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Selecting the Right Iron Head

When selecting an iron clubhead there are three important performance factors to initially consider: trajectory, forgiveness and workability.

Today's irons are designed to locate the center of gravity (CG) precisely where the club designer intends. Each design is created to target a specific type of performance so arbitrarily selecting an iron model based on its appearance, price or popularity may not necessarily be the best approach to take in choosing a model that will benefit you the most.

Each clubhead offered by Golfsmith has its performance measured and then identified through the Component Performance Matching System (CPMS). The performance categories identify the clubhead's trajectory, forgiveness (or stability) and workability.


Consider the trajectory first. If you cannot get the ball airborne with the golf club then the other two performance categories become a moot point. Are you the type of golfer that needs assistance getting the ball airborne? If so, an iron with a HI (High) trajectory rating is going to be beneficial to you. Irons with HI trajectory ratings typically incorporate the lowest CG location as well as more offset. This places the center of gravity (CG) low and back in relation to the shaft, and helps to launch the ball at a higher angle at impact and will also impart greater backspin. Golfers with slower clubhead speeds will benefit the most from HI trajectory rated irons since there is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and launch. Other characteristics of a low CG head are identifiable by their wider, longer soles, lower face height and undercut cavity designs. Blade designs have a higher CG which is one reason why they are best suited to expert ball strikers.

Golfers with higher clubhead speeds will typically benefit the most from LOW or MID trajectory rated irons. As the CG is raised in a design, the trajectory of the ball will tend to be lower. While other factors can influence the trajectory of the ball flight, it is the vertical CG that serves as the most dominant characteristic in the launch angle.


Once you have determined the type of trajectory that best suits your objectives, the next factor to focus on is the forgiveness of the head. An iron with a MAX (maximum) forgiveness rating incorporates a high Moment of Inertia (MOI), whereas a LOW forgiveness rated head has a low MOI. The Moment of Inertia is a measurement of the iron's resistance to twisting. When a ball is impacted in the center of the clubface the head will not twist. It is the amount of twisting on an off-center impact that we measure for the forgiveness rating. If you've been playing golf for a while, you know when you hit the ball on the center of the face: it feels almost like your club did not get any resistance at impact. That feeling of vibration when an iron is miss-hit is a loss of energy, and thus the ball does not fly as straight or far when struck off-center.

If you are a golfer that impacts the center of the clubface consistently, then you have the option of selecting a model with a MIN (minimal) forgiveness rating on the iron. However, most golfers have a tendency to miss-hit the center of the clubface and will require at least a MID or MAX forgiveness rating for their irons.

Head designs that have either no cavity (blade) or a shallow or small cavity will usually garner a MIN forgiveness rating. As the cavity size becomes larger, the forgiveness rating will gravitate from MID to MAX. Irons with MAX forgiveness ratings will incorporate very deep undercut cavities or consist of a hollow construction body, which could often resemble metal wood construction. These heads are the most forgiving, being much more stable on off-center impacts, which allows the ball to fly straighter on miss-hits. Smaller, more compact heads lean towards the MIN forgiveness rating while the largest oversize irons rank with a MAX forgiveness rating.


The third head design characteristic to evaluate is its workability. Many golfers confuse workability with the forgiveness aspect of the golf club. Forgiveness of an iron is a reflection of its stability on off-center impacts, while workability of a club reflects the measurements of the ability to manipulate ball flight.

The result of an off-center impact will often be a slicing or hooking spin. If a golfer wants to impart slicing or hooking spin on the ball, the intent is not to hit the ball off-center but to manipulate the face angle and swing path to create the desired curvature. This is accomplished by impacting the center of the face — not by miss-hitting the shot. The workability of the iron is measured using two specifications: horizontal CG and hosel offset.

The horizontal CG is first focus. With the CG located close to the hosel it becomes easier to manipulate the closing of the clubface. As the CG shifts farther away from the hosel, it becomes much more difficult to square up the face. A good analogy is a door and a bucket of water. If you were to hang a 5-gallon bucket of water on the doorknob its weight would create resistance making it more difficult to open and close the door. By taking that same bucket of water and hanging it on the door's hinges it is now much easier to swing the door in any direction. The bucket of water in this analogy represents the iron's center of gravity.

While designing the CG farther away from the hosel makes it more difficult to manipulate the clubface, it does assist with increasing the MOI, which helps to achieve a higher forgiveness rating of the iron.

The second element contributing towards the workability rating is the hosel offset. Irons that have little or no offset — typically blades and compact cavity back models — will earn the HI workability rating, especially when coupled with a heelward CG location. As more offset is introduced into the design, the workability rating gravitates from MODERATE to LOW. An iron with a LOW workability rating is often of a more game-improvement design; it will have a center of gravity that extends farther from the hosel (usually a long face length) and a greater offset in the hosel.

How to use our Component Performance Matching System

The trajectory, forgiveness and workability factors of an iron should help to guide you to the design that will give you the greatest benefit on the golf course. Determine what elements you would benefit from most and identify an iron that incorporates the appropriate performance in that area. For example, if you tend to hit the ball high but can be a little inconsistent on your center hits and do not attempt to work the curvature of the ball much, you would seek out an iron that has a LOW trajectory, MAX forgiveness and LOW or MODERATE workability rating. An example of a good game improvement iron would incorporate a HI trajectory, MAX forgiveness and LOW workability. In some cases there may only be one characteristic that is important to you — MAX forgiveness for instance. Whatever your ball-striking objective becomes with your irons, the CPMS information can help guide you in your selection so you can choose a model that meets your performance expectations.


There are other design considerations to look at in your iron club selection process. Construction is important to some players, and most irons are cast in stainless steel. At Golfsmith we prefer to use 431 stainless steel for most of our cast models because the metal has no memory, enabling easier adjustment to the hosel for customization. 17-4 stainless steel is also popular for irons, but tends to have a harder feel.

Another form of iron production is the forging. Forged irons are created from carbon steel billet and formed into their shape through extremely high compression. Forgings are the preference of many experienced golfers due to their generally softer feel. Another benefit of forged irons is their ease at adjusting the hosels for custom specifications.

Iron sets have historically been sold in a 3-iron through pitching wedge configuration. This trend is now starting to change as hybrid utility woods replace the more difficult to hit #3, 4 and 5-irons out of golfers' sets. Do not purchase irons that you find difficult to hit. Replacing them with hybrids or high-lofted fairway woods will bring greater enjoyment to the game while helping to lower your score. Another alternative would be to purchase an all-inclusive evolving hybrid set. These sets incorporate traditional cavity back irons in the shorter clubs and replace the mid and long irons with easier-to-hit hollow construction designs.

Whether it is a traditional blade or an extremely game improving hollow body design, Golfsmith has a wide variety of irons to suit your needs.