What Are The Different Irons Used For In Golf?


If you’re new to the game you might be wondering what is up with all the different irons, and what should they all be used for in a game of golf?


They all have a purpose, but it can differ what golfers will have in their bags. As it is up to yourself what you want to carry on a round, sets of golf irons will be very much up to personal preference. You just have to keep within the 14 clubs you can carry in your golf bag according to the rules of golf.


The small numbers are the long irons, and they will be used for tee shots or long approach shots. 


The middle numbers are obviously the mid irons, and they will be used on shorter par three holes and approach-shots that are not too long and require more accuracy. Mid irons are easier to hit than long irons. 


Then there are the high numbers, and those will be used for the shortest approach shots and some very short par threes. The short irons are the easiest to hit.


Lastly there are a vast selection of wedges to choose from. These can be utilized for many shots around the green and in and around hazards. The sand wedge for instance has gotten its name from it’s great ability to get you out of the bunker sand. 


But with all these irons to choose from, what are the different ones used for individually? Lets’ take a closer look.







What Is In A Set Of Golf Irons?

Normally a set of irons will consist of 4-9 along with a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. Sometimes golfers will add in a 3-iron if they are skilled in hitting the longer irons. And sometimes a gap or lob wedge is added for the utility. 


If you’re looking to carry a driver, a 3- and a 5-wood and (of course) a putter you will have 10 slots left for the irons and wedges. Then you can carry a set of irons from 3-9 along with a pitching wedge, a sand wedge and a lob wedge. 


But if you’re looking to add a hybrid, a 7-wood or even a 2-iron, then the compromise will start. 


To help you make the best decision all the irons will be described below.




Long Irons


The 2-iron was made “famous” by Tiger Woods when he emerged in the golf world and gave name to a special kind of shot – the stinger. It is a low-flying, penetrating shot that will make a good alternative if you’re having an off-day with the driver. 




Of course you can swing normally with the 2-iron, but be aware that it is hard to hit correctly and is more for the advanced player.





With the emergence of utility woods the long irons have become less and less popular. The 3-iron suffers from the fact that it is still quite hard to hit well consistently, for the inexperienced golfer. That is also why a lot of golf sets don’t come with a 3-iron, it is something that you need to request specifically. 


Far from every professional golfer have a 3-iron in their set.


That being said the 3-iron definitely has its merit on the longer than usual par threes.


If you’re not very good friends with the drivers, the 3-iron is also a better alternative than the 2-iron. 





Now we’re moving into the iron numbers that are more common. As a beginner the 4-iron will most likely be the long iron that you’ve got the best experience with. Perhaps also as a seasoned golfer.


If you’re not buying a half set of irons, you will almost always get a 4-iron in the set.


It can pay off to practice a lot with the 4-iron since it will still have a lower ball flight than the rest of your irons, and it is good to have an alternative to the woods. 




Mid Irons


Moving into the mid irons, we’re now looking at the 5-iron. For me it is the longest iron that I can hit with good consistency. As the total length of the club gets shorter, it becomes increasingly easier to hit. 


The 5-iron can be used many times on a golf round for par three holes, and approach shots on both par 4 and 5’s. 


The 5-iron is also one of the longer irons that is possible to hit from the rough or the semi-rough. Even the fairway sand trap too.





Now we’re moving into the easier-to-hit irons. An average golfer will hit the 6-iron between around 150 yards give or take. It is a great iron for a relatively high trajectory combined with some distance. Those approach shots where you need a little bit of distance, but really need the stopping power. Hole 17 at TPC Sawgrass comes to mind 🙂


Then there is Tiger Woods, who has made quite a few legendary shots in his career. In the video below he launches a 6-iron 213 yards from a fairway bunker – a crucial shot which led him to win the 2000 Canadian Open by one shot over Grant Waite.






If you at some point ask yourself: “what golf iron is used the most?”, then the 7-iron could be the answer to that question. At least it would be if you ask me. 


When I first started playing this great game my grandma bought me a used 7-iron. Unfortunately I don’t have that iron anymore, but had I known how I would fall in love with the game I would have kept it.


The 7-iron is such a versatile iron for me, and it is the iron I can hit most consistently. The length and loft of it just fits me. Of course that might not be the case for you, you would have to see for yourself.


The 7-iron is not only good for approach shots that need spin and accuracy – I also use it for chipping when I have a ball lying from 3 to 10 inches away from the green – depending on the distance I need to chip. With the 7-iron I can lift the ball just a tad to fly over the last “tall” grass, but still control the trajectory and accuracy of the chip.




Short Irons


The shorter irons are the precision irons. Given the loft of the club and the size of the clubface, you’re able to easier hit the sweetspot. 


With the 8-iron you will launch the golf ball high, and therefore you must take the wind into account. 


When you play more and more, you will most likely develop the ability to put a little bit of spin on the ball. Spin with an 8-iron will most likely be one of the first irons where you’ll be able to achieve a back-roll. This is where the ball rolls further back towards you, from the point where it landed. It is a skill that is very sought after. 





The highest numbered iron, and therefore the shortest. Like all the other irons it has no particular key usage, but is good for various shots around the course. 


Most golfers will use it for short par threes or short approach shots. 





It might seem counter intuitive to begin calling irons different names when they get more loft than a 9-iron. Why not just call it 10-, 11- or 12-irons? 


Who knows. But the fact is that there are tons of wedges to choose from, and many of them have special physical abilities. The loft, clubhead shape and size, the sole grind, grooves, and so on. 




Pitching Wedge

The first wedge in a set after the 9-iron is the pitching wedge. It got its name from the task that it accomplishes to well – the pitch. 


A short shot, often with a quarter or half swing, with a high trajectory will be perfect for the pitching wedge. It enables the golfer to land and stop the ball at a short distance. 


The loft of a pitching wedge is mostly around 42-46 degrees and the wedge itself often bears a “P” or “PW”.




Gap Wedge

Traditionally the only wedges you would find in a golf set was the pitching wedge and the sand wedge. 


As the game has evolved, a lot more attention has gone into the details. 


Why were there no club between the pitching wedge at around 44 degrees, and the sand wedge at around 56 degrees? 


And the gap wedge (GW) was born, to fill out the gap at around 50 degrees. 




Sand Wedge

Personally, the sand wedge (SW) has always been my friend. Maybe because I like those short, high trajectory shots around the green.


The sand wedge is particularly useful when you need to get over an obstacle and stop the ball abruptly.  Of course it works well in the sand trap too.


The loft of the sand wedge is around 56 degrees and in the early days of golf it was the one with the steepest loft available. 


Since the SW will be the go-to choice in the sand traps, be aware that it will most likely wear out prematurely compared to your other clubs. 


Since the groove sharpness and depth matters in golf, a well performing sand wedge won’t last very long. Only if you keep the ball out of the bunker 😉




Lob Wedge

Now the highest loft club available is the lob wedge (LW). It usually comes in 60 degrees, but can be seen up to 64 degrees. 


Be aware that if you use this wedge in a tall grass lie, it will be possible to just dig away the grass under the ball, for the ball to drop down into the divot hole.


If you master the lob wedge though, you will be able to pull off amazing shots. 


Check out this compilation with Phil Mickelson, where he saves himself in some pretty nasty situations. Imagine if you could hit flop shots like that 🙂





Summing It All Up

With this general overview of all the golf irons available, you should get an idea of what the individual golf iron can be used for.


While many irons overlap in what they are good at, some are easier or more difficult to hit than others.


In the end it all comes down to how much you practice with them, and which shots you like the most. 


If you’re on the lookout for new irons, you should check out our beginners guide to choosing golf irons, which will explain more about what to look out for, when getting your first set of irons.


If you have any comments, feel free to get in touch.




Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash