The “Evolution” of Iron Lofts

Evolution?

Any time a new set of irons is released, particularly a set making claims about distance, the topic of iron lofts come up.  Why is this such a hot button issue?  Is it worth getting upset about?  I’ll present the facts and my evolving opinions, and I hope you’ll share yours, too.

Change Over Time

How much have the lofts of irons changed over time?  A lot.

Tiger Woods serves as the standard for traditional iron lofts.  His PW is 50 degrees, his 7I is 36, and his 3I is 22.5.

If we look at the most traditionally-lofted modern sets (blades), we see a slight change from this.  The average 3I is 20 or 21 degrees.  7 irons are 34 or 35 degrees, and pitching wedges can be found as weak as 47 degrees.

On the other end of the spectrum, today’s super game improvement irons ditch the 3I in favor of a 19 degree 4I.  You can find 7 irons as strong as 27 degrees and pitching wedges at 41.

In short, today’s irons are as much as two full clubs stronger than those of previous generations.

No Standards

In addition to realizing how strong lofts have gotten over time, the other thing to notice is the lack of standards in the golf industry.  You can walk into a store and try two different 6 irons that are going to be a club to a club-and-a-half different!

Why Has This Happened?

There are at least two different explanations for why lofts have gotten so strong.

The first comes from the OEMs.  They will tell you that because the center of gravity (CoG) is so low in modern clubs, they need to make the lofts strong to create playable trajectories.

This explanation has never held water for me.  Every set, regardless of design, has a club around 30 degrees with a particular CoG, and they could stamp any number on that club.

The other explanation comes from the critics.  They will argue – correctly, in my opinion – that it’s an arms race.  If a golfer goes to a fitting, they will typically buy the irons that go the longest.  Knowing that, why wouldn’t the OEMs make their 6I as long as possible?  A longer 6I means stronger lofts which then necessitates a lower CoG.

Does It Matter?

There is a vocal group of golfers who believe that stronger lofts are a crime against the game.  But why?  Who is being harmed?  I’ve seen a couple answers put forward.

1) The consumer.  Golfers are being fooled into thinking that their new irons are magically longer than their old ones or that one set is longer than another.

2) Egos.  Specifically, the egos of better, stronger players.  If I drive it 40 yards past you, we should not be hitting the same club into a par 3.  At least that’s how the thinking goes.  When the strong, single-digit player and the 30 handicap are both hitting a 6I, that’s just not right.

Resetting the Discussion

If we were to start this discussion over again, I think we would begin with the question, “What should an iron set do?”  My answer would be, “An iron set should be a group of clubs that you can use to hit the ball onto the green from a variety of distances.”

With this in mind, I return to the question of, “Does it matter?”  My answer is, “No.”  So long as the consumer has some level of awareness that the irons they’re testing may not all be the same, I can’t get too excited about what number is on the sole.

What do you think?  Am I on target?  Missing the point?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Matt Saternus
Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)

48 Comments

  1. Matt,

    Better yet, instead of a number 1-9 on the club, why not just have the degree loft of that club stamped on there or even just a letter like A, B, C, etc. That at least eliminates the ego portion. OEM’s will never go along with that though because like you say, it’s an arms race to sell golfers the longest club possible.

    • Matt Saternus

      Zach,

      I would love to see lofts on the irons. Ben Hogan Golf tried it, but I’d love to see it come from a big OEM like TaylorMade or Callaway.

      Best,

      Matt

      • KK Tucsonense

        Yeah, I agree!! Put lofts on, just like they’re for wedges the last 30(?) Years…great idea! Then when my buddy hits his 3 year old seven iron as far as I hit my Wilson staff blade five he will know why!

  2. You forgot the main argument. I’ve actually wrote a thesis on this.

    The main reason being is that most all new clubs these days promote higher ball speeds. With speed, comes height and spin. OEMs have HAD to lower lofts in order to maintain the optimal spin rates and trajectories.

    A supplementary argument would be, if irons are so strong lofted these days, why do they often go HIGHER than the clubs with weaker lofts? Again, it’s the ball speed. As speed increases, so will height, and spin rate.

    Check out any fitting data when testing clubs. Blades Vs new distance irons. You will most always find that ball speed is significantly up. For every MPH of ball speed we see increased, that equates to 2-3 yards of distance.

    As others have posted, who cares what the number on the club says. As long as my height, spin, and land angle are optimal….I’ll take whatever distance I can get. When the others are compromised, it’s not worth it.

    Love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Zach is on the button re the lofts. May need the number and loft? People equate or should equate clubs with distance. “My 7 iron goes 150 yards.” I’m not sure .. “My 31 degree goes 150 yards ” would catch on. Otherwise its back to the spec sheets to compare clubs. Most are available on line.

    Matt,
    Have shaft lengths changed or only the lofts? Is the extra distance of stronger lofted clubs due solely to the stronger loft or have shafts had an impact? What about improvements to the club head?

    • Matt Saternus

      David,

      There are a couple irons that have longer shafts, but that envelope hasn’t been pushed much.

      There’s no question in my mind that club heads have improved in terms of forgiveness.

      Best,

      Matt

  4. D-plane becomes the problem with increasingly stronger lofts. It is simply more difficult to hit a 27° iron than it is a 34° iron all things being equal (i.e. shaft length) regardless of whether both are stamped with a “7” on the bottom. Also, no matter how low the CoG is in an iron, if the golfer does not have enough swing speed (i.e. older golfers or very high handicappers) – they will struggle to get the correct launch conditions and height.

  5. With a 41 degree pitching wedge you would need to carry at least 2 gap wedges. These super strong lofted sets create big gapping problems for people with decent swing speed. In a properly gapped set the range of loft covered in the 8 irons would probably average about 26 degrees. The super strong game improvement irons only cover a range of 22 degrees with 8 clubs. That missing 4 degrees got compressed into the 8 irons, meaning the clubs don’t have proper gapping. Not sure why anyone would want to fly a 7 iron 175 and a 8 iron 170, let alone fly the green from 160 with your “PW”. Kind of defeats the point.

    • Allen jones

      Well I went on the course today with a set of mcgregor tour blades and yes the lofts were much lower and my distance went down quite dramatically but I just clubbed up and still came in on an 82 on a par 72 course I’m 76 years old and have played for over 50 years and to be quite honest I’d doesn’t matter what you play as long as you use a bit of course management I will play these again the whole set only cost £20 but I will also keep playing my M4 irons too .allen

      • Brian Matheson

        Allen – agreed. I’m 80 yes old. Went to the range yesterday with my MacGregor DX2 4 iron . Ball speed 94. My fitted one year old Mizuno 4 iron was also 94 ball speed. This club flew about 15/20 yards further. I also play with hickory clubs. It makes no difference it’s how you manage the 18 holes. I can still beat my age! I see youngsters reaching for the 60 or 64 degree wedge with a wee pitch and run with an 8 iron gets me better results. It’s all a con.

  6. If the spin and angle of descent are the same, it shouldn’t matter if the loft is lowered in newer clubs. The question then is spin and angle of decent really the same on a a classic 7 iron or a newer one with 3-5* less loft.

  7. Matt,
    great article! You are spott on!!! Irons are clubs, which fill in the gaps between woods (hybrids) and wedges stamped with exact degrees. There is a clear decrease in lofts in last years. The only real difference is that now I need to have an AW (or 48deg wedge) in bag and that you miss one club (actually, I should say one number) on the long end instead… It is still all about know what distance each club produces and have good gaps inbetween. And you can call them dogs names, if you want….
    And crazy are people who buy irons based on distance. You should buy a set, where your 150y club gives you smallest dispersion. On the other hand, the advanced technology, lower CoG, well fit shaft, better perimeter weighting of a modern iron certainly gives you better chance to play your 150y shots better than with a 20y old model… though now it may be a modern 8iron versus old 7iron… (having nearly identical lofts)

  8. Companies are selling 3 & 4 irons with reduced lofts that the majority of golfers don’t have the swing speed to hit properly. These golfers then have to spend more cash on hybrids.

    • Matt Saternus

      Mark,

      Very true. Another reason not to buy the set off the wall and to instead order the clubs you actually need.

      Best,

      Matt

    • Mark,
      yes, unless you speak about game improvement irons. I have Titliest AP1, and I play 4 and 5 irons. They are long, easy to get up to air even with average swing speed. The new technology, hollow core, low center of gravity, wider soles make them as easy to hit as hybrids, I dare to say (or easier from tee, a bit more difficult from rough and about the same from fairway – that would be my detailed opinion).
      Absolotely true what you wrote is about players irons and perhaps also about wonnabe players irons …

  9. Great article, 100% spot on!

  10. Distance and speed, this is our World. Buy the fastest Car and the longest Golf Clubs. This loft thing is not for the really good Golfer, but take a short hitter and let them hit a “Wedge” 150 yards, WOW. No matter that the hacks wedge is the same loft as an 8 Iron, hey it says W on the sole. I remember in the day when my Ping PW was 50 degrees, the wedge I now play is 44 degrees, is it the same? NO. Fact is I have 3 sets I play, a new CB iron with a 44 W., a new forged of the same make at 45, and another forged set in the same brand at 47, and guess what, they all go pretty much the same distance with a bit different ball flight, but all are great. Of course at 79 yrs old I cannot generate the same speeds I used to, but the most important thing is to like the clubs, the way they look, set, feel, grip and so on and then find out how far you hit them regardless of the number and go have fun. Goof Golfing.

  11. Michael Thomas

    Who really cares what the lofts are on clubs now days….I don’t care if my buddy is hitting a sand wedge while I have to hit a 5 iron…you still have to make a good swing to hit the green !!! Hope no one out there is losing any sleep over this !!!

  12. I think most golfers at this point are aware of the issues of loft and even the tech in the different clubs/brands/category. Good golfers don’t ask what club number you hit, they ask if you hit your 150 yard club into that Par3 with a headwind, or did you club up to your 160 yard club? At the end of the day, everyone taking the game seriously is gettig fitted to their specific skill level/preferences.

  13. Just have fun ,,,,who cares if the thug next to you can hit 30 yards further that’s his ego !!! I very traditional I hit BenHodan ft worth black irons lol and was hit ping G400 fitted for them new shafts grips etc!!!! Ug ug sitting my shed!!!! I blame it on the doppy companies any thing to make money !!! Let’s just have fun which I never have games way to hard lol have a great rest of year!!!! Oh and ty

  14. Happy Gilmore

    Is there a database available anywhere online for looking up the factory specs on older clubs?

    • Matt Saternus

      PING’s website is good for finding older product, but beyond that I’m not sure where I’d look.

      Best,

      Matt

  15. One day I was watching Michael Jordan on a program called “Cigar aficionados” and the question was raised to him, “who is the better player, Tiger or Mickelson? Jordan gave a genius answer saying: You can say that they are both great players, Because it is hard if not impossible to say that one is better than the other because they don’t play every game against each other with the same swing, talent, or equipment. With that being said, I realized Golf is the only sport where people can have equipment that is Catered to their physical anatomy And Their swing mechanics. Of course allowing for more forgiveness to attain further and straight ball flight. With usually have us eating out of the manufactures hands.
    In my Few years of playing and watching golf, I realize it’s not only the straight and far That help you attain low scores and wins. If that was the case Bryson Dechambeau will probably win from here on out, But that’s not the case or else everyone would have to obtain not only better equipment but also physically bigger faster and stronger along with having an arsenal of skill sets. So being that it is low possibility to change the current courses and make everyone swing the same way with the same equipment. I’m sure if and when the new courses are made, they will be made to suit the longer players as well as courses for the players who can shape shots. All in all I don’t think equipment matters for us lay person Who has nothing on the line other than a few dollars and bragging rights.

  16. I have morphed into a guy who plays vintage clubs. Currently gaming a set of macgregor blackface mt2 irons. The 8 iron is a little weaker than my “modern” pitching wedge. About a 105 yard club. So what this set is in todays terms is wedges from sand to seven iron. This makes a deadly scoring set of irons. To make sense of distances i carry an 11 wood, 7 wood, and 5, and a mashie. My scoring is a little better with these classic guys. And the feel of old forged irons is the best. It’s made golf way more interesting and fun. Modern clubs ….drive…pitching wedge…over and over.

  17. Been a golfer for 50 years and a club maker/fitter since 1985, so here is my 2 cents:
    1. The lie/loft controversy is just that – controversy. With the wide variety of modern golf club head designs, shaft technology and grip improvements, trying to adopt a standard for comparison is next to impossible – and probably unnecessary.
    2. Check your ego at the door. If you’re playing partner uses his 8 iron from 150 and you need your 7 – so what? Short of analyzing every single specification of both sets of irons, dwell more on what works for you. If you can hit that 7 iron where you want to 90% of the time, who cares what number is stamped on the bottom?
    3. By all means try to avoid the “honeymoon affect”. A phenomenon rooted in having a new or demo club miraculously fix your ailing game! You rush out buy an entire set of these new miracle sticks only to fall back into your normal playing pattern soon after.
    4. The reality is: a properly fit set of clubs is essential for anyone aspiring to be a better player. That, in tandem with professional instruction, will “up the odds” for anyone to improve their game. Once a golfer is confident that they are properly fit, they can concentrate on technique, versus looking for the next “miracle” club fix!

    • Great points, John. I did clubmaking, too, for about fifteen years but stopped when manufacturers started customizing their clubs to order. I still change my own grips and add length to OEM drivers/fairways/hybrids because I’m 6’5″ with long arms and legs, but I don’t mess much with adjusting loft or lie as I used to years ago.
      In any case, I think you’re absolutely right that the key is fitting a set to your game, and for me, as a resident of north Texas, learning how to select the right club in the wind is possibly the biggest challenge after that of making solid contact. I couldn’t care less which club it is, if it lets me hit the dang green!

  18. Mike Farrell

    I think golfers are being shafted since the standard iron set has reduced from 9 to 7 irons as a marketing opportunity to charge more for less clubs.

    I like the spread of lofts on the older clubs where the gap between each club is less and enables you more options in distance. The next thing manufacturers will do is offer costly gap irons where the increase in loft from one iron to the next is too much.

  19. Stephen Dunne

    Great article, I have always suspected that over the years and yeah if I was a golf club manufacturer you can bet i would be rolling out the “change your game forever irons” about every three years ors also. My personal experience over a period of nearly 50 years tells a different tale though. In 1976 I carried a 2 handicap, on the same course I play today, playing with Wilson Staff muscle back irons and laminated woods. I would occasionally caddie for an older friend who was much better than me and one day I asked him about his new clubs to which he remarked.. “just remember its not the bows or arrows.. it’s the Indian”. I have since upgraded to titles DCI irons and a Ping G3 driver, and occasionally haul out the old staffs. As a practical matter a bad swing with my Staffs results in missing the green I would have missed anyway with the “new” clubs so I still need to get up and down.

    So if after 43 years of practice I play to a 10 hdcp with “modern” clubs on the very same course I played to a 2 but with laminated woods, forged irons, balata balls and nothing fitted then yeah it’s not the bows or the arrows, it’s me. This year I vow to spend more time working on 25 yards and in rather than trying hit my 7 iron 165 yards like my buddies do!

  20. I wanted to try some irons with the Nippon Zelos shafts, because I wanted to try going back to steel, and those are only 10g or so heavier than my graphite shafts. I found some JDM Callaway Epic Forged Star irons, online, which I believe are the strongest lofted irons made so far. I mean…stupid strong lofts. But they were brand new, really cheap, had the shafts I wanted to try, and I had hit these irons before and liked them. And I was already playing some strong lofted irons, the Apex ’19s.

    I can’t say that it’s just the heads, but I hit these farther (obviously), and also MUCH higher and way straighter than my Apex irons with graphite Catalyst regular shafts. I think a lot of it is the Zelos shaft, which is seriously whippy and has a big kick at impact. But man alive, they feel good.

    I tested the Epic Forged Star AW against the Apex PW, which are the same loft – 43º (I know: already pretty strong). The Epic AW flies further, higher and has tighter dispersion both left-to-right and front-to-back. I’m even spinning balls back on the green, which is unheard of at my slower swing speeds. Again, I think this is a combination of the low CoG, tungsten-weighted head and the whippy, kickin’ Zelos.

    I did need to reorganize the wedges though. The Epic Forged Approach wedge is basically a strong pitching wedge – a 112-115 yard club for me. So I bought the Gap wedge, which is, I think 49º, which is the 100-105 -yard club for me – or the equivalent of my old AW. Then my normal 52 and 56. So you’ve got TWO gap wedges before the specialist wedges.

    But I’m still getting 8 clubs: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW, AW, GW
    As opposed to my old set-up of: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW

    And I have a 5 iron which is really a 3 or 4-iron, but one that I can hit far and high enough to hold a green!

    And a 7-iron (which is really a 5-iron) with a “stiff” steel shaft (which really plays like an A-flex) that goes 155! So ego is definitely a factor in the equation. But my two friends I play with most often both hit their 34º 7-irons about 175, so my ego is getting a bashing every time I tee up with those f#&*ers anyway. Fortunately they both have below-average short games and aren’t terribly accurate.

    I think companies should just keep numbering the strong-lofted irons at the bottom end. Instead of Approach wedge and Gap wedge you’d just have 10 and 11-irons!

  21. Jeroen Goudswaard

    I guess the “number” of the club should be based on the descent angle of a well struck shot. I tried the new Titleist T200s and compared to my trusty old Ping i10s: I get about the same stick on the green with the 8 iron of the T200 as with the 7 iron of the i10. But the Titleist is still some 5-10 yards longer.

  22. Thomas Mudrovich

    I’m 73. Thirty-five years ago I was a big hitter–regularly hitting 280-300 yard drives with a persimmon driver with a steel shaft. Those numbers were down just a bit 25 years ago. I played forged Mizuno irons. Still hit 150-160 7 irons, and won local long distance drive contests. My game was always based on distance. Then, a left shoulder rotator cuff partial tear; a left knee injury; back problems; osteoarthritis in my wrists; and a hip replacement six years ago. Two years ago, I realized that distance with clubs was a false god. I wasn’t accurate and precise with distances to the green. Today I have a punch swing that goes where I want it to. Straight, precise distances with a planned fade that sticks on the green. Ping G10 irons with wide easy to hit soles. A 10 yard gap between irons. As Johnny Miller has said: If you have irons you like that work for you never change them out untill they fall apart.

  23. But hasn’t technology changed our golf swings, and wouldn’t we want our equipment to change as well, so much as been learned about the golf swing, it seems like every year I am making changes to my swing, based on something new we’ve discovered and with that my clubs keep getting longer and better, even though I play with clubs that are 2 decades old and I need a club fitting , our courses have gone through a lot of changes too and we need equipment to match that design. My wedges and putter are newer because they do make the biggest difference from the old clubs. I would like to begin playing on better courses but in order to do that I need to play with fitted clubs, technology has made the difference, perhaps the issue isn’t with the manufacture’s but the people pedaling the clubs at the store.

  24. Richard Olmsted

    The pro at my club is always telling me, it doesn’t matter what the number on the club says as long as you know what distance it will go consistently! I hit a 7 140-150 my buddy hits his PW the same.

  25. Duncan Bossle

    It’s all a game by the clubmakers to entice us golf nuts buy more clubs. Disregard the stamped number on your clubs, and simply know how far you hit each one. People have to get past the noise, ie. “Jim hits 7i 30 yards past me.” Yeah. His new 7i is 5 degrees stronger than yours from 10 years ago. That does NOT mean you need new sticks!

  26. Robert Richards

    I recall king cobra rep at the driving range. His only demo was the pitching wedge. You wanna hit this. I guarantee it’s longer than your pitching wedge. The king cobra wedge as I remember was same loft as my forge blade 9-iron.

    I said, but my 50 degree pitching wedge is more accurate.

    The correct flex shaft for your swing will ever make more distance and accuracy to your game than loft. The shaft will have more effect on your game than any other piece of gear.
    Personally I’d like to see the consistent 4 degrees between all irons as in the pre-television days.
    My irons are 3 degrees between long irons, 4 degrees between mid irons and 5 degrees between short irons. Spalding Tour Edition forged, mid eighties I think. Very soft.

    My method to finding a club.
    – First Find the shaft and flex that fit your
    swing.
    -Second, find an iron that is pretty to your eye as you will be looking down at them a lot.
    -Also, find whether you like a high spin or low launch ball.
    Then… play, be happy.

  27. In many cases, the stock shaft that is offered on strong lofted irons will produce a mid-high to a high trajectory, depending on flex. Weight lower in the head and higher trajectory shafts (kick point moved?) offset the expected lower trajectory of jacked lofts.

  28. Louis Winters

    It’s a new world with 7,500 yard courses. I’ve had to upgrade my clubs to keep up. It’s just a matter of necessity. I am embracing the change but my wallet is definitely rebelling!

  29. Doug McMaster

    I agree from my own observations. After several months of standing over a new 6 iron, one day I just looked at it and thought ‘this doesn’t look right’. I sold them and went back to older set. Not changing yet. And the ego: OH YEAH……. ‘I hit driver, nine’ etc. what a bunch of crap. I have played with some friends who hit short of the green a LOT, still trying to claim a shorter club is all they need. To be fair, technology has changed things a lot. I’ve played 60 years, and still have my dad’s 1956 persimmon driver, and it’s VERY short shaft. That said, golf has advanced immensely, and I do enjoy the metal woods, and hybrids.

  30. I think it’s great that lofts are all over the place now – hopefully, it’ll stop the nosy ‘ what club did you hit ‘ questions on the tee.

  31. David Roeger

    It’s all about scoring. I still play my old Hogan radial irons that are a lot more accurate than the newer strong lofted irons. Who cares if you’re hitting 1 to 2 clubs more than the other guys.

  32. Victor Funk

    Make sure your club set has all of the angle steps covered and then learn how to hit those clubs, regardless of how they are numbered, to predictable distances. Attack wedge (they love to sell clubs and we love to buy em’). Regardless of the club lofts/numbers on the club, you have to practice. That is where the buck stops. The pros hit thousands of shots and they know what each club will or will not do.

  33. Dereck McDonald

    I wish golf commentators would realize all this. Get tired of them acting all impressed and astonished about a PGA tour pro hitting a 200 yard 8 iron. That club with an 8 on it would have had a 6 on it in the 70’s.

  34. James Hatch

    So the next time I’m standing on the tee box of an 179 yard par 3 with my pals, I can now try to factor into the equation club manufacturer, club year made, ect… into a question of what did you just hit ?

  35. I just don’t like the iron sets these days. It was tolerable for iron sets to be bent 1/2 club strong 25 years ago, as you could look at a 21-degree 3-iron and not really tell the difference from a traditional 22-degree 3 iron. However, with today’s iron sets, you can have an 18 or 19-degree 4-iron (which is basically a 2-iron). When you grip that club and address the ball, that 4-iron head looks like a 2-iron head and I don’t have any confidence that I can hit it off the ground. Having played basketball for decades, if they raised the rim to 11 or 12 feet, it would ruin my shooting ability. Perhaps in a few years I could get used to it, but maybe not.

    So, these iron sets these days that are bent two clubs strong are not for anyone who has played traditional lofts or even the 1/2 club strong loft angles of the late 90s and early 2000s.

  36. chuck fiandach

    I read all the questions but did not find what I was looking for. Is it easier to hit today’s 7 iron (or any iron to compare) that has a shorter shaft and stronger loft compared to the older club that would have the same loft but a longer shaft?
    thank you

    • Matt Saternus

      Chuck,

      I don’t know that it’s accurate to say that today’s irons have shorter shafts. That said, I do think most people find it easier to hit a shorter shafted club than a longer one.

      Best,

      Matt

  37. I agree. Golfers could stand to drop their BIG egos and just go play the game. If you hit an 8 iron 150 and I hit it 140, who gives a rat’s ass?

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