All style, little substance and probably more trouble than it's worth. That's often what comes to mind when you see a pretty face, whether it's a compelling stranger from across the room, a vintage convertible or that sleek set of irons glimmering in an "A" player's bag. It's natural to think that an iron that looks more like jewelry is limited in its technology. But that's not the case. It just has to fit in a smaller visual package. "You want to give them as much forgiveness as you can, but there's still a look to the golf club," says Mike Nicolette, senior product designer for Ping. "Players want to feel like they control the golf club rather than having it control them. There's always this trade-off between playability and forgiveness."
It used to be that players irons had a consistent look throughout the set, but today each iron is designed with a specific job. Long irons are developed with lower centers of gravity, or even hidden cavities, and feature slightly wider soles. Shorter irons might have only fragments of those forgiveness features, or even none at all. Increasingly, every set of players irons is a combination or split set designed to provide help where it's needed and to limit it where it's not.
"We're trying to make the design of every individual iron in the set as purposeful as possible," says Jon Pergande, research and development manager for irons at Wilson. "It's really eight different kinds of irons in a set. It's not as simple as taking the 3-iron specs and the pitching wedge specs and dividing by eight."
Still, what's becoming true is that better players are no different from average players: They'll take all the help you can give them. Titleist introduced the AP2 players iron in 2007. Three generations later, the AP2's moment of inertia (or stability on off-center hits) has increased substantially without the company changing the size of the blade.
"We've found that there's no player who would go back to that original design," says Dan Stone, Titleist's vice president of research and development. "If we make a club that fits the player's eye, then we could maximize the moment of inertia of that club to any amount, and they'll like it better."
So if it works for better players, can it work for those not quite at that level? Well, if you're only interested in which 6-iron goes the farthest, clubs in the players category aren't for you. But if it's consistency you want (within the set and through the turf), these compact but complete designs might provide the answer you're looking for. You certainly need skill to use them, but you shouldn't be intimidated by the "A" player looks.
"The technology does stretch the group of players who can play these irons, especially because of the easier-to-hit long irons," says Robert Boyd, Nike's innovation team leader for metalwoods and irons. "There are players even at the mid-handicap level who could benefit from what they might think of as a less-forgiving golf club."