The iron market can be a little confusing with most brands offering a number of different styles from cavity-backs to blades. We explain the differences

Once you’ve been playing a while, it will dawn on you that not all irons looks the same. The days of every iron being a pure blade are long gone, and though a number of top brands do still offer them as an option, cavity-backs of varying depth and style are where most of the iron market is at, even out on tour. But why the change? All is explained here from cavity-backs to blades and shallow cavities in between…

Mid to deep cavity irons

90% of irons made in the past 20 years fall into this category. The basic principle is that weight from the club’s centre is moved to the perimeters to place more mass behind the impact point on off-centre strikes. The heads are bigger too, to further enhance these benefits. Their large sweetspots deliver greater forgiveness, which is why they have proved so massively popular. Most of us have an innate ability to use every part of the clubface but the middle, and cavity-backs have helped limit the damaging effects of some of our poorer efforts. The other big advantage is that with much of the extra weight in the sole, even the notoriously difficult long irons are easier to get airborne.

Ping's G30 - the latest in long line of popular cavity-backs from the brand

Ping’s G30 – the latest in a long line of popular deep cavity-backs from the brand

Shallow cavity irons

Shallow cavity irons or semi-blades are in many ways the new blades and some manufacturers even refer to them as such in their literature. They would be best classed as “players’ clubs” and cater for former blade players happy to admit they might need a little help or improving golfers who want to control ball flight a little more. The heads are often smaller than cavity-backs, and a thinner topline – the edge you look down on at address – gives them the appearance of a true blade from above. But behind the scenes a shallow cavity allows some weight to be relocated to the perimeters. The overall effect is a manageable head for those who would lean towards blades, but a degree of assistance for days when their striking is a little off.

Callaway's XR Pro is a shallow cavity designed to appeal to better players

Callaway’s XR Pro is a shallow cavity designed to appeal to better players

Blades and Musclebacks

True blades make up a very small percentage of today’s iron market. Their flat, uniform heads offer none of the forgiving qualities of cavity-backs, and are often forged, making them fairly expensive, since forging is a more elaborate and time-consuming process. Many of the blades that are available today actually tend to be musclebacks, which appear to fly in the face of cavity-back technology as they place extra mass directly behind the central impact point rather than around the perimeters of the head. The advantage for pure ball-strikers is that dead-centre hits get a more solid feel than a true blade. If you’re not the greatest ball-striker, then blades are probably not for you and best left to very low handicappers who strike it well enough to appreciate the extra feel and workability many believe they offer.

Mizuno has long made some of the finest forged blades on the market like this MP-69

Mizuno has long made some of the finest forged blades on the market like this MP-69

 

Some brands blend clubs of each style into one ‘progressive’ or ‘combination’ set, so you get extra assistance and forgiveness in the longer clubs where you most need it.

 

The cavity-back iron’s forgiving sweetspot, which benefits the majority, probably makes it trickier for better players to manoeuvre the ball and get the feedback they desire from their ball-striking. But if they’re good enough for hundreds of demanding pros, it is difficult to be overly critical of them!