The Complete Golf Iron Set Buying Guide

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Louis Pringle
Feb 28, 2023
12 minutes

When it comes to choosing the right iron set for your golf game, can often feel like an immense task. With so many models, so many different types, and even more variations, it can often feel like a dizzying roller coaster ride.

Fortunately, our caddies are there to provide you with free expert advice that will get you closer to the iron set that will allow you to take your game to the next level. The following guide should provide all the key info you’ll need to make an informed decision when you’re looking for your next iron set.

This iron set buying guide will cover:

  • The basics of iron sets and how they impact your decision
  • The different types of irons and how they can suit your game
  • How to properly identify your needs out of an iron set and which one is best for you

 

Introduction to Iron Sets

Iron sets are composed of multiple iron clubs. As the name suggests, their clubs were almost exclusively made from iron for a very long time. It’s still the case when it comes to many forged irons, but alloys and the inclusion of carbon have changed the game for irons.

Terminology of irons

When it comes to iron sets classification and listings, most iron sets are classified based on the number of clubs included in the set. What you’ll most likely encounter is classification like 3-PW, 4-PW, or 5-GW. This designation lets you know how many clubs are included in the set and what they are.

Take 3-PW as an example. In this case, the iron set would be composed of 8 irons and would include irons 3 through 9 as well as a pitching wedge (PW). Most sets will be displayed in such a way. In some cases where a wedge is not included in the set, the listing will look like this: 3-9.

The PW, GW, AW, SW, or LW, all refer to the different types of wedges included in your set. They are listed in order of loft angle, so that means that if your set runs from 5-SW, you’ll have a 5, 6, 7, 8, and a 9 iron, plus you’ll also have a pitching wedge, a gap, or approach wedge, and a sand wedge.

When to use a Golf Iron

Your irons are the most versatile golf clubs in your golf bag. Needs something reliable off the tee, on par 3s, or simply because you’re having a bad day with your woods, your irons can serve you just as well.

Generally, players will use irons on approach shots from the fairway, the rough, the sand trap, or anywhere else. Some players will feel more comfortable with an iron off the tee and will adopt a driving iron as part of their set for these circumstances.

You can also turn to your long irons for low-trajectory strikes, or mid-length irons when trying to pull off a bump and run when you’re near the green. Irons are perfect for these shots as they’ll allow you to get the ball on the green and simply let it roll toward the hole.

If the situation ever presents itself, you can even use your iron as your putter. You read that right! While it certainly won’t feel as natural, a 3 or 4 iron can do the job just as well since they’ll have a stronger loft angle.

The Different Types of Golf Irons

As previously stated, there are a ton of different types of irons out there. Originally, the goal was to turn the traditional forged irons into clubs that would allow for more forgiveness upon impact, thus allowing for more people to join in the game.

In catering to these new-aged golfers, manufacturers have become skilled at crafting different types of irons to suit the game of players everywhere. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them and see which one is best suited for your playing style!

The different types of irons on the market:

  • Super Game-Improvement Irons
  • Cavity Back Irons
  • Game-Improvement Irons
  • Driving Irons
  • Players Irons
  • Muscle Back Irons
  • Blades
  • Players Distance Irons

Super game-improvement irons

This is the entry-level when it comes to irons. They are targeted to players with a basic skillset including beginners and players who struggle to generate a decent amount of speed in their swing. These irons also tend to look closely like miniature woods as they often feature a deep and oversized clubhead.

These irons should be an automatic go-to for any golfers who are looking for more forgiveness and more distance on impact. The larger clubhead will be your insurance policy when you’re standing over the golf ball and the pressure is on.

Cavity Back or Game-Improvement Irons

Cavity back (CBs) irons are one of the most widely modern irons. They have taken over the market when it comes to creating forgiving irons that still allow players to retain a decent level of forgiveness on every strike.

As the name suggests, these irons feature a cavity at the back of the clubhead. This allows for better channeling of the energy upon impact, which provides more forgiveness and added distance as the ball bounces off the clubface.

Some manufacturers will produce oversized iron sets which will look almost exactly like their cavity back models, with the only difference being the larger size of their clubhead. This way, golfers who struggle to hit the ball consistently, will have a bigger target at impact.

Driving Irons

We covered driving irons extensively in our hybrid buying guide, but simply put, driving irons are usually oversized irons. They tend to be an overblown version of their players’ irons. Designed to be used off the tee, these irons are meant to provide more forgiveness because of their larger clubheads.

Players irons

Some irons will be labeled as players’ irons as they are designed to cater to the needs of more experienced or skilled golfers. These irons tend to show a smaller and thinner clubhead profile and won’t provide nearly as much forgiveness as CBs, game improvement, or super game improvement irons.

Muscle Back Irons

Muscle back (MBs) irons are the bridge between straight blade irons, which are typically used by Tour caliber players, and cavity back irons. While they do not feature a cavity at the back of the clubhead, MBs tend to show a decently sized bump at the back of the clubhead that reaches to the sole.

This small “muscle” at the back of the clubhead, helps generate spin, launch, and power at impact. This composition allows players to work the ball’s trajectory to their desire, while also retaining a sliver of forgiveness at impact.

Blades

Blade irons are similar in look to the muscle back irons, but they do not deliver any forgiveness on impact. The “muscle” at the back of a blade’s clubhead is not as prominent and it is strictly aimed at providing the golfer with as much control as possible over the ball flight and its trajectory.

Player distance irons

The player distance irons are not as widespread yet but are gaining in popularity. While still prioritizing control of the golf ball, these irons will provide golfers with more distance on impact. These are usually best suited for golfers with slower swing speeds or aging golfers whose swing speed is regressing.

Types of golf Iron set

As previously mentioned, iron sets can vary in style based on the clubhead and the number of clubs in your set. But there are even more variations that can set them apart from one another. Let’s look at the most common types of irons.

Traditional Iron Sets

Your traditional iron set will be composed of 6 to 9 irons and include up to 3 wedges. The clubs included in your set will usually all feature the exact same design, except for wedges which might sport a look closer to a blade.

Combo Iron Sets

There are two types of combo iron sets available to you, but they are targeted at different types of golfers.

The first is a literal combo of two or more iron models. This tends to include cavity back long irons, muscle back or blade for mid-length irons, and blades for shorter irons and wedges. These sets are designed to allow players to benefit from more forgiveness with their long irons.

The second is a combination between irons and hybrids. Most combo sets will include cavity back or super game improvement irons and will see their longer irons being replaced with a hybrid which will provide a more forgiving option that is much easier to hit.

One-length Iron Sets

One-length irons are not as common simply because they’re only manufactured by one clubmaker, Cobra. The main feature of one-length iron is the length of its shaft. As the name suggests, all irons have the same shaft length. The length of shafts is usually based on the 7-iron from the set.

Iron club components

Much like any other golf club, irons are made up of various components that come together to form the most critical golf club on the course.

What makes up the clubhead of an iron?

An iron’s clubhead is made up of the following parts: the hosel, where the clubhead meets the shaft, the face, where the ball makes contact with the club (usually features grooves), the sole, which refers to the bottom of the clubhead, the heel, which indicates the closest point to the hosel on the clubface, the toe, which stands on the opposite side of the heel, the back, where you’ll find either the cavity or the muscle of the iron.

What are typical iron loft angles?

When it comes to irons, unlike wedges, the loft angle is seldom displayed on the clubhead. Rather, you’ll usually find the iron number stamped on the club. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t put a true number on the loft angle. Use the chart below as a reference for loft angles based on the iron.

Loft Chart for Irons

1 iron

14-16 degrees

2 iron

17-19 degrees

3 iron

20-22 degrees

4 iron

23-26 degrees

5 iron

27-30 degrees

6 iron

31-34 degrees

7 iron

35-38 degrees

8 iron

39-42 degrees

9 iron

43-46 degrees

Pitching Wedge (PW)

47-50 degrees

Gap Wedge (GW)

51-54 degrees

Sand Wedge (SW)

54-58 degrees

Lob Wedge (LW)

58-62 degrees

 

What are the different types of golf iron lengths?

Just like fairway woods, the length of iron shafts will vary based on the number indicated on the iron. The lower the number on your iron, the longer its shaft will be.

Generally, it’s accepted that 2, 3, and 4 irons are all considered long irons, while 5, 6, and 7 irons are seen as mid-length irons. Your 8 and 9 iron, including the pitching wedge in your set are all considered short irons.

The types of Shafts and Flexes

When it comes to irons, there’s greater diversity in terms of the types of shafts you can use. Nowadays, you’ll find both graphite and steel shafts in a variety of stiffness which allows you to find the shaft specs that are best suited for you.

Types of shafts

When it comes to the type of shafts you can choose for your irons, materials will play a key role. You’ll often get to pick between steel and graphite shafts for your irons. In some cases, you can even find some models that combine the two.

Graphite shafts will provide you with higher launch angles at impact because of their flexible properties. These are usually best for golfers with slower swing speeds as they tend to struggle to get the ball in the air.

Steel shafts tend to be more common. They’re usually perfect for golfers who are looking for a lower ball flight and a stiffer feel for their shaft. These are commonly used by golfers who prioritize control of the golf ball.

Stiffness Level

When it comes to shafts and their flex, or rigidity, you’ll find the same variety that you would with any other type of club: ladies, senior, regular, stiff, and extra-stiff.

The first two are much softer options and are marketed to their namesake, but they’re simply designed for golfers with slower swing speeds.

Regular is designed to be used by the average golfer, or even a casual golfer. Stiff is a more rigid alternative for more experienced players looking to turn their game up a notch. Extra-stiff is usually targeted to high-end players with very high swing speeds.

Naturally, the graphite version of each flex is much softer and more flexible than its steel counterpart, which means that you might want to consider a graphite shaft if you can’t find your comfort zone between two steel-type shafts.

Grip Options and considerations

Grips are key to the performance of your irons. If they’re too slippery or overused, the club could slip out of your hands during your swing and mess up your strike, worst, your club could fly out of your hands. As far as irons are concerned with grips, the options are very similar to any other golf club and you’ll find rubber grips, cord grips, and wrap grips.

Rubber Grip

Rubber grips will often be featured on irons bought directly from manufacturers. These are the most basic grips and will provide a feeling of adhesion through the sticky feeling of these grips. They’re perfect when coupled with a golf glove.

Cord Grip

Cord grips are much different as their main objective is to provide adhesion with a coarse feel rather than using a sticky finish. Though they may still be made from rubber, you’ll find small strands of cord inside the grip, which serves to provide adhesion.

Wrap Grip

Wrap grips are also rubber grips, but their looks make them unique. Back in the 19th and 20th centuries, grips were put on clubs by wrapping a rubber band (or tape) in a helix around the top end of the shaft. Nowadays grips are sold as a single piece, including modern wrap grips, but these are inspired by the old-school look.

Tips for maintaining Iron Golf Clubs

When you invest in your irons, you’ll naturally want to take good care of them. There are very easy ways for you to do it, whether it’s through a thorough cleaning session, by storing them properly, or by resorting to iron headcovers.

Clean your irons regularly

Cleaning your irons regularly will allow you to be up to date on the condition of your irons. Plus, it’ll guarantee that your grooves will be clean and ready to produce more spin the next time you hit the course.

Store your irons properly

When you’re not on the golf course, you need to find a place to leave your golf clubs. Wherever you end up leaving them, make sure that it’s an area where the weather can be controlled, where they won’t be excessively exposed to humidity, and where you can easily access them.

Use headcovers

If you’re willing to take on public humiliation by your friends, you can always consider headcovers for your irons. While they hold an unpopular reputation in many golf circles, there’s no denying that they’ll greatly contribute to protecting their condition.

Iron Sets Recommendations for Beginner Golfers

For beginners, Nick recommends you look for super game-improvement irons. They offer the most forgiveness on the market and they often help golfers with slower swing speeds produce longer strikes on the course.

He also recommends cavity-back models has they're attributes are similar to super game-improvement in terms of forgiveness and they usually feature a larger club face for easier contact at impact.

Nick's recommendations for beginners:

  1. TaylorMade SIM2 Max Iron Set
  2. TaylorMade M4 Iron Set
  3. Ping G410 Iron Set

Iron Sets Recommendations for Intermediate Golfers

For intermediate golfers or golfers with mid-level handicap, Nick recommends looking at cavity-backs if you're looking to retain more forgiveness. They'll provide you with all the forgiveness you could ask for, but you'll be giving up a bit of control over the golf ball.

If you're looking to optimize your control and forgiveness is not your greatest priority, Nick suggests you look at muscle-back irons. They prioritize control of the golf ball, but will be slightly more forgiving than irons.

Nick's recommendations for intermediate golfers:

  1. Titleist 718 AP2 Iron Set
  2. Srixon ZX5 Iron Set
  3. Mizuno JPX-919 Hot Metal Iron Set

Iron Sets Recommendations for Advanced Golfers

For advanced golfers, Nick suggest you look for irons that will allow you to maximize your control over the golf ball. Blades are the optimal iron type if you're looking to have as much control over the golf ball as possible and the best feel possible for the ball at impact.

If you're an advanced golfer, but still want to retain just a bit of forgiveness, consider using muscle-back irons. More and more pros are making the switch because, just like us, pros also need help sometimes when their out on the course.

Nick's recommendations for advanced golfers:

  1. Titleist T100 Iron Set
  2. TaylorMade P7MB 2023 Iron Set
  3. Mizuno MP-20 MB Iron Set

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Advantages of buying at Golf Avenue

Now that you know what to look for when shopping for irons, you might want to start looking for a place to buy them. Good news, you can stop looking! You’ve found us and you won’t be disappointed as Golf Avenue offers multiple advantages to its customers.

Looking to sell or trade your old golf clubs to make some room for new ones? We’ll take care of it for you. Even better, you can help fund your new set by trading in more golf clubs. Plus, save on shipping when you buy from $199 or more!

Need more help finding the right iron set for you? You’re in luck! We have a team of caddies who are eager to give you free expert advice to help you find the right iron set for you. Even better, you get to try them at home for 30 days, no questions asked!

Until next time,

The Golf Avenue team

Further reading

Looking to buy a hybrid club? What about rescue clubs or driving and utility irons? Find everything you need to know about their differences, how to use them, and our top picks!

Get a golf wedge for your game with our buying guide. Learn the essentials when shopping for wedges and find the best models at affordable prices.