Evolution of Iron Lofts
I have been working on a presentation for the North Texas Section of the PGA, the subject being the evolution of iron lofts and its effect on our set make-up. The end result? This idiotic process of jacking up the lofts of our irons is removing scoring clubs from our bags. I know, this might sound like a "commercial" for SCOR4161, but hear me out, because it can help all of you put a better "tool kit" together.

Let's say the "modern era" of irons started in the late 1930s when we began to evolve from names like "mashie", "niblick",etc., and the numbered matched set of irons emerged. From then up until the early 1970s, a "set" of irons generally contained a 2 through 9, plus a "pitching wedge". The 2-iron was typically 20 degrees of loft, and there was a consistent four-degree difference down to the pitching wedge of 52 degrees.

By the 1980s, cavity back designs had hit the scene, and to combat the ballooning trajectories common to the shorter clubs, manufacturers began to play with this spectrum a bit, squeezing the differentials at the long end of the set to 3 degrees, moving the pitching wedge to 50 degrees.

By the late 1990s, this "evolution" had extended the 3-degree differentials out to the five iron, and taken the pitching wedge down to 48 degrees. So, the pitching wedge had been strengthened by four degrees, but the 2-iron had only gone down by one. I should add that the average length of clubs had been lengthened by an inch or more during this same period for all the clubs.

Now, let's look at where things continue to be headed. The two hottest selling irons of 2013 are duking it out as to who has the longest-hitting 6- or 7-iron. That's what you hit in the demo day, so that's where they are competing. To give you that, these two companies (and all their followers) have skewed the lofts to ridiculous points. The "p-club is now 44-45 degrees ... and they have five degree gaps down to the 8-iron ... where they begin to diminish to only 3 degrees between clubs by the time you get to the five or six, and the four iron is now what a historic 2-iron was – 20 degrees.

In the world of golf club design, there is a thing called the 24/38 rule. It refers to the known fact that most golfers cannot be consistent with an iron-type club that is less than 24 degrees of loft and/or over 38 inches long. In the old days, that was the 3-iron, and only the very best golfers could handle 2-irons and 1-irons. Now, that 24/38 benchmark falls between the 5- and 6-iron. So, in effect, what "technology" has done is give you a 6- and 7-iron you hit further than ever, stripped scoring clubs from your bag, and made your 4- and 5-iron much harder to master.

Where golfers up to the 1980s would have five or even six clubs in their bags with lofts over 40 degrees, the modern golfer only has one or two in his or her iron set, and has to fill in the rest with other clubs ... those things we call "wedges". The problem is that those clubs fall into two categories – either set-match models that were designed to look like the 6-iron, or off-the-rack clubs that really haven't changed in design since they were used only for bunker shots and short pitches around the greens. But with the harder, full swings we put on these clubs today, both options deliver ballooning trajectories and inconsistent distances. And all golfers have bigger gaps in prime scoring range than what Hogan, Nelson, Snead, and their peers had.

It cost Phil Mickelson the U.S. Open. What's it costing you every week?
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[ comments ]
jasonfish11 says:
I switched out my Tommy Armour 845s in March. The hardest thing for me to overcome was the change in lofts. I eventually quit caring what the number on the bottom of the club said and started comparing similar lofted clubs. Of course doing this pioff the "club fitters" at the big box stores. They would get upset when they handed me a 6i and I'd pull ssed my 5i (4i in one case) to compare it to. So I got fitted and bought my clubs through a local pro who understood.

That being said my PW is still 45* but instead of 3 wedges I now have 4. So comparing my old 9i to SW and new PW to SW (both 4 shortest clubs in my bag at the time) I actually shrunk the gap by 1 degree. Old 9i-SW was 44* - 57*. New PW-SW is 45* - 57*
8/2/13
 
birdieXris says:
TLDNR - summary, your scoring clubs have too big gaps and manufacturers are pushing it on you wether you know it or not. Close?
8/2/13
 
Matt McGee says:
Good food for thought. I'm going to have a set of clubs built in the near future. No reason not to go back to four-degree separation between 26 and 56. I agree with Jasonfish - I couldn't care less what the number on the club is, as long as I know how far it goes and I have a club that works for the shot I want to hit.
8/2/13
 
jrbizzle says:
I just looked mine up - I currently game with Cobra Amp irons, my lofts/lengthsd are:
G - 49*/35.75", P - 44*/36"
9 - 39*/36.25", 8 - 35*/36.75
7 - 31*/37.25", 6 - 28*/37.75
5 - 25*/38.25", 4 - 22*/38.75"
Looks like I have 5 degree spacing from G through 9, then 4 degree spacing 9 through 7, then 3 degree spacing 7 through 4. I do not use my 4 iron, as I use a 23 degree hybrid I like much better, so looks like the 24/38 rule is pretty spot on for me. I know it sucks to lose my 4 iron, but in my "old sets" i couldn't hit the 3 iron I was given, and if my P is now a G, I can't just deal with it. For me, it's more about how they feel and knowing how far I hit them. I also carry matched set of Adams wedges - 52* and 56*. For me, I've tried the lob wedge (60*) and never liked it, so if I absolutely need that explosion shot, I just lay open the 56 degree, but avoid that shot at all costs.
8/2/13
 
jrbizzle says:
I really appreciate your continual efforts on this topic Terry, most golfers need to realize they aren't "hitting their 7 iron farther than ever" they are just stamping a 7 on a club that used to say 8. For those good enough to play a more traditional "players" style of irons, the loft increases are nowhere as dramatic. For instance, the current Titleist Ap2 has a 47 degree PW and a 27 degree 5 iron. The big thing for the rest of us is realizing what the clubmakers are doing so we can compensate on the bottom end of our sets. I remember my old Wilson Deep Red IIs came with a "sand wedge" that was similar to the rest of the set in it's muscle back design, but then they removed the dampener insert. So you had a club that had a different feel than the other 8, but not a blade wedge like my other 2. It was a completely useless club - that's where I get mad, a traditional 8 club set with two clubs (4 and SW) that are mostly useless to me.
8/2/13
 
jrbizzle says:
I meant to say "I know it sucks to lose my 4 iron, but in my "old sets" i couldn't hit the 3 iron I was given, and if my P is now a G, I CAN just deal with it". Meaning, I know in my head all my clubs are actually one less than stamped, so as long as I have a GW I like just as much as my old PW I can stand not using my 4 which is actually the same loft as my old 3 (which I never hit).

My sister just took up golf this year and I helped her find a nice used set of women's clubs at a garage sale (late 90s set of Wilson brand women's irons). When we got home I took the3 and 4 irons out of the bag and told her to leave those in the garage for at least two years.
8/2/13
 
slimpks1850 says:
I'm playing 5 clubs with greater than 40' loft.
8/2/13
 
joe jones says:
In the day I was playing with a set of McGregor blades. Specifically Tourney Customs that Nicklaus was playing at the time My 6 iron was lofted at 34 * which was pretty standard for the day.Karsten Soldheim being the great engineer came out with a set that had a 28* 6 iron. Everybody was amazed at how far they could hit those clubs in comparison to other brands and he sold a ton of them. I delofted my set to 30* with the help of my club pro and played them for about 6 years. I would have delofted them more but cast iron didn't bend as much as forged clubs. It's amazing what marketing can do in the golf industry.
8/2/13
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
jrbizzle and Joe Jones said what I would have said. The frustrating thing about my ca.-1989 Hogan Edge forged cavity-backs is that the PW and SW have dramatically different swing-weights and I can't play one the way I play the other. I can really feel the clubhead on my SW, but my "Equalizer" (PW) feels like nothing.

I only have about $220 tied up in my irons (purchased used), so when the money is there for a new set of irons, I will shop very carefully.
8/2/13
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
Also, I vaguely remember that, years ago, one golf club manufacturer (I cannot remember which one) replaced the iron numbers stamped on the soles with the lofts in degrees. And this was for the entire set, not merely the wedges.
8/2/13
 
DougE says:
I play Titleist AP2 712s. PW is a reasonable 47*. My scoring clubs are Vokey 52, 56 and 60. Hit them all to my specified distances, fairly consistently. I assume I'll need to hit it further than the range finder shows for uphill slopes and vice versa for downhill as would be typical for anyone. What difference does it make if I have a higher or lower lofted club than was standard in 1960? I don't freakin' care. I know how far I hit MY clubs and know how to take some off or add a few yards to each if I need to. It's not the clubs, it's the player. When my buddy hits his cast, jacked-up Taylor-Made 7i 160 yards and I can hit my AP2 only 150 or so, it doesn't matter. What matters is accuracy and I like my odds more with a forged blade-style iron, whether weaker than his or not. If I need more yards, I move up a club. It's 2013, not 1960. It is what it is.
8/2/13
 
joe jones says:
Some of the old time pro's had sets made with incorrect numbers stamped on the sole. They then used a etching tool to mark the true loft in small numbers that nobody else could see. They did it to screw up the guy they were playing with. They also delofted or increased the loft on some of the clubs that gave them a better chance of hitting a favorite shot when ever they had a chance too.This was especially true with the scoring clubs. Every pro shop at the courses in those days had club bending equipment.It was mind boggling what they would do to get a perceived advantage.
8/2/13
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
Joe Jones: I forgot that players used to do that mean little trick. Great story - thanks for reminding us!
8/3/13
 
joe jones says:
Ray Floyd said that early in his career Sam Snead stood watching him hit ball on the range. After a few minutes Snead said loud enough for him to hear "Interesting. I have never seen anyone do that before." Floyd said he thought about that for weeks trying to figure out what Snead meant. Finally, Trevino said that the old fart was just trying to mess with you and it worked. Talk about gamesmanship.
8/3/13
 
FiddySnead says:
Soooo if delofting is a problem in your eyes terry, why not just purchase say a 5 iron thru pw which will save some money. And with that saved money buy some scoring clubs. Possibly fill the short end of the bag with scor.
8/4/13
 
GBogey says:
So a question for those of you who understand golf physics and club design much better than me - I have always assumed that the manufacturers use the combination of change in loft and club length to maintain consistent distances between each iron, say 10 yards. Does the squeezing of loft between longer irons mean that the distance gap between short irons is longer than long irons, i.e. 9i to 8i might be 10 yards but 5i to 4i might be 7?
8/4/13
 
joe jones says:
Terry. Please comment. I called on several manufacturers years ago mainly Spalding and Wilson.Two top manufacturers. Their quality control left a lot to be desired. . Irons had a spec of plus or minus two degrees. A six iron could be 28* or 32*. Thats why they had club bending machines available to correct the gaps . I'm sure today's manufacturers hit their mark now.
8/4/13
 
TRad says:
@GBogey

I suspect the distance gap between 20* and 23* clubs is bigger than between 40* and 43*. Thought experiment: what would be distance gap between 87* and 90*? For my money next to zero. On the other end of the spectrum the distance gap between 9* and 12* (with high enough swing speed and other things being equal) could be quite big.

So the problem isn't 3* gaps for long irons. The problem is the typical shelf set has too many clubs average golfer can't hit. For example: one the biggest OEM producers sells iron set with 3I and 4I below 24* and 5I only a hair above. So buying 8pc set you're not only getting only 5 (maybe 6) usable clubs, but has to buy additional AW and one or two hybrids.

Compare with more traditional setup: 24*, 28*, 32*, 36*, 40*, 44*, 48*, 52*. No need to AW (because PW has 52*). I may need to replace 3I (24*) with a hybrid, but that's it.
8/5/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
Terry,
Do newer clubs have a higher launch angle? I only ask because I feel I hit the ball higher w/ my new irons. Since they are 3-4 degrees stronger than my old irons that seems backwards.

I havent put this on a launch monitor to prove it but my new 9i (41*) seems to have a similar launh angle as my old PW (48*).
8/5/13
 
Tim Horan says:
@jasonfish11 - this could equally be shaft configuration, length of shaft, weight distribution in the head, swing weight or MOI causing a higher trajectory. Certainly the manufacturers wouldn't know which it is...they don't care! All they want you to do is fill in gaps with their clubs either hybrids at one end or wedges at the other.
8/20/13
 
Tim Horan says:
@Torlief Sorenson- I visited my local golf store at the weekend and noted that Cleveland have started stamping number and loft on all irons. Good on Cleveland!
8/20/13
 
Tim Horan says:
@fiddysnead - why not buy all Score4161 (at regular gaps) and fill in below with three distance clubs? The options are all out there.
8/20/13
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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