Ultimate Guide to Buying Game Improvement Golf Irons

It's always a tough question when someone asked me which golf club type I deem the most important.

For me, each of them is equally important at some point in your game, as golf is about the whole journey rather than the destination.

Black Golfer

However, the Iron Set is the most used clubs during a single session, as you will most likely use them except when driving off the tees, and when you are 200-yards or so from the hole.

In that sense, we can say that Iron Set is definitely up there as one of, if not the most important clubs you must have in your bag, simply because you will use them most often.

In this article, we will discuss a specific category of the irons, the game-improvement set.

Golf Hole

What actually is the game-improvement irons? Will it be good for beginners? How do I choose the right game-improvement iron set for me? Those are the typical questions I would like to answer during the course of this article.

Without further ado, let us begin by understanding the game-improvement irons and their characteristics.

What you will learn in this post...

  • Why picking the right Iron Set is the fastest way to become better at golf
  • How specifically game improvement irons can help you 
  • When exactly you have to use game improvement irons
  • What to look for when buying your next game improvement iron

Questions & Answers

1

What Are Golf Irons?

The name iron originated from the material golf irons used to be made with.

Back then, drivers and fairway woods were made from, as you may guess, wood materials, and thus they were (and are) called woods, with the driver also often deemed as 1-wood.

Thus, we can guess that irons were made with steel materials.

They are typically smaller, clubhead size-wise, and shorter in shaft lengths compared to the woods, and are designed to propel the ball towards the hole, anywhere after your tee shots and before roughly 200-yards to the hole, where you will switch to your putter.

While wood clubs, especially the driver are designed with the emphasis on distance, irons are designed to be more well rounded, with accuracy and control on the green being the emphasis.

What Are Golf Irons
2

What Is The Number In An Iron's Naming?

The number in front of the iron indicates the relative angle of its loft, with 1 being the steepest, and 9 being the highest.

The higher number represents a higher loft angle, and the higher the loft angle, the ball will fly in a shorter distance, but higher launch trajectory.

Generally, Irons come in sets that include six to eight individual irons.

The typical iron set consists of, but not limited to the 3-,4-,5-,6-,7-,8-, and 9-irons. A Gap/Approach Wedge (AW), and/or a Pitching Wedge (PW), is also included in the set.

Thus, when shopping for an iron set, you will see them listed as something like 3-PW, 5-PW.AW, or 4-PW.

PW or AW indicates whether a Pitching Wedge (PW), Approach Wedge (AW) or both is included, and the number upfront indicates the smaller iron included in the set, and will always include every number until the 9-irons. For example, a 3-PW would include all irons from 3- to 9- and will include a Pitching Wedge.

Best Game Improvement Irons
3

What Is The Game Improvement Iron Category?

To answer this question properly, we should first discuss the three different categories for irons available on the market:

  • Cavity Back: Also often known as the Max Game-Improvement Irons, and is characterized by a large hollow cavity in the back of the clubhead. The sole and toplines are significantly larger, to allow easier and more forgiving hits. Designated for beginner and those with higher (25+) handicaps.
  • Game Improvement Irons: The most popular type of the bunch can fit a wide range of players from 5 to 25 handicap. The cavity is smaller, and the sole and toplines are more compact and thinner.
  • Blades: Also called Player's Irons, Cavity Muscle Back (CMB) or simply Muscle Back (MB), blades are designated, and used, by professionals and single-digit handicap players (below 5). Blades have a flat back with no cavity, making them less forgiving, yet producing better feeling and control when hit properly.

Our focus today is the game-improvement irons, which is suitable for players with handicap ranging from 5 to 25.

4

Are There Prerequisites To Using A Game Improvement Iron?

The game-improvement irons will truly be beneficial for players with 25 handicap or below.

Golf Flex

If you currently have a handicap above 25, you are better off with cavity back irons, as the higher forgiveness will help you in improving your game.

On the other hand, many players with the handicap of 5 and below chose to stay with game-improvement irons, rather than upgrading to blade irons.

The reason is simple, in the past, blades tend to have the better overall feel, control, and shot-shaping abilities. However, newer technologies, especially in the past few years, allow game-improvement irons to close that gap.

As a result, many professional players opt to have the better consistency and forgiveness of the game-improvement irons today, with fewer sacrifices over feel and shot-shaping compared to say, a decade ago.

With that being said, your game-improvement iron set could be a sustainable investment, even after you went below 5 handicaps.

5

What Are The Qualities Of A Great Game-Improvement Iron?

To answer this question, let us take a look at how the three different categories of irons are classified:

  • Cavity Back: or often known as Super Game-Improvement Irons are designed for maximum forgiveness. We can often see an overly large club head designed for big sweet spot and MOI.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, the Blade irons, or Player's Irons are designed for maximum responsiveness, control, and shot shaping
  • Then, we can understand that the Game-Improvement Irons are designed to sit in the middle and to have the balance between both worlds, and that is the exact quality you should look for.

The ideal Game-Improvement Irons should have both the maximum forgiveness and maximum control.

6

What Type Of Player Should Use Game Improvement Irons?

The game-improvement irons will be suitable for a lot of players with handicap ranging from 5 to 25.

That is a very broad range, and we can imagine there are a wide array of different types of players within the range.

Players striving for a well-rounded, balanced game will definitely benefit from using the game-improvement irons.

Keegan Bradley - Golf Iron

Keegan Bradley, photo by Tour Pro Golf Clubs on Flickr.

No changes were made. CC 2.0 License.

Do any PGA tour players using the Game-Improvement Irons? Yes! Based on PGA Tours's official report, there is an increasing trend of using game-improvement irons on tour, especially the long irons.

Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell, Brian Harman, and Sean O'Hair are some notable examples of such players using Game-Improvement Irons.

Let us see Keegan Bradley's statistics during 2016 for example. Bradley is exceptionally strong on the Tee-to-Green game, ranked 17th overall for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green.

Using a game-improvement iron for his 3-iron helped him achieved such feat, boosting his overall flight height will reducing mistakes.

To summarize, if you are looking for a balanced and well-rounded game, especially between the tee and the greens, the game-improvement irons might improve your game further.

7

How Do I Choose The Right Game Improvement Iron For Me?

This is a tough question to answer, as there are many different factors that can determine an iron's strengths or weaknesses, even more than other club types.

However, for a general rule of thumb, here are several key qualities you should focus on before making your purchase:

Forged VS Cast, and The Materials

Which one is better, forged irons or cast irons? What materials should I look for?

These two questions are often treated as two separate ones, but the truth is, it should be asked together. Forged is a better method with certain materials, as do cast irons.

To answer the question, we should first understand the basic principle behind the two:

Forged Irons

In forged irons, the roughly-shaped metal material is hammered into shape, just like we often see from medieval blacksmiths in the movies. The hammered, commonly carbon steel clubhead is then finished by grinding, milling, and polishing.

Thus, forged method is better for an iron with a singular, one-piece material. Purists will claim that forged irons have better feel, and to some extent, it's true.

Cast Irons

In this method, the liquid metal is poured into a mold. This method allows more complex shape, as well as using multiple materials at once. Not to mention, cast irons are also cheaper to make.

Thus, cast irons are typically better if your club is multi-material in nature.

However, as with many technologies today, there is rapid development in casting technology, allowing cast irons to close the gap in feel to forged irons.

The basic principle, however, still stands. If you are looking for a solid, one-piece iron, forged is the way to go.

You should also take into considerations that multi-material technologies today allow new ways to improve forgiveness and distance. I bet in the near future, cast irons will reach their perfection, and will be better, as well as more affordable.

Sole and offset size

Golf Irons

The general rule of thumb is the wider the sole, the lower the center of gravity. Lower center of gravity will translate to a higher natural trajectory of your shots and will bounce more rather than dig at impact.

On the other hand, narrow sole translates to a better feel and control.

The offset is the face behind the hosel, and the larger the offset, the more forgiving the club will be. The smaller the offset, however, will give you more shot-shaping ability.

It's important to find the right balance between both sizes, that will suit your overall playstyle and needs.

Shaft Flexibility

Choosing a proper shaft suitable for your current ability will be highly beneficial to your overall game. If you'd like to go deeper, we've written an in-depth guide on picking the best golf shafts. 

Here are some pointers:

  • If your 6-iron swing speed is 90mph or higher and carry distance 175 yards or more, go with X flex.
  • If your speed is 80-90mph and carry 155 to 175 yards, go with S flex.
  • For 70-80mph and 130 to 155 yards, go with R flex.
  • For 60-70mph and 100 to 130 yards, go with A flex.
  • And for speeds under 60mph and carries less than 100 yards, go with L flex.
Best Golf Shafts
8

Should A Game Improvement Iron Replace The Golf Irons Currently In My Bag?

In this modern era of golf, with seemingly you will get new technologies and new trends in club developments every few months, it's true that the clubs in your bag can be outdated faster than half a decade ago.

It's hard to judge whether it is time for an upgrade, but as a consideration, here are some questions you should ask yourself.

Are Your Golf Irons At Least 3-years old?

Three years of a club age has been deemed as the average benchmark for obsoleteness. If your irons are at least 3-years old from when it was released, you will definitely feel the upgrade in buying new ones.

Has Your Game Changed?

Do you have a significant increase in your swing speed or accuracy in hitting the sweet spot? (Hey, congrats!)

If you feel you are hitting a wall to improve more as a player, then it's definitely the time for a change.

On the other hand, you might be hitting your 'senior' year, and your swing speed is simply not what it used to be. It's maybe time to switch from that blade to game-improvement irons with more flexible shafts.

Are Your Irons Still in Good Conditions?

It may be obvious, but if you see too much wear and tear, then it's definitely the time to buy new ones.

You might want to check Golf Digest's obsolete list, and see whether your current iron set already deserved the upgrade.

9

Can I Use Game Improvement Irons With Any Golf Balls? If Not, What Are The Best Golf Balls For Game Improvement Irons?

Yes, If you are using high-quality game-improvement irons, you will definitely get the benefits by using any golf balls.

Golf balls have different qualities to each other and will suit different types of player. As we have mentioned, game-improvement irons can cater those with 5 to 25 handicap, a very broad range.

Golf Balls

And within that range, we can expect all sorts of different types of player. Some might have a problem with straightness and will need the ball to help them with that issue. Others might need more distance to improve their overall game.

Check out our previous guide on the best golf balls for high handicappers. Although the article is mostly focused on high-handicap players, any players can get some insights on choosing their golf balls.

Still confused about choosing your game-improvement irons? Or still not sure whether game-improvement irons are the right ones for you? Some major manufacturers offer iron selector tools on their websites, and you can definitely use them for free.

Try out this one from Callaway, and another one from TaylorMade.

We will continue with discussing several game-improvement irons available in the market today, which we feel are the best of the best for a wide range of players.


Product Recommendations

TaylorMade RSi 1 Irons

You might wonder why we included the RSi 1 here, instead of TaylorMade's newer flagship forged irons, the PSi.

TaylorMade RSi Golf Iron

To clear the issue, the PSi is not a direct replacement of the RSi 1, but rather a replacement of the RSi 2, which is more of a blade/player's iron rather than a game-improvement iron.

Thus, the RSi 1 remains as TaylorMade's latest model for the forged game-improvement irons category.

The name TaylorMade, of course, will need no introduction, as they are simply one of, if not the most popular golf equipment brand on the planet. The RSi was a big hit when it was released, simply because it was the most forgiving irons in the market, and it is still relevant today.

The technology highlight of the RSi 1 is the Face Slots.

By adding speed-pocket slots on the face, it will generate faster ball speeds from mishits towards the heel and toe.

The result? Your ball will always launch high and straight on any off-center hits.

Another advantage of the RSi 1 is that, because it's fairly old (but not obsolete!), you can get them for a very affordable price.

Simply put, if you are looking for forgiveness and consistency, the RSi 1 is the set you want. Here are some pros and cons of the RSi 1 based on our findings:

TaylorMade RSi Golf Iron
TaylorMade RSi Golf Iron
TaylorMade RSi Golf Iron

PROS

  • Forgiveness: It's extremely rare to find an iron with the perfect balance of accuracy and forgiveness, and the RSi 1, arguably, is the closest to that perfection. Even the worst of off-center shots will still fly straight with almost no curve, with considerable heights to get the ball up around the green. Simply put, the forgiveness is off the charts.
  • Playability: The sharp and substantial sole can manage every shot with various shapes. It naturally produces straight shots. However, it's easy enough to work basic draws and fades with little to no effort. Very easy to use.
  • Feel and Sound: That TaylorMade sound, enough said. The irons are very responsive and easy to track around the turf. Being a forged iron, you can feel the solid, powerful crunch at every impact, even on poor contact.
  • Affordability: being in the market for a while now, you can get the RSi 1 set for fairly cheap. Definitely a plus point for everyone.

CONS

  • Look: Although its performance remains relevant today, the same thing can't be said about its looks, at least in our opinion. The black lines surrounding the sweet-spot area can be distracting.
  • Control: Well, the weakness of any game-improvement irons. The shot-shaping abilities are reasonable but simply limited compared to say, the TaylorMade PSi or M1 Irons. What you sacrifice in control, you'll get in forgiveness.
  • Technology: Being a fairly old model, we can expect the technology included is not on par with newer models like the TaylorMade M2. With that being said, the RSi 1 packs enough performance with its simplicity.

Bottom Line: Ultimate consistency and forgiveness, reasonable distance control and feel. Being very affordable today, the RSi 1 will be a good investment for just about anyone.


TaylorMade M2 Irons

Another one from TaylorMade, and this time, it's their newest cast iron model, the TaylorMade M2.

The TaylorMade M2 is designed as a direct replacement for both the RSi 1 and the AeroBurner. However, there are significant differences you will find between the M2 and the RSI 1.

The most notable difference is the loft angle you will find on the M2, that is considerably steeper than those of the RSi 1. For example, the 7-iron of the M2 stands at 28 degrees, while the RSi 1 7-iron stands at 31 degrees. Lower/stronger loft will naturally produce more distance, which is what the M2 is designed for, helping players with lower swing speeds.

You will also notice that the head is considerably bigger compared to the RSi, allowing bigger Moment of Inertia (MOI) and sweet spot. Thus, the M2 disregards the Face Slots technology of the RSi 1, because the face is already forgiving enough.

TaylorMade M2
28 degrees 7-Iron Loft Angle M2
31 degrees 7-Iron Loft Angle RSi

Thus, the main emphasis of the M2 design is a faster clubhead, and stronger loft, lowering the center of gravity to produce higher flight trajectory with steep, abrupt landing.

Callaway XR 16 Driver
TaylorMade M2
TaylorMade M2

PROS

  • Forgiveness: the strongest feature of the M2. During mishits, you will still produce a considerable distance with enough straightness. The big face allows bigger sweet spot, however, allows you to be on-center most of the time.
  • Distance Control: Probably the longest irons available in the market today. Will certainly help players with slower swing speed, as the stronger loft will allow reasonable distance even on weak hits.
  • Playability: Very easy to use with its forgiveness, both for mishits and low swing speeds. Very aggressive irons designed for both distance and accuracy.
  • Look: In our opinion, one of the best-looking irons available in the market today. Simple yet modern with its sci-fi techie designs. Thicker than most of its competitors, and a little heavier. We really liked the look of the M2.

CONS

  • Feel and Sound: As a sacrifice for better distance and more forgiveness, you will lose some of the feel and sounds of typical TaylorMade clubs. The thickness can also be bothersome for some players. The response and feedback are a little off, typical of multi-material cast irons.
  • Control: If you are looking for more shot-shaping abilities and creativity, the M2 is not for you. A little bit too pre-programmed and straightforward.

Bottom line: TaylorMade understood the demand of the modern game: Irons also need more distance nowadays. The TaylorMade M2 is not only consistent and forgiving on off-center hits, but also will help players with slower swing speeds to gain an exceptional distance of their shots.


Callaway Apex CF-16 Irons

Callaway Apex CF 16

Both Callaway and the Apex brand need no introduction, and you can expect high-end, premium irons that are not only good-looking but will pack serious performance.

The multi-material Apex CF16 head is made of six individual pieces, with forged carbon steel body and stainless steel face, as well as aluminum parts to improve the sound and overall feel.

The Apex CF 16 3 to 7-irons incorporated Callaway's Cup Face designs, commonly used in their drivers and fairway woods.

The CF in the name stands for Cup Face, and the new face technology simply allows the face to flex more, increasing the ball speed with your shots, while also increasing the forgiveness rating.

Although the 8, 9-irons and the wedge are not using the Cup Face, the face plate is just as good, feel-wise throughout the whole set.

Feel and sound are certainly the key characteristics of the Apex brand, and certainly, the CF 16 represented those characters well while giving enough forgiveness and excellent distance, making it one of the best, and the most premium game improvement irons available in the market today.

Callaway Apex CF 16
Callaway Apex CF 16
Callaway Apex CF 16

PROS

  • Playability: Excellent from any distance, providing enough control to shape the shots to your will, and more than enough power and penetration.
  • Distance Control: Simply one of the longest game-improvement irons available today. The 360-degree Cup Face technology on the 3 to 7-irons boost significant ball speeds with each and every shot.
  • Look: Classy, premium, old-school elegance while retaining enough modern looks. Impressive from all aspects with ideal offset. Simply a classic.
  • Feel and Sound: Feels almost like a blade iron, with a bigger sweet spot. Being a game-improvement iron, there is no significant sacrifice to both feel and sound. Consistent with beautiful, Apex-signature sound.

CONS

  • Forgiveness: Not to say the CF 16 is not forgiving, but you can get better forgiveness from both the TaylorMade M2 and RSi 1. However, the forgiveness is still adequate for say, players with 5 to 15 handicap.
  • Small head: Will relate to forgiveness, small head means less space for mishits. This will also be problematic with players with light swings. You might want to swap the long irons with the Callaway Apex hybrids in this case.
  • Price tag: Definitely not a cheap investment, and one of the most expensive options we have here.

Bottom line: The Callaway Apex CF 16 Irons, arguably, is the most 'advanced' game-improvement irons we have in this list. If you are a better player with low enough handicap, the CF 16 will provide great feel, sound, and control while retaining enough forgiveness for your game.


Cobra King F 6 Irons

A unique addition from Cobra, with them going the extra mile to optimize each iron head.

As a result, the King F 6 iron set will have four different head constructions, with different center of gravity placements throughout the whole set.

The 3 to 5 irons utilize the Full Hollow face shape and are made with 17-4 Stainless Steel, strong enough to create low and deep, closed cavity back.

The design also features a heel/toe weighting to maximize forgiveness. However, the sound is a little bit muted, which also affects the responsive feel of the irons.

Cobra King F 6 Irons

The 6 and 7 irons feature a half-hollow head design. Thus, the 6 and 7 irons are true cavity backs, balancing the forgiveness rating to the previous full-hollow designs of the 3 to 5 irons. The sound is a little bit better and open.

On the 8-iron, we have the open cavity head design, and the sound gets louder with better feel.

Finally, the wedges you have a traditional muscle back blade style head, with no cavity back to allow more spin and shot shaping ability.

As a result, you will get a balanced feel and forgiveness throughout the whole set, and this approach made the King F 6 unique in both looks and performance.

Cobra King F 6 Irons
Cobra King F 6 Irons

PROS

  • Playability: The unique approach to design each iron individually provides a nice balance through the whole set. Naturally high-launching with enough stability. Very responsive.
  • Forgiveness: One of the better options for forgiveness available in the market today, especially on the long irons. Easy to use with good accuracy, allowing subtle sidespin. The mid-irons are very straight with a soft landing.
  • Distance Control: Above average throughout each of the individual design. Very consistent in distance with regular gaps.

CONS

  • Look: The two-tone appearance is simply not for everyone.
  • Lightweight: Especially if you are using the graphite shaft, the lightness can make your timing tricky.
  • Sound: On the long irons, the sound is a little bit muted and dull, which will affect some players in responsiveness.

Bottom line: the Cobra King F6 Irons will provide you a nice balance throughout the set, maintaining equal feel and control, which is a rarity. Being relatively affordable, the Cobra King F6 Irons could be a nice investment for players looking for balance in all aspects: forgiveness, distance, and feel.

Conclusion & Editor's Choice

We will now choose one final winner, our editor's choice, over the four amazing iron sets we listed above.

This is honestly a very tough choice, as each of the iron set we listed provides different values for different types of player.

However, as an overall winner, our choice goes to:

TaylorMade RSi Golf Iron

TaylorMade RSi 1 Irons

Our Rating

Our reasons? The TaylorMade RSi 1 provides commendable qualities in all aspects. The forgiveness is off the charts, the distance is excellent, the feel and sound are reasonable, and they are very affordable.

Being a forged iron with a one-piece material, the responsive feel, and sound it provides is excellent. Consistency in all aspects.

As we have mentioned, however, the TaylorMade M2 performs better distance-wise, and the Callaway Apex CF 16 provides better control. The Cobra F 6 provides more balanced approach, a jack of all trades.

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