Golf is a funny sport. It is an industry driven by technology, with trampoline-faced drivers and super game improvement irons, but also one that remains very resistant to change. Think how long it took for hybrids to become widely-accepted, for example. Now, it is rare to find even a pga pro who doesn’t bag at least one.
There are also some long-running debates that keep the big golf forums in business. Blades versus Cavity back irons and graphite vs steel shafts never seem to get old! Recently, a new subject has been leading to a lot of virtual ink all over the net: single length irons.
This might not seem like such a big deal, especially if you aren’t a regular golfer. However, for anyone who is bitten by the golfing bug, having all your irons the same length goes against one of the industry standards. So what is the fuss all about?
Most iron sets are built with half inch increments from club to club and a difference of about 7g in head weight. This means that your 7 iron will be somewhere around 37 inches and 270g if you play ‘standard’ length clubs (although what standard might be is a whole other debate!) Depending on your exact set up, you might have a difference in loft of 35°, three and a half inches of length, maybe 5° in terms of lie angle (how upright the club sits at address) and about 50g in weight from one end of the set to another.
All this is taken as being normal and if you care to ask, it is all there to assure proper distance gapping between clubs. In fact, the length and weight differences from club to club keep the swing weight more or less constant from one iron to the next. This means that all the clubs feel more or less the same in terms of how heavy they are when you swing them. That sand wedge is much shorter than your four iron, but also much heavier.
So where do single length irons fit into this picture? Well, the idea is that the only thing that changes from one club to the next is loft.
This clearly has some big advantages. You put the ball in the same place in your stance, take the same swing and, in theory, get a far more consistent contact compared to eight slightly different set-ups with a traditional iron set. So we should all go and get single length irons!
Ok, not so fast. Who doesn’t want better ball striking? However, the major argument given against single length clubs is that club length is a major determining factor in distance. Now your 37 inch pitching wedge and your 37 inch 5 iron will go the same distance! Actually, this isn’t the case. This argument is put forward mostly by the armchair experts of the golfing world. As someone who has owned a single length set for several years, my experience has been that gapping works out just fine.
This might seem surprising, but it backs up research by some of the smartest men in golf, people like Tom Wishon and Dave Tutelman to name two. These two (and others) have found that loft is the main component in distance rather than club length. It doesn’t mean a longer club won’t go further, simply that it doesn’t make a huge difference.This extra length can also be ‘replaced’ by increasing loft gaps between irons. For example, replacing 3 or 4 degrees of loft between longer irons by 5 degrees.
To me, this argument of losing distance also reveals a lot about the power of marketing in golf. We buy clubs on distance. Even irons, which were always supposed to be instruments of precision, are now advertized as ‘the longest ever.’ This misses the point in my opinion. Hitting an 8 iron further is never going to make a difference to your score (except possibly in adding a shot or two!) Hitting it straighter and especially hitting it the same distance every time will. This is where single length makes sense.
I found a superb review of a set of Pinhawk SL Single Iength Irons over on Fairway First Golf and I do think It’s something I have to test out.
So how come it has taken so long to come up with this concept? Funnily enough, single length irons were around over a hundred years ago. When club shafts were made of hickory, most clubs in the bag were the same length. With the advent of the steel shaft, it became easier to mass-produce clubs and the idea of fitting for the golfer fell to the wayside. With off-the-shelf clubs, the priorty is cost rather than fitting. The major manufacturers know that one or two clubs in the set will be about right and for the rest, well, golf is a tough game isn’t it!
There have been mass-produced single length sets before. Some older readers might remember Tommy Armour’s EQL irons from about 30 years ago. These had limited success, but really weren’t ideal for a couple of reasons. Despite being the same length, the irons weren’t identical in other respects like bounce and offset. This lead to a very different feel throughout the set and really nullified the point of the concept.
So where does this leave us? Will the big manufacturers jump on board? Well, Bryson DeChambeau, who is really responsible for all the publicity around single length, recently turned pro and Cobra have made him a set of irons (he played Edel irons as an amateur.) His specs are really particular and it is unlikely that playing his irons with their extra-large grips and extremely upright lies will help anyone.
However, Cobra and Ping amongst others are apparently looking at this closely if the rumor mill is to be believed. Bringing a single length iron set to the market will require a huge financial investment, and I would guess that the big OEMs are waiting to see if this is a passing fad or a long-term sea change in the game.
All this leaves the independent clubfitters and manufacturers of the world in the driving seat. Currently, there are several companies offering single length irons and it is possible to buy a set to try without breaking the bank.
But the bottom line is “Do they work?” or maybe “Do they work better than everything else?” This is a tougher question to answer. As mentioned previously, I do have a set of single length irons. They are currently in the bag but, like many golfers, I do like trying new equipment so who knows what will be there month from now? It is clear that the idea makes sense, both theoretically and on the course and for the curious golfer is without doubt something to try.