Should I use Blades or Cavity Back Irons?
Should I use Blades or Cavity Back Irons?: Introduction
The short answer is that the majority of golfers would benefit from using cavity back irons rather than blades. Only the most accomplished golfers would be able to get the best from a set of bladed irons.
This article will tell you the difference between blades and cavity backs and why cavity backs are easier to hit.
What are Bladed Irons?
Bladed irons are the more traditional-looking form of iron. Up until the 60s they would have been the only option available to you when you are looking to buy a set of irons.
They are made by hammering a piece of metal into shape. This means they are often known as forged irons. Most people tend to agree that this gives them a softer feel than cavity back irons which are usually cast rather than forged.
At address, you would notice that the top of the club is quite thin and to some, they would appear quite intimidating.
Over the years the size of the club heads has increased somewhat but they are still in general smaller than cavity back heads. Many manufacturers have taken the additional step of moving more weight towards the bottom of the clubhead. It is done to improve the launch conditions. Clubs like this are often known as muscle backs.
Their construction means they have a much smaller sweet spot than a cavity back club. Therefore imperfections in your swing will become more evident as you hit shots.
Manufacturers have made modern blade irons much easier to hit than their predecessors from 30 years or more ago. They are still significantly more difficult to hit than cavity back clubs.
Benefits of Bladed Irons
The main benefit of bladed irons is the high level of feedback provided when you hit shots. The fact that the club has a very small sweet spot means you are left in no doubt as to the accuracy of your strike.
Another big advantage of bladed irons for skilled players is that it is much easier to manipulate the trajectory of the ball. It is also easier to curve the ball from left to right or right to left.
You will tend to launch the ball on a lower trajectory when using blade irons and this could be useful if you tend to play a lot of golf in windy conditions. It may also benefit you if you generate a lot of backspin.
If you play a course that has very firm fairways (e.g. a links) then you may find blades more accommodating due to their narrower soles. Cavity backs will generally have wider soles and therefore are less conducive to firmer fairways.
The final benefit is the aesthetics. Like many people, I just prefer the look of blades and that alone can instill confidence.
Downsides of Blade Irons
The biggest problem with using bladed irons is the lack of forgiveness. Unless you are an accomplished golfer you will quickly realize how hard it is to hit good shots with a bladed iron.
It might not be as difficult as it would have been with clubs from 40 or 50 years ago. You will still notice a marked difference between even a modern bladed iron and the cavity backs you are probably used to using.
Blade irons will tend to launch the ball lower and this means you are likely to lose distance compared with a cavity back iron. For a given swing speed there will be an optimum launch angle and spin combination to get maximum distance. The lower launch that you will generally get from a bladed iron is unlikely to be the optimum for your swing.
Cost. The forging process used to manufacture blade irons is more complicated than the casting process for cavity backs. This makes forged blades more expensive than a cast cavity back club.
What are Cavity Back Irons?
Cavity back irons are a relatively recent phenomenon. Their increased ease of use over blade irons means they now account for the majority of the iron market. Rather than being hammered into shape, molten metal is poured into a cast to create the clubhead. This process means cavity backs offer less ‘feel’ than a forged club.
Karsten Solheim of Ping is generally credited with being the father of the modern cavity back iron. He applied a similar peripheral weighting principle he used with a putter design to the design of an iron clubhead.
He also wanted to find a way to reduce manufacturing costs and thus the cast game improvement iron was born in the 60s.
The design of cavity backs has progressed over time. From a small cavity to an ever-larger cavity with wide soles, tungsten inserts and even more exotic options.
It is possible to find forged cavity back irons on the market. In some cases, these might consist of a face made of forged metal and then the cavity built around that face. The advantage here would be to give more feel while still retaining maximum forgiveness.
Benefits of Cavity Back Irons
The major benefit of using cavity backs is forgiveness. The redistribution of weight around the perimeter of the head makes for a much larger sweet spot. This means that even if your swing is not particularly repeatable you will still manage to produce reasonable results.
Tests have shown that you will generally gain distance when using a cavity back as opposed to an equivalent blade iron. Since the majority of golfers are looking for more distance, on this measure at least, your choice would be clear.
Downsides of Cavity Backs
The biggest downside of using cavity back irons is the increased forgiveness! By this, I mean you will find it harder to work out which shots were good and which were not so good. They don’t give the same level of feedback as a forged blade.
It will be more difficult to shape your shots around obstacles or adjust the trajectory of your shots to allow for obstacles or the wind.
Cavity back irons tend to launch the ball on a higher trajectory. This might be a problem if you have a high swing speed or play most of your golf in windy conditions.
Someone playing the majority of their golf on firm fairways might find that the wider soles typically found on cavity back clubs make it more difficult to hit good shots.
Cavity back irons will tend to be cheaper than forged blades.
Blade Irons vs Cavity Back
A quick summary of the difference between blades and cavity back irons.
Hollow Head Irons
Hollow head irons have been tried in the past but have made a recent comeback with a number of manufacturers producing sets in the last few years. Made from two pieces of metal joined together leaving a hollow interior as the name would suggest. They strive to offer the best of both worlds by giving you the looks of a blade iron and the playability of a cavity back.
Even the Ping models I’ve seen look quite nice which is unusual since Ping irons generally don’t look that appealing.
I’ll certainly put some of these on test in the near future as I’m looking for a new set of irons. While I’ve always liked blade irons I’ve never felt confident that I could hit them consistently.
What do the Professionals Use?
When you consider that a golf professional earns their living playing golf then it is beneficial to examine the sort of clubs that they are using.
As the years go by fewer and fewer professionals are using bladed irons. There are many more pros now using out and out game improvement clubs or a mixture of blade short irons with cavity back medium and long irons.
Don’t forget that we are talking about people that spend all day working on their golf game. Even they are increasingly turning away from bladed clubs.
Given that even tour pros now employ an increasing percentage of cavity back clubs it is hard to argue that amateurs should still be using blades. Especially ones that only play infrequently. If you feel your swing is sufficiently good then by all means go for it but most likely you will be leaving some shots out on the course. Unless you have a very good swing you really shouldn’t be considering purchasing or using bladed clubs.
Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]
Best Cavity Back Irons?
First, we must decide how we are measuring the best. Is it the best for distance or the best for forgiveness?
Since cavity back irons are designed to be more forgiving I suppose that forgiveness is the measure that most people would be looking at.
In a recent test by Today’s Golfer magazine the Ping G710 irons were chosen as their most forgiving cavity back irons.
Their testing found that hybrid irons were more forgiving than cavity back irons.
Whether you would prefer to play with hybrid irons is another matter, however.