Not all irons are created equal. Just like every piece of golf equipment, having the right type of irons goes a long way in improving your skills, and more importantly, your scores. We’re going to talk a little bit about the two main types and their differences; cavity back vs muscle-back irons. The first thing a golfer in the market for clubs needs to do is educate themselves. With all kinds of new clubs released each year, it is important to remember your goal: find clubs that will make you better at golf.
The main difference in cavity-back vs muscle-back irons is head shape and playability. Cavity-back irons are better suited for higher handicap players. They are built with technology that makes them more forgiving and easier to hit. Muscle-back irons, also called blades, are designed for low handicap players and reward consistency but are less forgiving.
What Are Cavity-Back Irons?
When comparing cavity-back vs muscle-back irons, the easiest way to distinguish this first group of clubs is the way they look. Cavity-back irons are easy to identify due to their thick bottom flange and indented backs.
Technically speaking, they have perimeter weighting. This weight distribution enlarges the sweet spot and makes mis-hits far less troublesome. Cavity-back irons are also designed to help golfers launch the ball higher. When you hit the ball higher, you gain distance without swinging harder and develop more control as a result.
Many cavity back irons fall under the category of game improvement clubs. As you might have guessed, these are for players that need a little help getting the ball off the ground and going in the right direction. From single-digit handicappers to golfers that can’t break 100, anyone can benefit from using cavity-back irons.
Benefits of Cavity Back Irons
- Easiest to hit golf irons
- Can be used (and benefit) players of all levels
- Forgiveness—it won’t make hits off the hosel or toe go as far as a center-stuck shot, but the ball will still advance
- Perimeter weighting makes slices slice less and hooks hook less
- Of cavity back vs muscle-back irons, cavity backs tend (not with all models/brands) to be more affordable
Downsides of Cavity-Back Irons
Cavity-back irons are not brand new, but older golfers at your local course will tell you they didn’t always exist. For anyone who started playing golf in the last 30 years, this could be news to you. When cavity back irons were introduced to the game of golf, the transition was made quickly and enthusiastically by most golfers.
As much as cavity back irons have helped players with average skills get their scores on par with more talented golfers, there is always a slight downside.
When you use a muscle back iron and hit a bad shot, you immediately know what went wrong. Those in the golf world call this feedback. With extreme perimeter weighting, it is more difficult to identify how far off the heel or toe a shot was. Due to this, adjusting is a bit more difficult.
Building off the last point, most shots feel the same. Because of this, they also travel the same. As much as cavity back irons help you hit it straight down the fairway, they make it difficult to aggressively shape shots. With blades, you can purposefully shape shots in all directions with ease.
Unfortunately, you can also replicate these unique flight paths when trying to hit the ball straight much easier.
What Are Muscle-Back Irons?
Muscle back irons are what happened when we finally put a little science into traditional blade irons. In terms of cavity back vs muscle-back irons, they are more difficult to hit. They have, however, become forgiving enough that you see them at local courses—not only on the PGA Tour.
Muscle back irons are thinner than cavity backs and have solid backs. Their weight is concentrated at the center creating a small, but powerful sweet spot. With a muscle back in hand, a skilled golfer can easily shape shots around doglegs, under tree branches, and away from any danger they may have gotten themselves into off the tee.
Not all muscle backs are blades. Blades are the thinnest of golf clubs and have the most centered weight distribution. This makes their sweet spot the smallest, but for golfers who can consistently make contact here, the rewards are bountiful.
Benefits of Muscle-Back Irons
- Superior feedback—if a bad shot works out, you can replicate it
- You can bail yourself out—when your drive ends up behind a tree, a muscle back iron gives you a better chance to save par
- A higher center of gravity makes it easier to hit low shots
Downsides of Muscle-Back Irons
Not every golfer that wants to should be playing muscle backs. As flashy as they are, if you want to trot out a bag of blades, you need to be able to back it up. Similar to putting your money where your mouth is, if you can’t play consistently well with muscle-back irons, you probably just shouldn’t at all.
An unexpected downside of playing muscle-back irons is that they do not go as far as cavity back irons (for most golfers under most circumstances). Due to the level of precision required to master this type of irons, when choosing between cavity-back vs muscle-back irons, the choice should be clear. Muscle back irons are plain and simple too difficult to play well with for most golfers.
When to Switch from Cavity-Backs to Blades?
I’m going to say this very clearly, you DO NOT ever need to make the switch to blades.
Even on the PGA Tour when asked about cavity-back vs muscle-back irons, there are players that will tell you they prefer muscle back for many of the same reasons we talk about above. Now, these players have handicap indexes below 0 (+2, +3.5, etc.). Just because you finally hit a single-digit handicap does not mean you have to go out and buy muscle-back irons.
Kevin Na put it perfectly on the Fully Equipped podcast, “I can’t play 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’d want to play a blade. I really don’t.” Kevin Na has four wins on the PGA Tour—if he doesn’t see a reason to play muscle backs, you don’t need to either.
If you’re dead set on making the switch to muscle-back irons, you need to make sure your game is ready. To use muscle-back irons, you should have a consistent ball flight, be comfortable with shaping shots, and have a level of precision with distance and control.
If you aren’t ready to go full blade, a lot of golfers will use cavity-back long irons and muscle-backs for their shorter irons. This club composition helps alleviate some of the major problems with muscle-backs while letting you take advantage of all the technology out there today.
Golfer beware, using a combo set could create distance gaps in your irons that would otherwise not exist. Due to the different compositions of clubs, even if the lofts should cover all your gaps, it’s unlikely you hit each type of club the exact same. If there’s a hole in your distances, there’s a hole in your game. Yet another reminder (and endorsement) of how a professional fitting (or using all muscle-backs) could help you.