Unless you’re an absolute novice to the world of golf, you’re probably aware of the existence of drivers, woods, irons, and putters (some would add wedges to the list, while others would count them as irons). For our part, we’ll be concentrating on irons here. Much like woods used to be made of actual wood, irons used to be made of iron (hence the names). These days, however, the most common material is stainless steel, though other metals and combos thereof are present. Continue reading this ultimate guide to golf irons as I give detailed information about just everything you need to know about the clubs. Let’s start from the beginning.
What are Golf Irons?
So, what do the irons mean to a golfer? In a nutshell, these are the middle set of clubs in a player’s bag. They fall in between the woods and the wedges according to the loft (face angle) and, consequently, the distance you’re able to achieve with them (more on that later).
The head features a long flat surface with an angled face that is covered in grooves. Normally, golf irons will make up the majority of the golf clubs in a golfer’s bag, and they’ll be used in a huge variety of shots on the course; everything from tee shots and fairway shots, to shots from the rough or even from the sand bunker at times.
There is a vast amount to know when it comes to irons, from the different manufacturers to the different types of clubs, not to mention the impressive range in lofts and styles. We aimed at making the read as cut-and-dried and clear as possible so you can talk about and use the clubs confidently even if you have zero to minimal experience. As always, enjoy the read!
Types of Golf Irons
Painting with a broad brush, golf irons will generally come in two types – forged irons and cast irons. This, as you may have already guessed, depends on the process involved in making the club.
Just like weapons and farm tools in the days of yore, forged golf irons are made by forging the clubs. Forging of an iron is done by taking a billet of whatever metal you’re using (usually steel, but also titanium) and hammering it into a blade-shape. The raw forged iron, which is approximately similar to the final club head then goes through the finishing process of milling, grinding, and finally, polishing.
Forging allows the clubhead to be made in a one solid piece, instead of several different parts put together. Forged irons are often aimed towards good players as these players give priority to the feel of the club. It is said that these clubs are more consistent from club to club and have a similar vibration feeling throughout the clubs, which is important as your game improves to the point where you notice this sort of thing.
That being said, these clubs aren’t exclusive to low handicap players.
Cast irons, on the other hand, are irons made by pouring liquid metal into a particular mold to shape the irons. The good thing about casting irons is that manufacturers will have the liberty of creating more unique and complicated head designs, as well as using multiple materials, perimeter weighting, and making intricate shapes. This, in turn, allows for much more variety in the clubs that you can choose, and accounts for the fact that an overwhelming majority of irons are cast.
On that note, unlike forging, the casting process happens to be easier and cheaper, which is why cast irons come in at lower prices compared to forged irons usually. And while it is true that forged irons promote better feedback than most cast irons, the latter are becoming increasingly better thanks to the new technologies and better alloys.
Clubs in a Set of Irons
A standard set of irons can vary from bag to bag, but typically it starts with the 3-iron and goes all the way up to the 9-iron (sometimes it’s 4-iron through 9-iron, plus wedges). These sets can include the long irons – 2, 3, 4, the middle irons – 5, 6, 7, and the short irons – 8 and 9, plus the pitching wedge (which is technically a wedge, but we have another full article dedicated to everything you need to know about wedges).
Higher (numbered) irons, or the shorter irons are relatively easier to use than the lower ones, and vice versa, the 3 and 4 irons are slightly harder to hit compared to the higher numbered ones.
These can be a little uncomfortable for beginners, mainly due to their length, which is the reason many golfers, mostly ladies and seniors prefer replacing the 3 and 4 irons in a set of irons with higher loft woods such as the 7 or 9 woods, as higher lofted woods are easier to play than the 3 and 4 irons.
Loft Angle for Each Golf Iron
Just like every other golf club, each iron has its own loft angle. Generally, irons with shorter shafts (or higher number) have greater loft angles and vice versa.
However, it is important to take note that golf irons do not actually come with officially assigned loft angles, and the actual designation will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Moreover, these days golf companies tend to change the loft or their irons. For instance, the 7-iron may have had a loft of about 39 degrees in the past years, but now comes with a 36-degree loft, allowing the manufacturer to claim that the 7-iron hits longer than ever (though, technically, you’re hitting what used to be a 6-iron).
For the most part you can expect to see around a 3-4 degrees difference in the loft for each club (see the chart below).
Distance in Yards (Women)
Distance in Yards (Men)
Distance in Yards (Tour)
*Numbers from Wikipedia
As always, we recommend you take the above chart with a grain of salt. The loft (degrees) varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and the distance can change dramatically based on skill level, club head speed, etc. We gave ranges in the above so as to help you understand that there is no set number that you will achieve, but more or less a range.
These would be irons 2 through 4. Traditionally, the 2-, 3- and 4-irons had a range of about 18 degrees to 28 degrees. Today, the 3-iron comes in about 21 degrees and hits around 180 yards for the average man, while the 4-iron comes in about 25 degrees, and hits around 170 for the average man.
The 3-iron, which is usually the longest iron used by golfers, comes with a long shaft and a low loft angle. The 2-iron has a very low loft angle of below 19 degrees, and this is why it is seldom made use of by golfers (which, incidentally, corresponds with the rise of hybrids).
The middle irons encompass numbers 5 through 7. Typically, the 5-iron comes with a loft angle of about 28 degrees and can go up to 160 yards when hit by men and up to 110 yards when hit by women.
The 6-iron comes in about 32 degrees, achieving 150 yards hit by men and 100 yards by women. Coming with a loft angle of 36 degrees is the 7-iron. When hit by men, the 7-iron can go up to 140 yards, while by women, approximately 90 yards. These clubs are very useful in the fairway.
Short irons include, as noted above, numbers 8 and 9, and they tend to be more useful when players are closer to the green (due to their higher loft angles compared to the other irons).
The 8-iron, normally with a loft angle of about 40 degrees, will achieve the distance of 130 yards for men and 80 yards for women. The 9-iron comes with a loft angle of 44 degrees. Hit by men, the 9-iron can achieve 120 yards (if you’re really lucky), while by women it can travel up to 70 yards. These short irons can be used for pitch shots and chip shots as well.
Hybrids are named this way because they combine features from both woods and irons (head design of the former and the weight, length and lie of the latter). They’re technically neither of the two, but you’ll mostly find them used instead of the long irons.
That said, some manufacturers will still carry irons, but market them as hybrids, or tweak them just a little bit and call it a hybrid. Either way, they’re good for shots from a particularly difficult rough (just like long irons). They’ll also perform reasonably instead of fairway woods, but with less in the way of distance.
Designs of Golf Irons
Club heads come in several designs that suit different players and allow them to play better shots. The design of the club head is one big factor a golfer should look at prior to investing in one, and it’ll fall into one of two main categories – Blade or Cavity Back.
Blade irons, also sometimes referred to as ‘muscle back irons’ are designed with a compact hitting area, meaning they’ll come with a thin face and a matching top line. Blade irons come with evenly distributed weight throughout the clubhead, with a somewhat small sweet spot in the centre.
The Center of Gravity of these clubs is generally higher, so the moment of inertia tends to be lower. On the flipside, because blade irons are designed with more weight at the back of the ‘sweet spot’, they allow players more feel and ability in shaping a shot.
Cavity Back Irons
Unlike blade irons, cavity back irons (aka Game Improvement irons or GI) offer more weight on the perimeter, as they come with a cavity or recess at the back of the club heads.
Manufacturers concentrate on adding more weight to the edges of the head so they can increase the forgiveness of the particular club. This added weight helps to lower the Center of Gravity and increase the moment of Inertia, a couple key factors newer golfers should be looking for in their clubs.
Manufactures typically pair larger club heads with a thin clubface, the idea being this will allow an off-centre shot from a cavity back iron to travel longer and straighter compared to an off-centre shot from a blade iron.
This is where the term ‘Game Improvement’ comes from (some would argue that GI clubs are counter-productive, as they allow the player to become lazy, as they have to work less for the same results, but… the market for them is there, and it’s big).
Composition of Golf Irons
In addition to varying in designs, golf irons vary in their composition as well. Different manufacturers make use of several different materials in the making of golf irons. Not only will the material and shape change as noted above, but you can also have different shafts, grips, and even colours (granted, these are often more of an afterthought, but the right shaft or grip can make a world of difference depending on your swing).
The shaft of a golf club provides a golfer with the ability to generate the centrifugal force needed to strike the ball effectively, and different types of shafts come with different amounts of flexibility. Generally, players with slower swing speeds should opt for a shaft with higher flexibility to maximize their distances, while players with higher swing speeds should opt for a stiffer shaft with less flexibility to increase accuracy.
The shaft of a golf club plays a very important role in the quality of your game and it’s why many good golfers look into the material used in the shaft prior to investing in one. We will touch on the basics here, but also encourage you to check out our Ultimate Guide To Golf Shafts.
Most golf irons on the market today are made from steel, as using steel allows the shaft to be stronger and heavier, and thus, produce less flex. Less flex, in turn, allows you to hit more accurate shots. Steel shafts are popular and favoured by many due to their high durability and lower price.
Unlike steel shafts, graphite shafts are lighter and offer more flexibility, allowing a player to increase his or her swing speed. This is generally regarded as a good thing, though not every golfer will need that much flex, as it may lead to a lack of consistency.
In other words, graphite shafts do not really give the professional feel of a steel shaft, but they do cut on the weight, allowing the manufacturer to make a head-heavy club.
This, in turn, helps players with slower swing speeds achieve distances similar to players with higher swing speeds, so you can consider them a game-improving feature. Typically, this type of shaft is found in ladies’ clubs or clubs designed for beginners and/or seniors.
Golf shafts are not made from only steel or only graphite, they are also made from the combination of both. However, as you may have guessed, these types of shafts are less common. The multi-material shaft will still be mainly made up of steel, but with a graphite tip. The solid steel part of the shaft allows players to have a control on their shot, while the graphite tip filters out unnecessary vibrations during contact.
Grips on a golf iron are generally the cheapest part of the particular iron. However, just like every other feature of a golf iron, the grip plays its role as well – that being allowing players to have a good grasp of the club (shocker, isn’t it?).
Most golf iron grips on the market today are made from rubber, as rubber allows a tight hold between a golfer’s hand and the golf iron, eventually providing a better control over his or her shots.
The grips on golf irons are to be changed from time to time as they can lose their grip over time when they get oxidized or harden. If you want even more info on golf grips check out our Ultimate Guide to Golf Grips.
Buying Golf Irons
You will usually see them displayed in your local golf shop or online as: Golf Iron Set (3-PW) or (4-PW, SW) or something of the nature. Note, that this means all the clubs in between are included in the set, while the PW in this instance can be considered a 10-iron.
The thing to remember when looking for a new set of clubs is that there are a lot of choices for a reason. It will depend on whether you have a low or high handicap, your swing speed, even your height or age, things like that.
We have compiled lists to help you out with all these, making sure there’s a little bit of something for everyone and their budget. If you are looking for the Best Golf Irons in general, or maybe looking for the Best Irons Under $500, we have that too.
We always advise that you try clubs out before you buy them, as some may just ‘feel’ better to you (also a valid criterion when it comes to golf).
We’ve finally reached the end of our ultimate guide to golf irons, and hopefully, you now have all the knowledge necessary to talk about these clubs. Of course, the technology, composition, and style of irons will continue to adapt and change as time progresses, but for the most part, they have the same concept and uses since the inception of golf.
The quick thing to remember is that golf irons are probably the most used clubs on the course since they can be used in so many different situations. On a similar note (for the absolute novices), keep in mind that the lower numbered irons will hit further and generally lower than the high numbered irons, which hit higher but shorter.
Feel free to ask questions in the comment section below and we will do our best to help you out. Until then, fairways and greens!