Innovations in Golf: Single Length Irons
This week’s question – why do irons have different length shafts? Do you have a better answer than, “That’s the way they always have been.”? If not, remember that’s what folks were saying about persimmon head drivers thirty years ago.
Sets of irons have not always featured different length shafts; longer shafts for the lower-numbered irons and shorter for the higher numbers – but almost. When Bobby Jones quit golf in 1930 at the age of 28, he went into the golf club design game briefly, and his first Spalding set featured irons in matched pairs. Tommy Armour Golf took a shot at producing irons in a single length in the 1980’s, but the idea never caught on at the same time steelhead drivers were rendering persimmon heads obsolete.
What is the case for single length irons?
The rationale behind single length irons is simplicity. With the same length of club on every shot, there is only one swing, one posture, and one set-up which breeds consistency. For beginners, this makes golf easier to learn and success easier to come by. High handicappers who struggle with finding the sweet spot on their irons from shot-to-shot would also benefit from shafts of the same length. One-size-fits-all sets typically employ the length of a 6-, 7-, or 8-iron so short clubs like wedges tend to travel further than tradition short game implements. This means the scoring clubs can be used more often during a round.
Conversely, long irons do not travel as far and do not achieve the clubhead speed necessary to lift these shots off the ground effectively. That is the same struggle golfers of all stripes have battled forever, which is why long irons are being replaced in many bags by the easy-to-hit hybrids in today’s modern game.
It is the generation of clubhead speed that is the case for traditional irons. Varying lengths lead to different swing speeds that make for reliable judging of the “gapping” of irons – the vexing ball flight distance between the irons through a set. Proponents of single-length irons argue that the loft of the clubs will handle those gaps effectively.
How are single length irons doing in the marketplace?
Bryson DeChambeau, who won an NCAA individual title at Southern Methodist University and the United States Amateur Championship, brought single length irons to the golfing spotlight in 2016. Since then DeChambeau has won on the PGA Tour and is currently ranked in the top 50 in the world. DeChambeau, who did not start playing golf until his mid-teens and brought a scientific interest to the game, uses irons all the same length (37 1/2 inches, like a 6-iron) and same weight (282 grams).
Nearly a dozen small specialty manufacturers offer single length irons and have captured about 2 percent of the club market. The biggest name making a plunge for single length sets as of now is Cobra Golf, represented by DeChambeau. The Cobra King F8 One Length Steel Irons are engineered at the 7-iron length. Cobra also offers one length irons in graphite and women’s models. In addition to stock lengths, Cobra will also tailor-make sets to custom lengths. Cobra still relies on traditional sets for most of its revenue – for now.
Enthusiasts of the single length concept can see a day when 25 percent of Tour pros adopt the one-size fits all equipment. If not one-size, maybe a range of two or three sizes. EQUS Golf has introduced irons with three lengths of shaft – one for the long irons, one for the short irons, and one for wedges. There is not one swing to master, but three. That’s still fewer than a traditional set, and that consolidation of swings is what will always attract players to the single length irons.