes to a #6-29 degree. Most have a smaller sweet spot than game improvement clubs and the right launch angle can be difficult to achieve for players with a slower clubhead speed and ball speed. They typically fly with a low penetrating ball flight and maintain a smaller profile and club head size than a typical wood-shaped hybrid.

Hybrid Clubs

Mizuno JPX 900 on the left and TaylorMade GPAR Hi on the right. Photo by Rob H.

Hybrid clubs have been all the rage over the last 12 to 15 years. Every major manufacturer has at least one model out, if not two. Look at Cobra Golf: they have three different models for the speedzone line by itself. The low center of gravity and ease of launch from hollow body construction are some common traits among these clubs.

Hybrids blend a fairway wood head, typically half the size of a fairway wood head, with the length of an iron. This makes the club very controllable and provides easier to launch conditions versus an iron, because the center of gravity in the club is much lower. You are now seeing this club design replace whole sets of traditional irons. Cleveland Launcher Turbo HB irons offer you a full “iron” set that is really a hybrid iron set, from a 4 iron all the way to a sand wedge. This category is dominating golf; even the best players are putting them into the bag now for maximum forgiveness. These clubs are a great choice for those looking to fill a distance gap or even better for those who are beginners, high-handicappers, and inconsistent ball strikers. Long story short, most amateur golfers can benefit from using hybrids.

The Match Up

What do you see when you hit these clubs side by side? Using my personal stash of clubs, I matched the loft of my two hybrid clubs to their utility iron counterparts to see what clubs perform the best in various scenarios around the course and test versatility across multiple shot types.

I have a Mizuno JPX900 18-degree hybrid going up against the Srixon ZU85 18-degree in the “battle of the 2-irons.” I have a TaylorMade GAPR mid going up against a Ping G410 Crossover for the “battle of the 4-irons.” I used the same type of golf ball on all shots, the Srixon Z-Star XV, and hit three shots with each from the following locations: from the tee box, the fairway, a full swing out of the rough, and the creative shots out of the trees. This could be repeated down the road with some other models, like the Cobra King utility iron, Sim UDI, or Srixon ZX, but I tried to stick with the clubs that I had at my disposal for this initial comparison.

So let us see how they perform.

The Results

The contestants. Photo by Rob H.

The tee shots and fairway shots performed the same. The hybrids had a higher trajectory and higher carry distance. The utility irons had a lower flight. They also carried shorter, but the shallower decent angle allowed for a good amount of roll out. The total distance was about the same, however the hybrid did travel a tad further. Players who generate higher ball speeds and better players who play premium caliber golf would likely lean one way over the other due to personal preference given the similarities in positioning off of the tee.

Off of the deck from the fairway hit, the utility irons were significantly harder to get airborne with their blade-like build. When I hit full shots out of the rough, the hybrid performed better and came out much easier with more reliability. The iron seemed to get tangled up in the grass. This is especially apparent on long par 5s where you're needing these clubs to put you in position for your upcoming short approach shots or to go for a green in two with a long approach shot.

In shots hit low through trees or where I had to shape them, the utility iron outperformed the hybrid. I was able to pick the ball with more consistency and a lower launch and move it to where I wanted it to go by hitting a low stinger with the utility iron. I struggled to keep the hybrids down and would often keep the ball in the rough instead of advancing it back to the fairway, due to tree contact. The wide sole and back-weighted design of these hybrids make them most forgiving but designed to hit a high launch angle off the face of the club. It is hard to keep the spin rate down and get a low ball flight off of the face of these clubs. The best driving irons make for a much easier punch shot club from varied turf among the trees.

Because of the general shape and club designs of irons and hybrids, I do not think we would see much variation with different club manufacturers.

Post-Round Analysis

Overall, these are all better options than traditional long irons. But deciding which option is best? That is really going to come down to the golfer’s needs. If you play hard and firm courses, like links courses or play golf on windy days, the utility irons would work best. Golfers who have a more moderate swing speed or struggle with finding the center of the clubface would do better with the hybrid. If you are searching to unlock maximum distance or higher launch on the golf course, as well as ease of use, the hybrid club would work better.

And if you’re still not sure which hybrid set or option is right for you, I or any other Golf Expert here at Curated are happy to give you a hand.

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