If you want to make golf harder than it already is, play the wrong iron set. However, if you want to make the game easier on yourself and have more fun, switching up your irons might be exactly what you need.
One thing I see too often is the average golfer playing muscle back irons instead of cavity backs. A muscle back iron (or blades) have a smaller sweet spot and shallow cavities (if any at all). This makes them much harder to hit consistently and ultimately, much harder to score well.
If you’re playing the wrong type of irons or even old blades, your approach shots are going to suffer. Those types of irons offer minimal forgiveness when you hit the ball, they don’t travel as far, and make off-center strikes very challenging.
While cavity backs will help you hit the ball higher, the ball farther, and likely straighter too. But there are some players who still might benefit from muscle back irons too.
Keep reading to learn more about blades vs. cavity back irons and see which one is right for your game.
Blades vs. Cavity Back Irons
Irons make up a majority of your club set and don’t always get the attention of a new driver or putter. But playing the wrong irons can make a huge impact in your game.
Before getting into the pros and cons of blade and cavity back irons, let’s compare how each type of club is designed.
The original type of irons in the golf world are known as blades. Also referred to as blade golf club, forged blades, or muscle back irons. Original blades were introduced in the mid-19th century and forged by blacksmiths. Officially known as forged irons, they got the nickname of blades because the slabs of metal resembled a knife blade.
So if you ever hear a golf buddy say something like, “I could use these clubs as a kitchen knife”, you know now the history of these clubs.
Here’s the general rule of thumb; the harder the club is to hit, the easier it is to shape shots.
The traditional blade iron is much different than clubs being made today.
While there are some similarities, newer blades still have more forgiveness than a classic blade. Plus, they’re larger and make off center strikes a little better. But in general, blade irons haven’t changed much and as you’ll learn and are not great for the average golfer.
Forgiveness is indirectly correlated with playability, which is why these clubs are popular with tour pros. On the other hand, more forgiving irons are easier to hit but harder to change spin and trajectory. Which is why they’re much more popular with amateur golfers.
Pros of Blade Irons
The biggest pro to playing blades is that they provide ultimate shot shaping abilities.
They make it much easier to hit high, low, right, and left shots, especially with longer clubs. This is the main reason they are preferred by elite ball strikers like Tiger Woods.
Tiger is one of the few pros that has never wavered from blade irons and played them throughout his different endorsement deals. His original Nike Blade irons were some of the most sleek irons ever created and helped him win some of the biggest events.
But Tiger is also arguably the most consistent ball striker with irons in the history of the game. Despite being an “okay” driver of the golf ball (accuracy wise), he was able to win by always getting it on or near the green at a higher level than most.
His iron game is spectacular, which makes sense for him to play blades. Amateur golfers, not so much.
Another big benefit to blade irons is they give precise feedback from each shot. You’ll quickly learn if you hit it in the sweet spot or, if it was a mishit toward the heel or the toe of the club. This helps elite players make changes quickly to their swing and not as easy to recognize with cavity back irons.
The final benefit that’s worth noting is that blades usually look better. They’re sleek, simple, and are like a bat signal to the golf world that you’re a great ball striker.
Cons of Blade Irons
The biggest downside to pure blades is that they are much harder to hit consistently. Unless you have a very repeatable swing and high swing speed, these clubs are not easy to hit.
Another downside is they don’t go as far as cavity back irons, especially if you miss the sweet spot (which is smaller). Blades only have weight behind the sweet spot so if you miss on the toe or the heel, your distance will suffer. Not to mention, mishits might even sting on those cold winter days.
The final downside is that they’re quite expensive. Due to the way they are constructed, true blade sets usually cost more money than cavity back irons.
In general, the average golfer should stay away from blade irons. While they have a sleek and sexy look, they’re very unforgiving and make a hard sport even more difficult.
Cavity Back Irons
The second type of iron set is known as cavity back irons.
These are much newer to the game of golf and have helped a lot of everyday players save a lot strokes. The biggest difference between a cavity back iron and blades is they’re much easier to hit.
Karsten Solheim (the founder of Ping Golf) is credited with the invention of the first set of cavity back irons. Ironically, it was a putter (the Ping 1-A) that actually started the cavity back movement.
According to US Golf TV, “Ping found that by moving some of the putter head’s weight from behind the center of the club head to the heel and toe, he decreased putter head twisting and increased consistency and performance on less than perfect contact.
This discovery led Ping to try perimeter weighting on irons and in 1961 he introduced PING 69 Ballnamic forged irons with two cavity slots on the back of the club head. By the end of the decade, the design of the K 1 irons (Karsten 1) included a full cavity back and perimeter weighting, and that led eventually to PING’S color-coded irons.”
While Ping Golf was the trendsetter, by the mid-1980s nearly every golf club manufacturer was designing these types of forgiving irons. They understood that cavity backs helped average golfers hit the ball squarely, even without a perfect golf swing.
These irons have a forgiving cavity that helps with off center hits and are considered game improvement clubs.
Pros of Cavity Back Irons
The biggest benefit of cavity back irons is that they are easier to hit consistently. Plus, the mishits are much better so even if you hit it off the toe or heel, it will be a “better miss” than with blades. Which also leads to more distance with every iron in the bag.
One reason that cavity back irons go longer isn’t just the weighting and forgiveness that’s added, but the lofts too. For example, let’s compare a muscle back/blade iron iron with a cavity back set from Callaway.
The Callaway Apex MB irons are built for the best players and want ultimate feedback and workability. The loft of a 4 iron is 23 degrees, 7 iron is 33 degrees, and PW is 45 degrees.
While the Callaway Apex DCB irons are much more forgiving and offer a deep cavity back design. The lofts are drastically different as the 4 iron is 20 degrees, 7 iron is 30 degrees, and PW is 43 degrees. Less loft means more distance!
Distance aside, the second reason most golfers can benefit from cavity irons is that they’re easier to hit straight. That’s right, not only are they easier to hit, go longer, but they’re also more accurate too.
Finally, they should give most players more confidence over the golf ball.
Cons of Cavity Back Irons
While there are downsides to cavity backs, they’re not nearly as many, especially for the everyday golfer. The biggest downside to these clubs is that they are harder to shape and work the golf ball. If you’re someone who loves to hit draws, cuts, and change trajectories, it’s harder to do with larger, oversized irons.
The rule of thumb for these types of irons is the bigger the club, the harder it is to shape shots.
The other downside with these irons is that it’s harder to get feedback from each shot. Since mishits are rewarded so much more than blades, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going wrong in your swing. But for the everyday player who has a job and not an endless practice time, it’s a no-brainer decision.
Super Game Improvement Irons
Aside from normal cavity back irons, there is now a subset of these clubs known as “super game improvement irons.” These are the most forgiving irons available as they emphasize distance and forgiveness above all else.
These are ideal for beginner irons, senior irons, and irons for casual golfers. They tend to have a hybrid-like design and are extremely forgiving.
Combo Set Irons
While there are two primary types of irons, there are more club manufacturers making combo sets of irons too. These unique sets give you the best of both worlds; the forgiveness of cavity back in the long irons with blade precision in the short irons and wedges.
Additionally, there are other combo sets that include cavity back irons and hybrids. These sets normally replace the 4 iron with a hybrid. Some even replace up to a 7 iron with a hybrid. These are great for higher handicap players and want extra forgiveness in the longer clubs.
FAQs About Iron Sets
Do you have more questions about finding the right set of irons for your game? If so, we have answers in the FAQ section below.
Are blades better than cavity back irons?
It depends on the type of player. Blades might be better for certain types of high-level amateur golfers and professional players who have reliable swings. But as irons for mid handicappers, blades are not the best choice.
In general, most casual golfers should play cavity back irons instead. They’re more forgiving, easier to hit, go longer, and are more accurate too.
For seniors and beginners, using super game improvement irons can also help ball striking too. Just remember, play the clubs that are right for your game and don’t try to play clubs that are too difficult to hit consistently.
Do pro golfers use blades or cavity backs?
Professional golfers now use blades and cavity backs in their iron sets.
In the past, pros almost exclusively used traditional blade iron for maximum shot shaping but times have changed. As manufacturers find new ways to make both type of irons, the lines have blurred.
Now, professional golfers can play blades but they might have technology that makes them feel like a cavity back (while maintaining their appearance). Even Tour pros know that more forgiveness in golf irons can make a big difference in shooting lower scores!
Are blades harder to hit than cavity back irons?
Yes, blades are much harder to hit than cavity back irons.
They have most of their mass behind the sweet spot so if you mishit it, your shot will suffer. If you’re the type of player who hits some off the toe, others off the heel, and only occasionally find the center, skip blade iron sets!
Do cavity back irons go further than blades?
In general, yes, cavity back irons go further than blades. This happens for a few reasons:
- More mass behind the club. Cavity back irons have a larger design than blades which makes it easier to hit longer.
- Perimeter weighting and other distance technology. Mishits go much closer to normal with cavity back irons than with blades. If you hit a blade iron poorly, you’ll feel it in your hands and likely end up much shorter than you would with a mishit on a more forgiving iron.
- Stronger lofts. The final reason that cavity back irons go longer is they have stronger lofts. As mentioned in the Callaway iron example above, CB sets tend to have 2-3 degrees stronger lofts. Lower loft, means more distance.
Are all blade irons considered muscle backs?
Yes, since the weight is positioned in the back of the clubhead (aka, the muscle), not around the perimeter like cavity back irons. Which means all blades are muscle back irons. If you play these type of clubs, just make sure you have the muscle and consistency to hit them solid!
What handicap should you be to use blades?
There really isn’t a “set handicap” for when you should use blades. For example, you might be a single digit handicap and have a great short game, not ball striking that leads to low scores.
Do most pros use blades?
In the past, I would have answered yes as most pros played blades. Don’t get me wrong, a large percentage of elite players still use blades in professional golf, not all of them.
A lot of pros understand that despite being the best ball strikers on the planet, sometimes they need a little forgiveness too. More professional players are using utility irons, hybrids, and even 7-woods.
But for the most part, they have blades in their mid to short irons. This allows them to have precision from shorter range and maximum shot shaping. They don’t need nearly as much forgiveness inside 175 yards as these shots are much easier for them to hit.
Are blade irons forged golf clubs?
Yes, due to the way they’re designed, blades are always forged golf clubs. While a cavity back iron may or may not be forged and depends on the golf club manufacturers. Read our full article on forged vs cast irons here.
Do game improvement irons go further?
Yes, game improvement irons are all about distance and forgiveness, not shaping shots. These clubs are meant for higher handicappers to help get the ball airborne and have a thicker sole to hit the ball more consistently.
Final Thoughts on Cavity Backs vs. Muscle Back Irons
While both types of irons have their benefits, the majority of amateur golfers should use cavity back, not blade irons. Plus, as technology continues to change, there isn’t nearly as distinct of a line differentiating blades or cavity backs.
While a few pros stick with pure blades, even the best guys in the world opt for muscle backs, especially in longer irons. Golf isn’t about shaping shots like it once was and instead, all about ball speed, more control, and increased forgiveness.
While highly skilled golfers should consider blades, just don’t feel like you have to play them as a scratch golfer. Even an experienced golfer doesn’t need to hit blades! Also, don’t be afraid to mix blade and cavity backs together in a combo set (or with driving irons).
If you’re an average player though and want to hit your irons better, skip the classic blade or muscle backs and opt for cavity backs. It’ll make your life a lot easier on the golf course thanks to more forgiveness and likely correlate to lower scores… fast!