If the number of iron categories on the market has you confused, you're not alone. We have questions, too. For example: Do oversize super-game-improvement irons (SGI) really hit it higher and farther than compact irons for better players? Does an iron's benefits change based on what kind of golfer you are? Should high-handicappers play only SGI irons? To find out, we commissioned a test by Club Champion, the premium clubfitting chain with 39 facilities nationwide. For the test, every handicap level (low, middle and high) tested the three main iron categories: compact "players" irons, standard game-improvement models and super-size, ultra-forgiving irons. First, the test showed the value of a clubfitting. Just getting the right category of iron in each golfer's hands saw gains of 12 yards for the best players to 18 yards for the 90s-shooters. That's right: higher handicappers benefited the most from finding the correct irons. But it's not only about distance. Each level of player hit a different classification of iron the most consistently in terms of distance and dispersion. This is why Nick Sherburne, founder of Club Champion, believes an iron fitting can be an attitude adjustment. "We don't move a golfer into an iron type based on their handicap," he says. "It's a matter of seeing what things you need and what kind of club works best." And that means testing more than one category of iron. As you look at the latest designs here (from SGI irons on the left to players irons on the right), our advice is this: Assume nothing, and be open to trying everything.
COBRA FMAX SUPERLITE
The lighter head, shaft and grip are designed to help moderate swingers deliver more speed at impact to help shots fly farther and higher. The irons change through the set with more help in the long irons and less in the short irons. $600
MIZUNO JPX 919 HOT METAL
The company's hottest game-improvement design is cast from a high-strength bendable steel alloy used in roll cages. A variable-thickness face offers flex across a wider area. $1,000
This compact cavity-back features a larger elastomer cushion tucked into the back cavity than before. That larger channel boosts forgiveness and means that more of the face is backed by the softer material to improve feel. $1,000
PXG 0311 SGI GEN2
With its low profile and wide sole, this is the most forgiving entry in the company's lineup of hollow irons with high-strength steel face inserts. It uses a new energy-enhancing polymer to fill the largest internal cavity of any PXG iron. $3,200
SRIXON Z 585
The classic shape and styling disguise a powerful but hidden punch: In addition to a high-strength steel face insert for more rebound at impact, a thinned-out channel around the back of the insert expands the face's hottest spot. $1,200
Elite players want distance, too. These forged heads have polyurethane foam-filled middle and long irons to enhance forgiveness and flex and to provide the feel and workability of a tour iron. $1,400
A FITTING HELPED SOME GOLFERS HIT IT NEARLY 20 YARDS FARTHER.