The fight between forged and cavity-back irons for the affection of the golfing public once was a cleanly defined competition. Forged irons were produced the old-fashioned way, while the relatively newer cavity backs offered the appeal of a modern golf club design. The battle lines have blurred recently, as some cavity-back irons are now forged, leaving the golfing consumer with a variety of choices.
Forged irons are typically made from a single piece of steel. There are different techniques for making forged irons, but in all cases the steel is heated, then molded into shape by at least one large pressing machine. Forged clubs were the undisputed irons of choice well into the 20th century, when technical improvements made cast-iron clubs – including cavity-backs – more competitive. By the mid-1990s, only about half the players on the PGA Tour were using forged irons. Forged irons made a comeback after the turn of the century thanks to new manufacturing techniques, including some designs borrowed from their cavity-back cousins. By 2010, approximately 80 percent of PGA Tour golfers carried forged irons in their bags.
Cast-iron clubs are made from liquid metal that’s poured into a mold, then allowed to cool. The process makes it easier to manufacture clubs in a variety of shapes. This technology led to the introduction of cavity-back clubs, which have thick ridges around the rear perimeter of the clubhead, leaving a cavity in the middle. Cavity backs are typically listed as “game improvement” clubs because their technology helps most amateur golfers improve their games, mainly by being more forgiving of mis-hits.
Advantages of Forged Irons
Forged irons typically maintain more weight in the center of the clubhead when compared to cavity-back clubs. As a result, top players who consistently hit the sweet spot with their swings will enjoy greater accuracy. Although golfers often can get away with mis-hits when using a cavity-back club, some pros believe that the challenge of hitting with forged clubs helps their overall games. Bob Tway, the 1986 PGA Championship winner, told ESPN that premier players can “get sloppy with your swing” when using more-forgiving clubs. “That creeps into other clubs, like the driver,” Tway said. A forged clubhead’s construction is also more consistent than a cast iron’s. The casting process typically traps tiny air bubbles within the liquid metal, in contrast to a completely solid forged iron. Additionally, current manufacturing techniques allow forged irons to be constructed with cavity-back features, giving devotees of forged irons the best of both worlds.
Advantages of Cavity-Back Irons
The weight of a cavity-back clubhead is more evenly distributed around the perimeter, making cavity backs a better choice for weekend golfers because the clubs are much more tolerant of mis-hit balls. Beginning golfers in particular will find it easier to hit the ball straight with a cavity-back iron. The bottom line is that two identically designed clubs will show little or no performance differences, whether the clubhead is forged or cast. A casual golfer seeking a forgiving cavity-back club will do just as well with a cast-iron version as he would with a forged cavity-back iron.