Golf Irons Explained

New golfers have a lot of terminology and lingo to sort through. This is something that can become a bit overwhelming or frustrating. If you want to make sure you fully understand golf irons, we have you covered. Let’s take a look at everything you could need to know about golf irons and their uses.

What are irons used for in golf?

The irons are used for the majority of approach shots to the green. The golf driver helps get you off the tee, and then the irons help your shots land on the green. Once you are on the green (or just off), the wedges and putter will help get the ball in the hole. 

What do numbers on golf irons mean?

The numbers on the golf iron in the set directly relate to the amount of loft the golf iron has and the distance that is typically going to fly. Irons with a lower number have less loft and will have a lower ball flight but more distance. Irons with a higher number will have more loft, a higher ball flight, and less overall distance. 

Showing loft on different irons
The graphic above shows a 4-iron loft (left) running up to a pitching wedge loft (right).

​​What do the different irons do in golf?

Each iron in a golf set is uniquely created to fly a specific distance for players. When golfers get very good at the game, there is typically about ten yards of distance between each of the irons in the set. This variation in lofts and distances helps players be more precise and have control in their game. 

What are long irons?

Long irons are typically the 2, 3, and 4-iron in your set. These are golf clubs that are slightly longer in length and lower in the overall loft. The result of using a long iron is typically a shot with a more penetrating ball flight that will travel quite far.

What are mid irons?

The mid irons are the 5, 6, and 7 iron. These irons are some of the most commonly used for golfers. They feature a medium ball flight and average distance. 

What are short irons?

Short irons are the 8, 9, and pitching wedge. Some golfers will consider the pitching wedge part of the wedges, but for most golfers, the pitching wedge will match the other clubs in the iron set. To learn more about wedges and their loft, check out this article.

What does A stand for on golf club?

The A on a golf club stands for approach. This is typically seen on a club called an approach wedge (AW) or gap wedge. The club has a loft that fits it between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, usually around 52º. 

What does P stand for on golf club?

The P on a golf club stands for pitching wedge, sometimes labelled as PW. The pitching wedge is one of the most favored golf clubs in a player’s bag because of its ease of use and versatility. 

What does S stand for on golf club?

The S on a golf club stands for a sand wedge, sometimes labelled SW. Golfers will use this club to hit shots out of a bunker and to hit chips and pitches onto the green. 

What does L stand for on golf club?

The L on a golf club stands for lob wedge, sometimes labelled as LW. The lob wedge is the highest lofted club in the bag, with typically around 60 degrees of loft. This is used from greenside bunkers and when hitting shorter approach shots to the green. 

How do I know which iron to use?

Golf irons all have a unique loft, and clubhead design, these differences between each of the clubs will result in specific yardage. The caveat with this advice is that you need to strike near the centre of the clubface, otherwise distance and accuracy are lost

When you begin to strike shots well, it is time to pinpoint how far you hit each club and then remember these yardages when they are on the golf course. Eventually, you will learn course management and distance control, and that will also play into which golf iron to use. 

A quick note, just because you can hit a 7-iron 150 yards with a perfect strike doesn’t mean that is the club you must hit. Many elite golfers hit their iron shots at 85% giving them more control. Taking an extra club and swinging easy is a great strategy for many golfers to use.

What club should you tee off with?

The driver is the best club to tee off with because it gives a golfer the greatest chance of a long distance shot. However, there are other golf clubs in the bag that can work on some holes. Many golfers will use a 3 wood or even a 5-iron if they are struggling to control of their driver on any given day. 

This is a good strategy when you need to get the ball in play, or the fairway gets narrower the further you hit it.

What club should I use on a par 3?

The club you use on a par 3 should be decided on based on the yardage of the hole. The longer the hole the lower lofted iron, or even wood may be needed.

golf club distances header

Also take into consideration any slope changes and the wind that comes into play. If the hole is uphill a longer club will be needed, when the hole is downhill or downwind less club is needed.

What club should I use for chipping?

The club you use for chipping will depend on the lie and the distance to the hole. Most golfers find the sand wedge or pitching wedge to be the best options for chipping. Golfers should become comfortable with a few different types of shots around the green to ensure that they are ready for any situation that comes their way. 

The best advice is to practice chipping with all your irons and wedges, then choose the option you feel most comfortable with on the golf course.

What club should a beginner use in golf?

One of the best clubs for beginners to get started with is the 7-iron. The 7-iron is a mid-iron with a very fair loft that is easy to launch and can be hit out of various lies. A 7-iron is also a comfortable length to practice with before exploring longer and shorter irons.

If a beginner can get comfortable with a 7 iron, they can expand to the 8 and 6 quite easily, before tackling woods and a driver. 

What is the easiest iron to hit?

The easiest iron to hit is the 9 iron. The 9 iron has a lot of loft, and golfers are able to get the ball up in the air. One of the most frustrating things about beginner golf is the inability to launch a golf ball; with a 9 iron in place, this will be considerably easier. 

How many irons do you need?

A golf bag with a starter set of irons

Most golfers will have between five and seven golf irons in their bag. Some players count the pitching wedge as an iron, and others will count it as a wedge. The most common iron set makeup for the average golfer today is five iron through pitching wedge, with the addition of the gap wedge or AW. This is shown in the Cobra XL set pictured above.

Is a 3-iron necessary?

A 3-iron is not necessary for 90% of golfers. Better golfers with high swing speeds that can create more of a descending blow and hit the centre of the club will enjoy what a 3 iron has to offer. However, slower swing speed players, who struggle with their strike will struggle to get enough launch with a 3 iron. 

The 3 iron is a very low lofted iron that can hit piercing shots that roll, but for most golfers, there are easier clubs to use, such as a hybrid.

What is a 7 iron used for?

A 7 iron is used for an approach shot to the greens from the fairway and rough, it can be used to hit bump and run chip shots, and even to escape from some trouble. The 7 iron ends up being a very versatile golf club for most players. The mid loft and length of the 7 iron also makes it relatively easy to launch and increases a golfer’s overall success rate. 

Can you hit hybrid off tee?

Yes, you can hit a hybrid off a tee. Tee the hybrid very close to the ground, similar to how you would tee an iron. This will ensure you make contact with the sweet spot on the center of the clubface. Many par-three golf holes and par fours with a dogleg or trouble will favour you to hit a hybrid off the tee.

Do golf irons wear out?

Golf irons will wear out over time, but it takes a long time. The grooves on the club will start to deteriorate, and there could be other internal issues with cavity back or hollow construction type irons. Long before a golf iron wears out, the technology on the market will make an iron outdated and difficult to justify using. 

Softer material irons, such as forged irons will wear down quicker than cast golf clubs. But all clubs will take tens of thousands of shots before this occurs.

What are the longest most forgiving irons?

The TaylorMade SIM Max OS are the most forgiving irons on the market. The SIM Max OS has a large sweet spot, plenty of loft, and an impressive feel. In addition, the clubhead itself is slightly draw bias to help golfers that often slice the golf ball. If you are looking for a combination of both speed and forgiveness, the SIM Max OS is the best overall option. 

Summary – Golf Irons Explained

Hopefully, that helps answer some of your questions. If you want to understand more about golf club lofts, check out this link or for a rundown of the best beginner irons check out this link and click here for the best women irons.

If you have any extra questions just leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

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Britt Olizarowicz is a former teaching and Class A PGA professional with more than 25 years spent with a golf club in her hand. Britt is a small business owner, author, and freelance golf expert that knows this game inside and out. She lives in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children.

1 thought on “Golf Irons Explained”

  1. Loved the site and insight. Better than asking your golf partners for their biased opinions. Straightforward information like this helpful and informative


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