What are the advantages of forged irons? For many years this was not even a question, as forged irons were the norm up to the late eighties. This is when manufacturing technologies developed the casting process and introduced cavity-backed irons.
There is a major difference in the construction and materials used for these two types of irons. Forging of steel has been around for centuries and was the accepted way for golf iron manufacture.
The forging process
The basic technique is to heat steel, usually a bar of 1025 or 1025E steel, to a red-hot temperature. Depending on the club being made the steel is heated and then bent to the required angle. It is then placed in a primary forging mold where an air hammer press produces the basic shape.
The excess metal from around the edges is trimmed off by another machine and is then reheated. The metal is now placed into a second mold and slowly pressed to its final shape, including the grooves. The sides of the clubhead are then smoothed on a grinder and finally polished and electroplated usually in chromium-nickel before being attached to a shaft.
New developments – the cavity-backed iron
The construction of the cavity backed irons with perimeter weighting, also known as ‘game improvement irons’, consists of molten metals or alloys being cast into a mold. This is a much easier and cheaper method of manufacture.
Ping is often credited for the early developments in cavity-baked irons although, interestingly, their first club with this feature was a putter. Ping continued with this “new” technology and competitors soon followed.
The benefits of cavity-backed irons
What every golfer is looking for is accuracy and this is mostly determined by the Center of Gravity (C of G) of the clubhead. Another way of expressing the C of G is the ‘Sweet spot’.
Missing the sweet spot produces shots that fly off course, either slicing or hooking and can also result in a loss of distance. The need to eliminate this tendency to spray the ball in various directions, other than that intended, is what led to the development of the cavity-backed clubhead.
The weight is now removed from the middle of the clubhead and distributed around the edges of the face resulting in a much larger sweet spot. This in turn results in greatly improved forgiveness which is a massive help especially for beginners and high handicappers.
Forged irons by contrast are solid chunks of steel with the weight more evenly spread but concentrated at the back and middle. This results in a much smaller sweet spot or center of gravity.
These clubs are usually of the blade design and are also known as ‘muscle backed’.
The solid steel construction of the forged iron has a softer feel than the cast clubs and for the low handicap player or professional this degree of feel is significant. A high handicap player would probably not be able to notice the difference and would get better results from the cast cavity-backed clubs.
How the pros reacted to the change
The technology evolution to the cast irons started in the eighties and by the mid-1990s almost half the PGA pros tour were still using forged irons. Fifteen years later this percentage was back up to eighty percent. There are probably two reasons for this move back to forged irons and away from cast options.
It was felt that playing with the cast irons, with the ‘game improvement’ benefits of the cavity back and larger more forgiving sweet spot could lead to sloppiness. Getting used to the forgiveness you tend to not be too concerned about hitting a sweet solid shot and if this habit transfers to the driver you are looking for trouble.
Secondly, the manufacturers were able to borrow from the technology of the cast irons and produce forged irons with cavity backs, thus providing the best of both worlds.
Feel and control were other factors many pros preferred with forged irons.
Professionals and purists prefer to stick to the traditional and the challenge is perfection. Being able to consistently hit the smaller sweet spot results in greater feel, being able to shape the ball, and get your distances accurate.
Speaking of tradition, many better players prefer the look and significance that goes with using more traditional forged irons.
Are forged irons better?
It all depends on the player and their skill level.
There are many arguments for and against forged verses cast and it could be difficult to distinguish between myth and fact.
Forged irons are for better players:
Generally, this could be a true statement as the forged iron with a smaller sweet spot is not at all forgiving. With the advances in technology and club design, this distinction is becoming more blurred as cavity back forged irons enhance forgiveness.
When looking at sales numbers forged irons range between 10 to 15 percent with the balance being cast irons. This does not determine which is better, only that more players choose the forgiveness and modern design of cast irons. It also shows that fewer players are in the scratch handicap range.
Forged clubs feel softer:
A very difficult thing to measure and quantify and only the top players would really be able to ‘feel’ any difference. Testing has proved that feel comes more from the geometry of the club than from the material.
What is true is that when you consistently hit the sweet spot with a forged iron it is such a ‘sweet’ feeling. Hit it off-center it will talk to you and you will see some ugly hooks and slices.
It is easier to shape the ball flight with forged irons:
As with the feel above, this has more to do with the design than the material. The head shape and the weighting places the C of G closer to the face. The better player will get great results from solid shots but get burnt with mishits. The cast irons with a lower and deeper C of G and a larger sweet spot reduces the negative effect of a mishit tending to straighten out the ball flight.
- The clubhead of a forged iron has additional weight in the center
- This higher and smaller sweet spot teaches you to hit more consistently
- The construction is more consistent and refined than on cast irons
- Forged irons also offer the option of cavity back for more forgiveness
- Many players prefer the feel
- Forged clubs need more maintenance, checking lofts and lies
- Being ‘softer’ they tend to rust easier and get a bit dinged up
- Forged irons tend to become discolored or for impact spots
- Forged irons are more expensive
Market sales tend to prove that cast is more popular than forged irons, so what are the advantages of forged irons?
If you are an above-average athlete and have a proven ability at golf then you would want to be the best you can. The best in the game, the top 10 percent, and the pros mostly play with forged irons.
We do not all fall into this category so therefore have to decide on what will work best for our game. A weekend warrior or high-handicap golfer will become frustrated with most forged irons, particularly blades.
With forged irons, learning the discipline to consistently hit this smaller sweat spot, to improve your control over the shape of the shot and the distance will greatly enhance your enjoyment and reward from the game.
Provided you have the skills and experience, there is no question that you will feel with the purists that forged is the way to go.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.