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.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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17 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

  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.

  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.

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