Today’s irons are packed with innovative design features—some visible, others not—to help golfers play better, and each model is engineered to benefit different player types and abilities. Irons typically fall into three categories: players’ irons (the smallest, most traditional-looking clubheads; more versatile and less forgiving), game-improvement irons (medium-sized clubheads with lots of forgiving features while featuring a fairly classic profile at address) or super game-improvement irons (the largest, least traditional-looking clubs, which also makes them the most forgiving). A relatively new classification—players’ distance irons—combines power, traditional looks and a bit of forgiveness in one package.
In terms of specific technologies, the current wave of iron heads is made of high-strength metal alloys, and irons in all four categories utilize both tungsten and polymers for additional performance layers. By placing tungsten, a higher-density material than the steel it replaces, in strategic places in the clubhead, manufacturers can make irons that are more forgiving and launch shots higher more easily. Add to that a thin clubface that’s designed to flex at impact, which generates speed and power, matched with lightweight polymers that absorb shock at impact for better feel and sound.
A word to the wise if you haven’t shopped for irons in a few years: The new “standard” set configuration is a seven-piece set (e.g.., 4-iron through pitching wedge) rather than eight clubs (3-PW). That’s because the 3-iron has virtually disappeared from golfers’ bags due to the increased popularity in hybrids, and because clubmakers continue to strengthen iron lofts, so today’s 4-iron plays more like your old 3-iron.
So how do you pick the right irons among the hundreds of options out there in the marketplace? We’ve picked some of our best-selling models to highlight here, and once you’re ready to pull the plug, you should go to the nearest Golf Galaxy store to demo as many of them as you can, ask questions and get a feel for the clubs. Then schedule some time to be custom fit by a Golf Galaxy in-store fitter to find the model and specs that most maximizes your game.
Callaway Apex 21
During the creation process for the Apex 21, Callaway’s R&D team fed specific criteria into a supercomputer and let the machine do its thing. It quickly sorted through thousands of clubface patterns and found that each number clubhead has its own distinct design, which makes sense, since every iron has a different role to play. The Artificial Intelligence-designed forged steel face (shaped like a cup on its side) produces fast speeds and repeatable carry distances due to consistent spin. There’s also a lot of clever work inside the forged carbon steel body: a urethane microsphere insert improves feel by dampening impact vibration without reducing clubface deflection, while 60 grams of tungsten low in the head enhance performance on off-center contact and helps to achieve proper flight.
Game-improvement irons like Sim2 Max have thin, flexible clubfaces to boost ball speed. The downside to a thin face can be a lot of vibration at impact, so to create a more pleasing sound and sensation, TaylorMade uses polymers inside and on the back of the clubhead, which supports the topline and upper portion of the clubface. Each face has its own pattern of varying thicknesses, which enables Sim2 Max to maintain ball speed and forgiveness on mis-hits. Higher handicappers often hit shots too low on the face. For that reason, the slot in the sole frees up the lower section of the face to flex more than normal for added power and height. The Sim2 Max OS, an oversize version with the same features and benefits, has a larger head that’s even more forgiving than Sim2 Max.
By PING standards, the G425 is a slimmer game-improvement iron than usual—but don’t worry, it delivers the goods. Added weight in the hosel (neck) and toe extend the club’s perimeter weighting to about as far as it can go, and the stainless-steel face has also been strengthened to achieve faster ball speed. Plus, the sole works in concert with a channel near the top of the head. This causes a hinge-like movement so the top of the clubface flexes back for a higher, faster launch. Ping didn’t overlook feel and sound, either. A multi-material badge in the back cavity dampens unwanted frequencies. The Arccos Caddie Smart Grips come standard with the G425s. A sensor inside the grip tracks and analyzes each shot when paired to the Arccos Caddie app.
Using a manufacturing process known as Metal Injection Molding (MIM), Cobra produces a sharp-looking stainless-steel iron that feels softer than forgings made of carbon steel. MIM is typically used to make parts for the medical, dental and firearms industries, and it requires mixing metal powder with a binder, which gets molded into shape and heat-treated for additional strength. The process can produce intricate shapes and is a less expensive way to make clubs than forging. The refined cavity-back iron has a heavy tungsten weight in the toe to increase head stability on off-center hits. As a bonus, the grips are embedded with Arccos sensors to collect shot data. Golfers can use the information to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses, plus ideal club selection.
The updated JPX series has four models divided into two subcategories—Forged Feel and Distance. The “feel” side of the family includes JPX921 Tour (shortest blade, thinnest topline, least offset), which offers more workability and a similar level of forgiveness to the previous version, the JPX919. The JPX921 Tour also has a shallower cavity—more mass behind impact—for softer feel. By milling the back of JPX921 Forged, the company thinned the clubface for more speed across the hitting area. Forged from the steel alloy called Chromoly, this players’ distance club is softer-feeling, more forgiving and launches shots higher than the previous-generation iron.
The “distance” clubs—JPX921 Hot Metal and JPX921 Hot Metal Pro—feature identical technologies. A thinner face than before helps improves ball speed, plus, the thin leading edge (where the clubface meets the sole) acts like a hinge. In effect, the sole flexes, which leads to incrementally more flex in the face for added speed. While both versions deliver high-flying shots, the Hot Metal Pro does so in a smaller package. By contrast, the game-improvement Hot Metal is the biggest head in the JPX921 line.
In terms of construction, this is not your grandfather’s blade club. Instead, the hollow body is filled with urethane foam which gives the thin, forged steel face room to flex. The foam also knocks out unwanted vibrations so the club feels good in the hands. The compact head is quite a bit more stable and forgiving on off-center hits than one might expect. That’s because 46 grams of dense tungsten gets packed into the toe. Two other features target mis-hits as well: the sole slot, which enables the lower part of the face to flex more on low hits, and variable wall thicknesses to prevent losses in ball speed. The forged carbon steel P770 is more workable than P790 but not quite as long or forgiving.
Better-player irons are generally made from a single piece of metal. Not this one. The sleek, blade-like design of the P790 has a hollow construction like that of a metal wood. Like its brethren, the P770, the carbon steel body is filled with foam, which allows the clubface to flex. The foam also buffers vibration so players can expect a softer sound and feel, and the forged-steel, L-shaped clubface generates faster ball speeds than your typical solid-body iron. As for forgiveness, the clubhead is more stable than its predecessor, in part because 31 grams of tungsten has been added to the toe. The tried-and-true sole slot (called the “Thru-Slot Speed Pocket”) enables the lower part of the face to flex more and maintain ball speed on shots struck low on the face.
This updated series has four distinct models—the T100, T100•S, T200 and T300. The previous T100 was the most-played iron on the PGA TOUR, and the new one gets in and out of the turf more quickly, for better control and feel, because of an improved sole design. In addition, the 3- through 7-irons are more stable because of 85 grams of tungsten in the heel and toe, which helps give players a tighter dispersion between center strikes and slight misses.
The T100•S (S stands for speed) has the same bells and whistles as the T100 but with two degrees stronger lofts. The clubface is also designed to flex more at impact, which increases speed and launch while mitigating the loft change. As a result, the T100•S hits longer shots but with similar flight characteristics, feel and control as the T100.
Players who want a bit more speed and forgiveness in a relatively compact head should consider the T200. The hollow body has a lively F-shaped forged-face insert, and the stainless-steel head has a polymer core to control speed while a polymer plate in the back contributes to the crisp sound and feel. With more than 100 grams of tungsten spread throughout the head, there’s plenty of help to minimize misses. Plus, players can count on launching high, fast shots with the long and mid-irons.
The game-improvement cavity-back, the T300, possesses 40 percent more tungsten in the long and mid irons than the previous version. The distribution of weight—lower and more to the perimeter of the head—adds to the club’s forgiving nature while making it easy to hit soaring shots.