There was a time, not too long ago, when irons designed for single-digit handicap golfers came in two varieties. If you were good enough to play them, muscleback blades were touted as being the ultimate in feel and control. If you weren’t quite good enough for those, cavity-back options offered a little forgiveness thanks to some perimeter weighting, but they were still compact in size and featured thin toplines, narrow soles and only a touch of offset.
In recent years, however, the better-player iron category has fragmented and added a new genre. While there are still muscleback options for elite players and game-enhancing cavity-backs out there, better-player distance clubs have emerged as one of the hottest areas of the market. They typically have the compact looks of traditional clubs, but use multiple materials and different design features to create more ball speed, increased forgiveness and better performance for players who have a repeatable swing.
Equipment makers typically produce new game-improvement and max game-improvement irons every season, but better-player irons often run on two- or three-year product cycles, meaning they are updated every 24 to 36 months. Why? The market for irons designed for single-digit handicap golfers is significantly smaller and players who often shoot in the 70s (or better) are usually not in the market for new technology. They prefer refinements to things they know and trust, so innovations come more slowly.
If you are someone who typically shoots below 80, who contends at your local club championship or is an aspiring tournament player, the irons listed below could give you the combination of control, feel and distance that you need to take your game to the next level .
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Specs: Forged 1025 carbon steel body with 17-4 stainless steel face and tungsten weights
Who it’s for: Good players who want a slightly-higher flight in their long irons.
From the outside, this iron looks like most better-player cavity-backs, but in reality, it is hollow and has an internal tungsten weight in the toe to offset the weight of the hosel, along with a tungsten backplate that adds more mass behind the center of the hitting area. The backplate can be swapped by fitters to adjust the swingweight, but the mass helps to lower the center of gravity for better performance without adding size. Full review.
$1,400 – GlobalGolf $199.99 each – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Metal-injection-molded 304 stainless steel with tungsten weight and thermoplastic polyurethane insert.
Who it’s for: Players who want an exceptionally-soft feel at impact.
Instead of forging or casting the King Tour irons, Cobra elected to use metal injected molding (MIM), which involves superheating stainless steel powder and injected into molds to form the clubs’ shapes. The company claims this boosts feel at impact and consistency from club to club, which is something elite golfers love. A tungsten weight in the toe pulls the ideal hitting area in the center of the face, while vibration-dampening thermoplastic polyurethane insert in the back enhances sound and feel. Full review.
$1,300 – GlobalGolf $1,300 – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Forged chromoly and 1025E mild carbon steel with copper underlayer.
Who it’s for: Consist of ballstrikers who want more distance in a compact head.
While Mizuno Pro 223 will all look the same, this is really a blended set. The 4-7-irons are forged chromoly, which allowed designers to make the faces thinner and faster for more ball speed, but 8-iron through pitching wedge are forged using 1025E mild carbon steel for enhanced feel. At address, accomplished players will love the ultra-clean looks and angles. Full review.
$1,312 – GlobalGolf $1,312 at PGA Tour Superstore
Price: From $1,500
Specs: Forged 1025 carbon-steel body with a 17-4 stainless steel face, aluminum insert, tungsten toe and hosel weights.
Who it’s for: Good players who want a compact iron that offers hidden forgiveness.
Minimalist on the outside, the i59 is one of the most complex irons Ping has ever produced. Inside the forged body is an aluminum insert that allowed Ping designers to add weight to the heel and toe areas to boost stability without making the i59 larger. A new groove design reduces the effects of fliers and the Hyrdropearl finish helps keep water off the face for more consistency. Full review.
$1,500 – GlobalGolf $1,500 – PGA Tour Superstore
Price: $349 per iron
Specs: Forged 8620 carbon steel with milled areas and adjustable swing weights.
Who it’s for: A purist who wants all the feel and control a muscleback can deliver.
Forged in a three-press process and then milled, the 0311 GEN4 ST has the shortest blade length, thinnest topline and most narrow sole of any PXG iron. Unlike the other 0311 irons, which have a polymer inside the head, the ST (which stands for super tour) is solid metal for an unfiltered feel. The large weight in the back allows fitters to easily adjust the swing weight for better performance. Full review.
$349 per iron – PXG
Specs: Forged 1025 carbon-steel bodies with tungsten weights
Who it’s for: Strong players who want a modern-looking cavity-back and enhanced feel.
A modern, better-player cavity-back iron, the ZX7 is forged for enhanced feel, but has a smaller blade length, less offset and thinner topline than the ZX5. It has more forgiveness than Srixon’s muscleback Forged Z, but accomplished players will be able to work the ball left, right, up or down. A small tungsten weight in the toe shifts the sweetspot into the center of the hitting area. Full review.
$1,138 – GlobalGolf $1,138 – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Foam-filled, hollow-bodied construction with a forged 4140 stainless steel face and 8620 carbon steel body and tungsten weight.
Who it’s for: Elite golfers who want more distance and a softer feel at impact.
The smaller of TaylorMade’s two hollow-bodied better-player distance irons, the P•770 has Speed Foam injected inside the heads to soak up excessive vibrations and improve sound without reducing ball speed or sacrificing distance. A Speed Pocket slot in the sole of the long irons improves performance on low-struck shots, but the topline, sole and blade length are still compact. Full review.
$1,225 – TaylorMade $175 per iron – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Forged 1025 carbon-steel with internal tungsten weights and forged SUP-10 stainless steel face.
Who it’s for: Accomplished golfers who want extra stability but insist on a small head size.
With an average of 80 grams of tungsten split between the heel and toe of the 3-7 irons, the T100 has significantly more stability and forgiveness than golfers might expect from an iron with a thin topline and only marginal offset. A redesigned sole and pre-worn leading edge help the T100 work through the turf more efficiently. A strong-loft T100•S version is also available. Full review.
$1,299 – GlobalGolf $1,300 – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Forged 8620 carbon-steel face with tungsten weight
Who it’s for: Good players who want more distance and a clean look at address.
The updated version of the Exotic C722 is 15 percent smaller, but still an option for better players who want more distance. On the inner-facing side of the hitting area, designers optimized 103 diamond-shaped areas with different thicknesses so they can act like mini trampolines and produce more ball speed. Thermoplastic polyurethane is injected inside the heads to absorb excessive vibrations to enhance sound and feel. Full review.
$900 – PGA Tour Superstore
Specs: Forged 8620 carbon-steel face with tungsten weight
Who it’s for: Golfers with a powerful, repeatable swing who want better sound and feel at impact.
In the address position, the Staff Model CB ticks all the boxers, with a thin topline, a narrow sole with pre-wear on the leading edge and moderate offset. What golfers won’t see is the 20-gram tungsten weight in the toe or the Tri-Brace Stabilizer on the back that connects the toe, heel and topline. Reinforcing the impact area, it enhances sound and feel. Full Review.
$1,100 – Global Golf $1,100 – Wilson