An Insider's Look at Golf Club Design
(from the perspective of the Texas WedgeHog; you know, rootin’ out the truth)

When it comes to golf club design, I guess you'd have to say that I'm somewhat of a cynic. Conservative for sure, but cynical because I've been in this business for nearly 30 years and I've seen a continuous stream of unsupportable advertising claims on the "newest and greatest," whether it be drivers, fairway woods, irons, putters . . . you name it. But look back at history and see how many of those really had staying power? Not too many. And the industry churns out more and more "new" ideas every year, don't they?

The reality is that new models, and short product life cycles, have become a way of doing business in the golf equipment sector these days. The R&D departments have a responsibility to churn out new models or they are out of a job. The marketing and sales departments have a responsibility to create buzz and spring sales or they are on the street as well. So we get another “greatest thing since sliced bread” from every major company, every year.

And by summer or fall, all of this year’s “hottest new things” will be selling at heavily discounted prices to make room for next year’s “hottest new things”. So let’s break it down by seeing just what a club is, what it can and cannot be expected to do for you, and how to improve the odds of getting value from your equipment dollars.

First, whether it’s a driver, fairway wood, hybrid or iron , a club is simply a head, attached to a shaft, with a rubber thing on the end to hold onto. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s talk clubheads first.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for ten years, you probably already have one or more drivers with a 460 cc head, exotic material construction and weight distribution pushed to the edge of manufacturing capabilities. With the technology pushed to the limits allowed by the USGA, the difference between models on the market is miniscule. And the ability for someone to invent something new that is a giant leap from where we are just isn’t going to happen. In essence, they are all about the same, so find one that looks good to you and sounds right and stick with it.

That same approach pretty much says it all about fairway woods, too. The biggest goal here is to determine how many you are going to carry, and select the lofts that will give you the full-swing distances you need. You can take that same approach with your hybrids. They all are designed to be easy to hit, and they are. Pretty much all you have to do is find the head design that suits your eye, and get the lofts that deliver the distances you are after.

Now, irons . . . they are a little different, with hundreds of models to choose from. But generally, you can put all of them into four categories:
1. True blades – these are the pure muscle-back models with very little to no perimeter weighting. And they should only be chosen by golfers who are exceptional ball strikers. They will give you great feedback and ball control if you are an accomplished player, but you will be penalized with your mis-hits. You don’t see many of them in the stores anymore.

2. Modern blades – if you read this column, you know that this is where I believe most serious golfers under 15-18 handicap should be. With some weight distributed to the toe and sole, but plenty of mass left behind the center of the face, I’m convinced that almost all golfers can benefit from this type of iron design. There are some very good ones out there, but they don’t get much promotion from the major brands. If you can hit the ball pretty solid most of the time, you should really give a set of these a serious trial. I think you’ll be amazed at what you find.

3. Super cavity backs – I’m skipping to the extreme here, to the designs that have the weight radically pushed to the extremes, severe offsets, usually some multi-material “pixie dust” to make them sound like the miracle cure for whatever ails you. Well, if you are a player that just “slops” the ball around the course, and fear that you might miss it entirely, maybe you need to be here, but I’m not real sure. This category allows the designers to “go wild” with their imaginations, and they generally feature jacked up lofts so that you think you hit them a mile. Sheesh.

4. Simple perimeter weighted irons – this is the largest category of irons and the most popular at the cash register. Weight is moved around to make them “forgiving”, and the designers have a palette so that they can make them look different every year. The fact is that most are not all that much different from the Ping Eyes of 30 years ago, which started this whole trend. They give you more distance and flight from your mis-hits than blades, but also compromise your best dead-center hits. That’s simple physics.
Well, we didn’t get to the shaft part of the equation, so I guess next Friday’s post topic is set. And I’m betting, and hoping, that today’s post is going to generate more questions than I’ve gotten in a long time. That’s what this is all about, so start hitting those keys, readers. I’ll see you Tuesday with a reader’s question (and another free EIDOLON wedge winner) and get on the shaft topic next Friday.

Usually I let you guys have at it in the comments, but I promise to chime in every day on this topic if you guys and ladies want to create a thorough dialog on clubhead design.


photo source
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[ comments ]
DiC says:
Great article Terry (looking forward to the follow up on shafts!)
After winning one of your wedges on here the other week it forced me to take a look at my irons to work out what loft would fit in with my set. I took them to a local shop to be measured and the results (at the short iron end) were enlightening!

3 - 24
4 - 26
5 - 28
6 – 29 (maybe hit a bad shot and slightly bent at some point from 30*)
7 - 32
8 - 34
9 - 38 (not sure why the sudden change to 4* difference from the 8i?)
P - 41
S - 52 (BIG GAP from the Pw!)
L - 64

Matched 3-Sw and 64* added later.
The guy in the shop commented on what a "strong" Pw it was measuring a couple of times to check he hadn't accidentally got the 9 iron!
Armed with these figures I opted for a "true pitching wedge" as your site puts it and picked 48* to fit exactly between my current Pw & Sw.
Currently I hit full swing (aprox) Pw-120yds / Sw-80yds. Hopefully the new wedge will allow me to hit those 100yd approaches and stop it on the green a bit more!
5/7/10
 
kingwood hacker says:
I switched this year from a set of cavity backs (cleveland launcher lp's from 2006 or so) to a set of modern blades (mizuno mp68's from this year). I am currently carrying a 16 handicap. I have never hit iron shots as good as the ones I've been hitting since making the switch. Don't let someone in a store tell you that you are not good enough to play blades, what they are really saying is that you aren't ever going to get any better, so you might as well play these huge cavity backs to minimize your misses.
5/7/10
 
kingwood hacker says:
And.. on DiC's point, I had the same problem. My old cavity back set had a 45* pitching wedge that I hit 120 or so, and then my 52* I hit around 95. Now I hit my new 48* pitching wedge around 110, so my scoring around 100 yds has gotten much better.
5/7/10
 
erickbelus says:
Wow, I thought my Di7s had juiced up lofts. They are at 23 on the #4 and a stout 43 on the PW. I guess it wasn't so bad after all..
5/7/10
 
kingwood hacker says:
No kidding, the 8 iron in my mizuno set is 39*.
5/7/10
 
TWUES17 says:
Is 2* between clubs normal for anyone else? I've got MP-52s and they are typically 4* apart, and sometimes 5*. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills looking at DiC's set, but maybe I'm the one with the strange distribution.
5/7/10
 
mjaber says:
From my shopping over the winter, it seems between 3* and 4* of loft is the norm. Usually the 4* starts between the 7i and 8i.
5/7/10
 
chris9594 says:
you should have 4* gap as standard for your irons. generally if lengths are in order 1*=2.5 yrds distance change so 4*=10 yrds distance change which is kinda industry standard
5/7/10
 
DiC says:
The guy in the shop did make some comments about the small gaps and mentioned more like 3 or 4 degrees being the norm. I half thought he was just trying to sell me a new set but I guess he was being honest.

Time for a new set me thinks!
hmmm... I like the sound of some modern blades.
5/7/10
 
tennesseeboy says:
If you're having trouble hitting the sweet spot, do you think you are better off using more forgiving clubs or changing your swing (choking down, shorter back swing) so that you can hit the sweet spot more consistently?
5/7/10
 
Banker85 says:
I have Taylormade LT2's 2005 model they are i would say a modern blade/Simple perimeter weighted irons, they have perimeter weighting but look like a players club at address. i have:
3hy - 19*
4hy - 22*
5i - 27*
6i - 31*
7i - 35*
8i - 39*
9i - 43*
PW - 47*
52*, 56*, 60* I really focused on lofts as i was purchasing my irons this winter so i can have nice loft gaps between clubs. my avg loft gap from driver to LW is 4.125*, high being 5* and low being 3*. helps getting consistent distances.
5/7/10
 
Banker85 says:
tennesseboy: save it for tuesdays questions you might get a wedge!
5/7/10
 
georgelohr says:
Kingwood, I too switched from a set of Nickent 3dx Game Improvement irons to a set of Mizuno MP-67s. I hit them better, they feel better in my hands and I get some feedback to tell me what part of the club face was hit when I miss. More guys should try blades for a couple of rounds.
5/8/10
 
Matt F says:
My goal this year is to have a set of modern blades made for me. If I'm reading comments correctly, here and elsewhere, you can get better playing blades rather than a more forgiving "Game" or "Super Game" improvement club.

Matt
5/8/10
 
georgelohr says:
mwfaith1971, I won't say it's lowered my scores, but it certainly has'nt raised them. I end up with some crappy 20-40 yard chips...and it is near impossible to use a large "game-improvement" 9 iron to hit those shots. Now with a 9 iron blade, I can use it just like my other wedges. Just one more reason to switch.
5/8/10
 
brianshaffer32 says:
going off of what georgelohr said, Imagine standing in a fairway bunker with a shovel and trying to hit a ball out of it, I don't think I could hit it mentally let alone do it, go to some type of blade there is no better look or feel for your game
5/8/10
 
stedar says:
On this topic, I just had a horrible round (17 shots over my best since starting on oobgolf). Plying 3-4 times a week meant I was hitting the ball too good! Flying over greens with irons I'd usually have trouble to make a green with. The frustrating part is when you are looking for an up and down to make bogey - then double or tripple boggies start to hurt. Club design? Club and human interaction more like.

From everything I've read, it comes down to the more you practice, the better you strike the ball, then the more you need to change the club choice. And when you have 5* of separation in the 8 - 9 - P, and you are over hitting by 20-30 yards - you get in trouble quick.

For the most part, it was better when the drive only carried 220 yrds and the approach was greater than 150. Inside of that, the 8 - 9 - P were giving me grief. I need a LOB wedge. Waiting for Eidolon to arrive in NZ :-)

Sorry for the rant - just needed to share...
5/9/10
 
Matt F says:
georgelohr & brianshaffer32 - thanks for the comments. My reasoning is that you "should" get better playing with blade "type" clubs because you have to hit them better to get the desired result. Hence my desire to switch. I could only see myself playing better as a result.

Matt
5/9/10
 
Agustin says:
Besides Mizuno, any other modern blades any of your would recommend?

I currently play CW X-20 Tours:
3 - 21
4 - 24
5 - 27
6 - 30
7 - 34
8 - 38
9 - 42
PW - 46

Eidolon Gap - 52
Cleveland CG 12 - 58
5/9/10
 
eventHorizon says:
Blades can be a beautiful step forward or a huge step in the wrong direction. The highlights that are being discussed about blades can also be huge setbacks for players without good ball striking skills or the desire to work on their ball striking skills. If you are a higher handicapper looking to make this step you might want to make a smoother move from large cavity back irons to more player cavity back irons. I'm thinking something on the lines of the new Titleist CBs or their old 962s. Possibly a more desired step is with a blended set. Get blades in 8 through PW and use your current clubs for the rest. The longer irons could be very troublesome without good ball striking. Yes the feel is beyond better but remember the sweet spot is tiny. All the big companies have blades -- Mizuno, Titleist, Callaway, Taylormade, Hogan, etc. Also though, check out the small names -- Miura, Scratch, ...
5/10/10
 
Matt F says:
@ eventHorizon - Thanks. I'm currently looking at KZG for my irons.

Matt
5/10/10
 
kingwood hacker says:
Agustin,

I really like the look of the nike VR blades the the adams black ones. You can look for a set of the taylormade rac mb's from a couple of years ago if you're looking to try some out cheap. I've hit the Nike's at the range, and they are nice. Not quite as pure as the Mizunos, but pretty nice.

If you're not ready to take the plunge and spend 800-1000 on a good set of forged blades, you can go to the golf shop and see if you can buy one of the demo 6 irons from the last year or so. Take it to the range and see if you can hit it at all. One warning, it will take some time on the range to adjust. You'll have to get used to taking a divot as well.
5/10/10
 
Agustin says:
kingwood hacker,

Thanks, good advice. I'll take a look at the VRs and consider buying a demo club or two to check them out... maybe even on an actual round...
5/10/10
 
pmhk says:
The Wedge Guy,

Why do perimeter weighted irons "compromise your best dead-center hits"?

Also, could you give specific product examples of what you consider to be a modern blade?
5/10/10
 
DFlo says:
Which sets fall into the "modern blades" category and which ones would you actually recommend?
5/10/10
 
DiC says:
Ditto to the modern blade question. I'm interested to go try a few but not sure which models fall into this category.

Thanks
5/10/10
 
wedgeguy says:
Sorry for the delay, guys, but this dialog hardly needed me until these last three posts. All you others have pretty much confirmed what I'm talking about, and every post I've written on this topic the past few years generates the same personal experiences. To address pjhk's question above, the thin face just does not give the same consistent performance as the thicker face of a blade design. The very slight movement of the face prevents that apparently.
5/14/10
 
wedgeguy says:
By "modern blades", I mean those that have a distince "muscle" in the impact zone, but also some amount of mass moved to the toe area as well. We pioneered this at Reid Lockhart over 15 years ago, but many of the Mizuno blades, the new Titleists and offerings from most brands fall into this category. What you are looking for is thickness in the impact area and some weight in the toe. How much is your preference. As for recommending models, I will refrain, but as I say in today's post, the clubhead is only part of the equation -- get the shafts right for your best iron play.
5/14/10
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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