Should I Play Blades or Cavity Back Irons? Use Your Head


I still remember when I got my first set of ‘blades’. I was mesmerized by those beautiful shiny flat back irons that came out of the box.

In my mind I had finally made it into the ranks of the ‘good golfers’!

Because if you didn’t have a set of blades and were still messing around with cavity back irons you couldn’t really hold your head up in the clubhouse and talk as a peer with the better players.

But is that really true?

Is it just a simple case of saying if you are a good golfer you should be playing blades but if you haven’t yet made it to a single figure handicap you should be sticking with cavity back irons?

Virtually all amateur golfers should use cavity back irons instead of blades. Golf technology advances have led to the clear line between the two club types becoming more blurred but cavity back irons offer much needed additional distance and forgiveness for the average golfer compared to blades.

There are of course pros and cons to both cavity back irons and blades however which every player should be aware of before making their final decision.

In addition, the continual introduction of different club types such as ‘muscle backs’ and ‘hollow heads’ from the main club manufactures is meaning that the amount of options available to the average golfer is continuing to get greater and greater.

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The Pros and Cons of Blades

Until relatively recently in golf’s long history all golfers used what are called ‘blade’ irons.

Once golf clubs evolved from the old hickory wooden shafts, and golf moved into the modern era, the first blades which came out on the market were made of very thin metal and required you to hit the ball squarely in the centre of the clubface to hit a decent shot.

Some readers will I am sure never forget the ‘vibrating shock’ you got back in the day from a blade iron when you didn’t strike the ball quite right particularly on a cold day.

Thankfully things have evolved from those days and golf club manufacturers have worked hard to develop the head of bladed irons to make them more forgiving and easier to hit.

By putting more metal low and behind the hitting zone golf club designers came up with a design of blade which has picked up the nickname of ‘muscle back’ irons.

So today when you hear people talk about ‘blades’ they are more than likely talking about ‘muscle back’ irons which are a long way from the thin pieces of metal that made up the original ‘blades’.

That’s not to say there are still not some very traditional blades on the market today – Taylor Made’s P730s being an example – it’s just that they are not used by many players in comparison to other models simply because they have such a small amount of forgiveness.

Whether we are thinking of traditional blades or more modern ‘muscle back’ irons however blades do offer the following advantages:

  • Increased feedback – Blades offer golfers more feedback so that they are better able to tell how well they are ‘striking’ the ball.
  • Shot shaping – Blades allow golfers with high enough club head speeds to generate more spin off the clubface. And more spin allows you to curve your shots more easily and stop them more quickly on the green.
  • Lower launch – Hitting a golf ball with blades typically launches the ball at a lower angle and consequently golfers, particularly those who frequently play in the wind, can benefit from more predictable and accurate shots. Some players just also prefer hitting the ball lower.
  • Better looking – Call me biased but it’s just a fact. A bag full of very shiny chrome finished blades looks better, especially when they sparkle in the sun!

However nothing in life is perfect and for every pro in anything there is always a con and blades are no different. So here are the cons when it comes to using blades.

  • Less forgiving – Despite the progress which has come with the ‘muscle back’ bladed irons blades are not as easy to hit as cavity back clubs. With less weight behind the clubface than cavity backs, and a centre of gravity closer to the club face, there is simply less room for error.
  • Less distance – Due to the lower launch angle delivered by the slower club head speeds of the vast majority of golfers blades do not go as far as cavity back clubs. Golfers typically get distance from hitting their irons higher, not lower.
  • Lower launch – Although potentially great in the wind golfers typically will find the lower launch angle generated by blades makes it harder for them to stop the ball on the green.
  • Unwanted shot shaping – Due to a combination of mishits and other swing issues blades again give with one hand and take away with the other when it comes to shaping shots. Because if you hit plenty of slices or hooks the higher spin rate they generate will make those unwanted shots even more curved!
  • More expensive – Blades are typically more expensive than cavity backs because they are ‘forged’. Forging involves taking a soft piece of steel and beating it into shape and because this process is more labour intensive ‘forged clubs’ will always be more expensive than ‘cast’ clubs which involves pouring metal into a mould to produce a golf head club.

Because of all these pros and cons blades therefore tend to work better for lower handicapped golfers who typically are much better and more consistent strikers of the golf ball.

Many golfers also just think they look and feel better to play with however any golfer who today picks between blades and cavity back irons based solely on their looks needs their head examined.

Because as with blades there has been a huge amount of development in cavity back irons over the years which has only served to add ever more shades of grey to the debate over which irons should choose.

The Pros and Cons of Cavity Backs

The debate about whether a golfer should be using blades or cavity backs started when Ping invented the first Ping ‘Eye’ cavity iron in the 1960s.

Realising the difficulties most golfers were having hitting the original thin blades (and wanting to make the manufacturing process cheaper at the same time) Ping made the ‘Eye’ cavity irons using a casting process instead of the traditional and more expensive ‘forging’ process which required beating the metal into shape by hand.

This casting system involved pouring molten metal into a mould and as a result Ping discovered a way of not only making clubs more affordable but also making it easier for players to hit and control their iron shots.

The ‘cavity back’ golf club was born and by shifting the weight on the club head to the base of the club and edges away from the club face, combined with a wider club to give it more bounce, these more forgiving clubs quickly became popular with recreational golfers.

Golfers no longer required the perfect strike to hit an acceptable shot and poor mishit shots stopped going as far offline as they did with the old blades.

At the same time cavity backs made it easier for the average player to get the ball airborne and for longer which then led to them hitting the ball further as well as straighter.

It was a ‘win win’ for new and average golfers in particular and cavity back clubs therefore also took on the nickname of ‘game improvement’ clubs.

And as with blades the golf club manufacturers have continued to evolve the design of cavity backs and have worked hard to improve the elements players lost when giving up their blades such as shot-making capabilities and feedback on the strike.

The gap has never quite been closed on these elements entirely however which is why you will still find some of the very best golfers in the world, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy continuing to use traditional blades.

Therefore there are clearly pros and cons to cavity backs also compared to blades and the con of one is almost always the advantage of the other.

So to help pull this all together we have summarised below the main pros and corresponding cons of cavity back / game improvement vs. blades / ‘muscle back’ irons:

Beware of a Mix Up and Watch Out for the Hollow Head!

While the differences between blades and cavity back irons were once clear the huge advancement of golf technology over the years has resulted in the clear line between the two becoming much more blurred

Golf club manufacturers today are consistently developing irons which aim to join the benefits of the two types of clubs to such an extent that it can difficult to tell the difference.

Cavity back clubs are being made that provide increased feedback and manouevreability to enable better shaping of shots while forged blades are increasingly made with shallow cavities to help improve accuracy.

These ‘middle of the range’ or ‘in between’ clubs can be a great place to start therefore for players that are considering a move from full-blown cavity backs but are concerned that blade irons will be too hard to hit.

And in recent times the main golf club manufacturers have taken things further by putting their development time into a new type of golf club nicknamed the ‘hollow head’.

The idea behind this club type is simple.

A ‘hollow head’ iron made in two separate pieces which then allows the club designers to create an ‘internal cavity’ to remove inefficient weight and therefore increase forgiveness without the need to make the club head the size of a large cavity back iron.

Ping i500s are a great example of these hollow head clubs which now sit right between the traditional blade and cavity back irons.

Looking very similar to a blade they are almost as forgiving as a normal cavity back club thanks to their hollow heads crammed full of technology.

As a result they allow golfers to make less of a trade off when it comes to their choice.

As with everything that sounds great there is always a catch and with the ‘hollow head’ clubs it is simply that because they are produced in two pieces they are more expensive than traditional cavity back irons.

What about the option some of the pros turn to of mixing up your set by using cavity-backed clubs for your long irons where you need a bit more forgiveness and then switching to blades for your shorter shots when you want a bit more feel?

There is no doubt that mixed sets can provide the best of both worlds and it’s certainly an option many of the pros use.

But for the amateur golfer there’s a real cautionary note which needs to be sounded if you ever consider this route.

Because cavity backed and blades aim to achieve different goals it is very possible that identically lofted irons from the two categories will fly different yardages.

Which means that your combined set could give you some problematic ‘gaps’ in the yardages you can cover with your shots.

That’s why the pros will often get their club making specialists to bend some of their irons to different lofts to close these gaps.

But bending clubs can affect a clubs performance in other ways such as affecting it’s bounce.

That’s fine if you are a seasoned professional golfer in near total control of your golf swing but can be a huge problem for your average amateur player who has no idea what part of a club’s performance has actually been affected by bending it.

So if you plan on going down this route, and I am highly skeptical why any but the best amateur golfers should be considering this option, make sure you get yourself along to a ‘custom fitting’ expert to ensure your ‘combination’ set has no loft or performance gaps.

Do the Pros Use Blades or Cavity Backs?

So what are the pros up to? Do pros ever use cavity back irons?

Given they are playing all the time and do a huge amount of testing on their clubs it clearly makes sense to consider what they types of clubs they are using.

And the results seem pretty clear.

Estimates suggest that although forged irons are hands down preferred by PGA Tour players only between 10-20% of them put blades in play.

And even the best ball strikers in the world including Rory McIlroy, who uses some of the most unforgiving blade irons from 5 iron to pitching wedge (Taylor Made P730s), uses the more forgiving hollow backed Taylor Made 760s for his 3 and 4 iron.

As such it is highly unlikely you will find a professional’s bag today that does not have at least one or two cavity or hollow backed clubs in it, particularly when it comes to the longer irons.

Clubs like Mizuno’s TP-18 MMC irons aim to combine a blade look with similar levels of forgiveness of a traditional cavity backed club

You will therefore find a lot pros today with a mix of clubs in their bag although there is a large number, and most likely the majority, who will simply opt for a full-blown or glorified cavity back / ‘game improvement’ set of irons.

But Tiger Woods still uses blades throughout his iron set I hear some say. Well, the short answer to that is – he is Tiger Woods!

More than ever before the best players in the world are embracing irons packed with forgiveness as modern club design increasingly allows the manufacturers to create clubs for them that are easier to hit without sacrificing ‘feedback’ or resorting to a noticeably larger cavity-backed club head.

The list of pros who stick in the main with blades – Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Ricky Fowler – still exists and although it changes from time to time the critical thing to bear in mind is that the majority of pros are using cavity back clubs.

And for those of you who are still not convinced that based on the experience of the pros you should be looking at cavity backs first and last before blades, I’ll leave the last word to four-time PGA Tour Winner Kevin Na.

I can’t hit a blade. It’s too difficult, and I’m a pro golfer. I think a blade goes shorter. Off-center hits aren’t going to perform as well as cavity-backs. I don’t see a reason why you would want to play a blade. I really don’t. I played blades in my early 20s, maybe one year – when I was dumb. But I’m wiser now and play a cavity back.”

4-time PGA Tour winner, Kevin Na

Final Thought

Choosing your set of golf clubs is I know very much a matter of personal preference.

And for the average golfer who is improving fast and finally making that sustained progress they always wanted to, it can feel like getting a set of blades adds that final official stamp which shows all those golfers around you that you are a good player.

Those beautiful shiny and sleek bladed club heads do look beautiful in the bag and can tug at the heartstrings. But don’t let your heart rule your head and allow a set of blades or muscle-back irons to end up in your bag when they shouldn’t.

For 99% of amateur golfers cavity backs will represent a much sounder investment and only if you are advised by a reputable club fitter would I even consider picking up a set of blades these days with all the more forgiving options there are on the market today.

Use your head and not your heart and save yourself some heartache on the fairways. And some money also no doubt.

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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