Looking to expand your golf gear to some high quality irons for beginners to intermediate golfers? Let our editors help you expand from your beginner golf club set to some better irons.
Check out our editors’ top picks for the best golf irons for the money, if you need some help adding some new irons to your bag.
Anatomy of a Golf Iron
We begin your education with basics: iron clubs are used to propel a golf ball forward to accomplish drives that range from the tee on short holes, and from fairways and roughs as players pursue the shortest number of strokes to win. Irons are typically used to extract balls from a variety of hazards that include bunkers and water. You can differentiate irons from woods by their large, flat and angled head style, as well as scored grooves etched into metal heads during the fabrication process.
Often referred to as “the most common type of club in a set,” irons are necessary to survive even a casual recreational round of golf, so when you start purchasing equipment, if you buy an entire set, you’ll find between seven and 11 irons in the mix and every iron is inscribed with a number that identifies the head size.
Additionally, a complete library of golf irons will always include wedges that come in varying sizes and have different purposes, depending up the shape, weight and size. Deciphering the numbers stamped on irons may be confusing at first, but once your instincts kick in, you’ll understand the differences between numbers one through 10 that determine the “angle of loft” you can expect when choosing one over another.
The irons with the highest loft ratios are wedges, and you won’t find any numbers embellished on them because they’re differentiated by letters instead. Count on using a variety of irons once you’ve found your footing on the course and especially once you master utility shots that require an extra measure of finesse to achieve that short distance or high angle shot.
Types of Golf Irons
While it may take a little time for you to figure out all of those numbers and letters, you’ll have no trouble remembering the types of irons on the market because there are only two of them: Forged and cast iron. Forged irons are the stuff of which history is made, because the process of producing a forged iron club head is very much like the process village blacksmiths followed to make iron tools in the past.
The process of manufacturing a forged iron head involves shaping molten iron into a rudimentary form, with our without a mould, that resembles the shape of an iron, and then refining the club head using milling, grinding and polishing steps. If fabricated properly, the one-piece head features a sweet spot that makes the iron unique, but it’s the hand-crafted attention to detail that can hype the prices on these irons.
On the other hand, cast iron clubs require a less laborious manufacturing process. When molten metal is poured into the mould, there are relatively few refinements that must be made to produce a near-perfect head right out of the mould. Since the milling and grinding steps are no longer required, cast iron heads don’t cost as much, because the labor-intensive factor has been removed from the equation.
Manufacturers can produce more exotic head designs using the direct-to-mould process, and in fact this methodology has resulted in a change in raw materials used to craft golf irons. During the smelting process, an amalgam of metals may be used and those metals are often cheaper. Add faster construction and uniform designs right out of the mould and it’s easy to see why these types of heads can be more affordable.
Does Design Matter?
Think carefully about that question before you answer, because the correct response is “You bet!” Every iron manufactured—whether it’s fabricated of forged or cast iron—has a specific purpose. Some are suited to veteran players and feature compact striking areas, thin top lines and slim faces. These types of heads are usually referred to as “blade irons” because they give seasoned duffers even-weight distribution across the head plus a center sweet spot ideally suited to advanced players who can practically navigate fairways blindfolded!
On the other hand, there’s a class of irons known as “cavity back” designs and they have nothing to do with your dentist. Look carefully at a cavity back iron and you’ll spot a signature recess at the back of the head. You might feel the concentration of weight along the head’s perimeter, too.
What purpose does the cavity back head serve? It allows golfers to control the ball (known as inertia) so precisely, it won’t over-run the intended landing spot. There are more advantages to using an iron that’s manufactured with this design: golfers taking off-center shots with a cavity back iron can expect straighter shots that span longer ranges, and isn’t that the ultimate dream of every golfer?
Two’s Company, But Nine’s A Set!
Having already mentioned that standard golf club sets include 14 different clubs, that doesn’t mean you’ll get your full complement of irons when you invest in a basic collection. Typically, irons are included in standard sets but you can’t always control which “numbers” are included.
If asked to pick and choose on your own to fill an empty golf bag, must-have long irons are numbers 2, 3 and 4 with the last (4) being the most essential. As a matter of fact, club manufacturers have advanced the art of iron manufacture to such a precise degree, you may be hard pressed to find 2- and 3-irons in the future because the 4 produces amazing results on its own.
Next up on your must-have list are mid-irons selections that include numbers 5, 6 and 7 and your final picks—short irons—include the numbers 8 and 9. Fill out your basic set by browsing your retailer’s wedge inventory. Will this be a no-brainer if you’re a newbie? Not exactly. But if you start off with a Pitching, Gap or Attack Wedge–and throw in a Sand Wedge for good measure–you’ll have collected a respectable mix.
Finish Your Collection With Hybrids
We would be remiss to exclude mention of a hybrid class of irons. You’re already familiar with the term if you drive a hybrid car and know it can switch back and forth between fuel sources, so keep that in mind when you consider adding hybrids to your stock. This class of club was engineered for golfers who come up short when using longer irons and no clubs offer more options.
Were popularity contests held among experienced golfers, hybrids would wind up near or at the top. Anyone wielding an iron can attest to the fact that hybrids are easier to use. They’re forgiving of golfers who have yet to perfect “the perfect swing” and they have a lower center of gravity, so your ball could spend more time airborne than it otherwise would if you had chosen a different iron.
Golfers who have trouble mastering fairway wood and long irons will immediately feel a difference that can be attributed to the flatter strike area of the typical hybrid and if you need to extricate yourself from the rough or must drive a ball an especially-long distance, even high grass won’t necessarily impede a good shot. Back in 2009, an industry survey concluded that around 65-percent of professional golfers use hybrids regularly, so why not you?
About Golf Iron Shafts
Can the right iron shaft change or improve your game? It can. Big time. For example, if you want to hit the ball further, a lighter weight shaft with reduced stiffness can help you reach your goal. If, on the other hand, you want to your balls to travel in a straighter line, pick a heavier, stiffer iron shaft and make sure it’s in proper alignment.
There are two main types of steel shafts: Stepped steel and rifle steel. The benefits of using a club with a steel shaft is that you can help eliminate torque and lateral twisting issues. Further, you’ll enjoy more control and accuracy. Both are strong, durable and great performers, but both types are pricier than the contemporary alternative (graphite), so if you’re worried about your wallet, you may wish to hold off on stepped and rifle steels until you’re more flush.
Rifle steel shafts differ only because, during the manufacturing process, the steel is smooth to the touch and there are no “steps” along the shaft that are a byproduct of the production of method (hence the name). These days, electronic calibration is the secret to rifle steel shaft fabrication and some golfers swear that rifle steel shafts deliver greater accuracy. But like all shafts, the beauty and the performance will always be the opinion of the golfer. You’ll figure out for yourself which shaft makes a difference in your golf game.
Graphite Iron Shafts Are State-of-the-Art
No compilation of iron shaft types would be complete without profiling graphite iron shafts. Graphite might be called the great equalizer because pros and cons are evenly weighted on the superiority of this material, yet the trade-off is that shafts made of this material aren’t as durable.
Your reward is a more powerful swing speed at the expense of ultimate control. This dynamic has nothing to do with you; there’s just more flex when graphite is used to make a shaft and the style you develop as you become a more experienced golfer is going to make that determination on your behalf.
Comparing the conservative iron shaft to the new-fangled graphite models is always a fun exercise because there are so many bells and whistles to be had by graphite shaft owners that it’s almost an unfair comparison. Buy yourself graphites and you’ll likely have flex and color choices, which is why this material is so popular with women golfers who appreciate fashion-forward touches, even on the golf course.
If graphite shafts seem too good to be true—they’re lightweight, colorful and flexible, after all—be advised that unlike the consistency and stiffness you can expect from steels, graphite shafted irons are more difficult to control because there is no consistency or element of stiffness that you can count on every time you pick one up. Additionally, graphite shafts require more TLC than steel, so padded golf bag dividers are urged, unless you don’t mind your club shafts being scratched and worse.
About Elite Shafts On Today’s Market
One of the most wonderful things about becoming a golfer is allowing oneself to dream big. From beating your cronies at their own game to being toasted at your club for having achieved the impossible, there comes a time when you’ve earned and deserve the best of the best, and these days, that material is titanium. The titanium shaft is lightweight (titanium being lighter than steel) and it has the ability to dampen vibrations, although this can give the shaft a stiff feel for purists who require a little more give.
Trading up to titanium shafts is a proposition that’s not to be taken lightly because this space-age material is relatively new, especially when compared to our earlier mention of village blacksmiths hammering out the first irons over an open fire. Lighter than steel and with that unique vibration cancellation ability while being swung, titanium shafts tend to be accompanied by heart-stopping price tags.
But titanium isn’t the only new kid on the block. Ever heard of a nanofuse shaft? These aren’t steel or graphite. They’re made of a carbon-based metal that relies upon fiber and polymer in the manufacturing process. Nanofuse shafts feel like steel and you get some of the benefits offered by graphite, but it’s too early to know if this is the future of golf shafts. So far, golfers haven’t found any reason to dismiss this composited shaft, though finding nanofuse shafts could be problematic simply because not every golf entity carries them.
How to Choose The Right Shaft Length For Your Height
If you’re lucky enough to have put yourself into the hands of someone who’s an expert at custom-fitting golf irons to individuals, you may already have determined the optimal shaft length for your height. But in case you are on your own, identify the point at which your wrist and hand meet and then measure from that crease to the floor. Consult these measurements, using a 5-iron as your size guide:
- Buy a 37-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures between 29- and 32-inches.
- Buy a 37.5-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures between 33- and 34-inches.
- Buy a 38-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures between 35- and 36-inches.
- Buy a 38.5-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures between 37- and 38-inches.
- Buy a 39-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures between 39- and 40-inches.
- Buy a 39.5-inch #5 iron if your crease-to-floor distance measures 41-inches or more.
6 Ways To Get The Best Deal On Your Irons
If you’re feeling confident that you know which irons you’ll purchase once you begin to shop, we’d like to recommend pursuing deals, even if you have plenty of cash to invest in your new adventure. This is particularly important for newbies. Suppose you amass an impressive collection of irons and it turns out you don’t like golf as much as you imagined? Personally, we can’t imagine that happening, but it does. These suggestions will be particularly appreciated by frugal souls who never met a discount they didn’t love!
1.Pay attention to the time of year you’ve picked for your shopping expedition. Like new car models, golf club manufacturers are always rolling out new and improved products, and this means that bargains are to be had when retailers or online merchants need to dump inventory. In general, fall is usually a good bet for snagging previous year closeouts. As soon as you see new irons debut, commence your search. You could save enough cash to upgrade your iron picks.
2. It won’t be a burden to invest time trolling the Internet for online markdowns. Make sure you read the fine print when placing an online irons order because you won’t be able to inspect the clubs before you buy them. Insist on a print copy of the return policy, because, as you probably already suspect, it’s a pain in the neck to return irons given their size and weight, not to mention shipping costs. Stick to online retailers offering free shipping.
3. Join the used club movement for myriad reasons. Used clubs have gained lots of respectability of late as even high-profile brands have developed sub-businesses to cater to new and seasoned golfers who aren’t averse to purchasing high-end equipment that’s gently used and not abused. Even if you have a nice, new starter set of clubs, adding pre-owned irons won’t cost much.
4. Ever visited a “company store”? Avid golfers aren’t averse to driving decent distances to corporate warehouses and distribution centers when end-of-the-year stock is reduced to the rank of closeout and overstock to make room for the newest products. To find the motherlode, surf the web, find corporate websites and then sign up for newsletters published by resources who are often delighted to let golfers know when it’s time to clear out inventories at impressive price reductions.
5. Take care of the irons you already own because you may be in the market to trade up sooner than you think. Clean your equipment regularly by scrubbing metal surfaces with a wire brush, dish soap and warm water. Towel dry to avoid rust. Be particularly attentive to scored grooves because they’re favorite places for dirt and grime to collect, especially if you’ve been known to visit a hazard or two on occasion. Should you also wash your balls? Why not? Use that bucket of soapy water to give them a bath, too, but no wire brushes please. A toothbrush does the job nicely.
6. Give yourself permission to comparison shop, matching retailer-to-retailer pricing against cybershops. Factor in sales tax if you’re on a strict budget because shipping fees you save online could be eaten up by sales tax. The ideal formula for snagging the very best golf iron deals is to set up a spread sheet to compare apples and oranges. If you find yourself with several equally advantageous options, what’s stopping you from asking both if they can do better on the price to sweeten the deal?