There are a number of parameters (some equipment and other swing related) that influence how far you hit the golf ball. Having the right combinations of lofts in the set in order to have nice incremental gaps between each club is a must.

Download Hireko Golf CatalogOne question I get occasionally from customers is why don’t the lofts of irons and wedges increase at the rate of 4 degrees per club in order to have consistent distance gaps? After all, it is only fair to think if the lofts are separated like that then the distances should be spread out consistently as well. However, what may make perfect sense on paper doesn’t work out the same in reality as we will explain in this article.

At one time loft were sold with nice even 4 degree gaps per iron. This occurred most recently from 1950-1970. Here is what the typical lofts were of that age.

2 iron        20
3 iron        24
4 iron        28
5 iron        32
6 iron        36
7 iron        40
8 iron        44
9 iron        48
PW           52
SW           56

Soon after that we started to see more of the separation as they are today with lower lofted irons gapped closer to 3º apart and the wedges and perhaps the 9 iron at 5º separation. Today, the lofts look closer to the following.

3 iron        20
4 iron        23
5 iron        26
6 iron        29
7 iron        33
8 iron        37
9 iron        41
PW           45
GW           50
SW           55
LW           60

There is a rhyme and reason why manufacturers produce lofts like this. Some may say this is simply due to the lofts have strengthened to give you more distance and they couldn’t continue the progression in the lower numbered clubs and make them playable. While there may be some truth to that, it is more of a function of the dynamics of the swing.

Center of gravity of the head
Each head has a unique set of CG coordinates. This is a function of many parameters such as the hosel length, blade length, toe height, sole width, hosel offset, face thickness, etc. Not only does the CG coordinates changed from model to model, but each club throughout the set. You may wonder why each club is in the set is a different length. That has to do with the weight being different on each head. Where the addition of weight is placed establishes the CG location. You may find that as the loft increases, the CG is shifting higher vertically as well as further behind the axis of the shaft. Yet at the end, the manufacturer ties all this together to make a playable set.

Center of Gravity Golf Club Locations
After years and years of manufacturing and player product testing, loft specifications are set appropriately, especially with the advent of sophisticated launch monitors where distances can be pin pointed exactly. However, there are a few other considerations to why lofts don’t always follow in a nice, neat orderly fashion.

Angle of Attack Golf ClubsAngle of attack
The loft the head was designed and what the loft at impact can be entirely different. For example, we are generally taught with long irons to have more of a shallow swing and with higher lofted clubs to hit more down on the ball. What we are talking about is angle of attack. This varies per person and per club (not to mention swing-to-swing). The club on the left in the diagram is a 5-iron with a loft of 26º, but the player has angle of attack of 3 degrees leaving the face plane with 22º loft at impact. On the right is a 56º sand wedge with the player hitting down at a 6º angle leaving the face plane at 50º. Whenever the player changes their angle of attack and/or impact position on the face, the ball will come off at a different launch angle and spin rate and that is why we experience distance variations with the same club.

Shaft flex
The stiffness of irons and wedges, the vast majority of the time, increases in frequency (cpm) as they reduce in length. For steel shafts it is roughly 4-5 cpm per ½” and with graphite shafts can be less depending upon the trimming instructions. Guess what? The stiffness of the shaft influences the dynamic loft at impact. If you have a more flexible shaft, that helps bow the shaft forward increasing the loft and subsequently altering the trajectory, spin and distance of the ball.

The low down
As you can see that there are a number of parameters (some equipment and other swing related) that influence how far you hit the ball. Having the right combinations of lofts in the set in order to have nice incremental gaps between each club is a must. You’ll often find that the lofts will not always follow the same orderly progression your distances do. If you have problems with gapping, seek a professional club fitter. Often times they can adjust the lofts of your irons and wedges accordingly.

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16 Comments on Why Aren’t Golf Club Lofts in Nice 4 Degree Increments?

  1. Mike says:

    Sorry, but I’m not buying that explanation. Lofts were made stronger to make golfers believe that they were hitting their clubs longer. The race for distance between manufacturers became so heated that a gap wedge had to be created to fill the gap between the PW and SW. Sets now run 4I through GW instead of 3I through PW and almost no one carries a three iron in their bag. In reality golfers are carrying the same lofts that they always carried, but the clubs are numbered differently. I believe in truth in advertising.

  2. Ken Fortin says:

    Lets see.. A full set of clubs with one less club for full price.
    Asked the wife and she says it’s inflation related.. It’s a trick they learned from food manufacturers. Right Mike ?!

  3. Jeff, Your explanation tracks well with the results that I get using a Flightscope launch monitor. Alternate 6-iron heads on the same shaft & length yield varied launch angles and spin rates. Sometimes it is helpful to mix heads in order to give a client the shot height and gapping that he wants from short irons vs. long irons. A session with a certified club fitter would help most golfers obtain the best performance from their irons. Thanks for the article. Rod

  4. Dave Kenzie says:

    Mike:

    I concur 100% that OEM’s have tweaked the lofts lower and now they are adding length to the clubs. Longer length produce a big swing arc and greater club head speed. Speed equals distance. However this additional distance can many times produce a shot that way off it’s intended target. Placement of the ball in the fairway leads to a better chance at a solid second shot. Regarding the lower lofts, soon it will be necessary to have GW1 & GW2 to cover the loft variance between a PW and SW.

  5. Jim McLain says:

    I have seen this argument in many formats but I have always found that the current loft profile is backwards. Fine tuning lofts in short irons and wedges is much more important than in long irons and using a 4 degree separation in long irons does a better job of keeping the 10 yard difference than the 3 degree change does. When I work with better golfers who are really working on yardages, my lie adjustments are normally closer than 4 degrees on the shorter clubs.

  6. Dave,,,,

    Your comment …”Longer length produce a big swing arc and greater club head speed.” … I totally agree with you about lose of accuracy. Most pros drivers average 44″ to 45″, I am aware that Bubba Watson is at 45 1/4″. Yes a bigger swing arc, but not always more club head speed. When doing fittings I have put customers into the launch monitor and they achieve a higher clubhead speed with their 3 wood than they do with a driver. Ahhhhh, shorter length …. higher club head speed. Also, feedback from the customers, toooo long of length and the head hangs back behind their hands. Making them slow down their hands until the head catches up.

    Jacques

  7. Larry Horton says:

    Jeff,
    Distance is king! Your explanation is good if the lofts are as you stated in your article. However, here are the lofts taken from an OEM website: 3-18*, 4-20*, 5-23*, 6-26.5*, 7-30.5*, 8-35*, 9-40*, pw-45*, aw-50* and sw-55*. They do get closer to your numbers in the short irons, but are still much stronger than just a few years ago.

  8. Brad Smith says:

    I don’t agree with the thrust of this article. All of the points raised in the article about why it is different today also applied in the previous era of clubs. Angle of attack, cg location and shaft flex had the same influence in heads and shafts and therefore launch for irons from the 60′s-70′s. Physics is physics. For example, if you take a 50 year old 32 degree loft head on an original Dynamic Gold shaft (say, S300) and hit it against a current 32 degree head on a current Dynamic gold shaft, I’ll bet that for solid, center hits, the flights are essentially identical. All the golf ball knows about is the speed, mass and loft of the head that hits it. Same loft….same speed…..same mass…..equals……same launch.
    Brad

  9. Mel says:

    I can the reason for lofts not being an even 4 deg. between clubs due to angle of attack and shaft flex. However, the longer shafts and stronger lofts are clearly an attempt by the manufactures to show that their clubs are the best because they hit it longer. Pure sales,

  10. Bob Tremmel says:

    I agree with Mike that a lot of it is marketing. Graphite shafts allow for longer clubs such that with the loft changes today’s 8 iron is almost exactly the same as yester years 7 iron. But, also one has to consider the lower center of gravity in today’s clubs which get the ball going higher which means today’s 8 iron flies as high as an old iron. Today’s clubs are definitely easier to hit but length is king. Make a 7 iron and call it an 8 and you can sell more clubs.

  11. Joe Stamba says:

    My memory may not be correct, but here is what I remember. When Cobra came out with the King Cobra heads, they basically stamped a 3 iron with a 4 on it and did this thru-out the whole set thru the pitching wedge which left an 8 degree gap between the PW and the SW. Most everyone that bought them thought they hit them further than their current set and they sold like crazy. Then they created the gap wedge to fll in between the PW and the SW and sold a million of them. I believe in recent years that the manufacturers have fine tuned their heads as Jeff stated. However; I firmly believe that the original concept was as simple as stamping an 9 on an 8 iron and so on to make people believe that they hit them further.

  12. Owen Favro says:

    I think it is instructive that Hireko is offering 2 new Dynacraft ‘Driving’ irons with 21° and 24° lofts – in the old days these would have been the equivalent of a weak 2-iron and normal 3-iron respective but a weak 3-iron & weak 4-iron according to ‘today’s’ standards – but we are to believe we are using them as ‘Driving’ irons – may I ask if these clubs are to built to the length of a ‘modern’ 2-iron & 3-iron make them weak 1-irons & 2-irons of the ‘old’ standard – guess we’ll have to rely on a pro to work that out

  13. The delofting for more distance is a marketing function, period. High speed photos show a shaft bows downwards – increasing the toe droop, rather than bending backwards.

  14. Richard says:

    I’m with Mike on this. They wanted to be able to sell you another iron so they created a “gap” wedge. By the way, my Hogan Apex irons (from the 80′s) had a 49 degree pitching wedge and a 16 degree one iron. I still refuse to carry a gap wedge. The art of the game is in finesse shots anyway…if you can hit a 100 yard sand wedge and a 120 yard pitching wedge (or even 115), all you need is practice and you can put the ball close. The myth that you should hit the ball with the same swing every time is just that…a myth. Bobby Jones had a different swing for every club in his bag. I seem to recall he won a few majors.
    There’s some truth in this article, but I’m not that convinced by it either.

  15. Joe Golfer says:

    The first commenter, Mike, disagrees because he says the lofts have been strengthened across the board. He’s missing the point.
    The question isn’t about strengthening lofts for distance from yesteryear to today. It is about loft gaps between irons.
    Today’s irons are much different than those of 40 years ago. The long irons have a much lower center of gravity to help get the ball into the air, while they usually try to keep that COG higher in the short irons. Many long irons are like driving irons with very wide soles.
    Plus, the ball rolls further with a four iron than with a nine iron, so a 3* difference will suffice. And as the author pointed out, the angle of attack does change since one plays the short iron further back in the stance.
    The author, Jeff Summitt, gave a good explanation in a short amount of space, and he should be commended for it. Sure, he could have covered more issues, but the point wasn’t to give a multi-page dissertation but rather just a brief explanation.
    Yes, lofts are much stronger, and the gaps in the lower irons are actually often too close together. TaylorMade has some 2* gaps between irons on some models in long irons.
    That’s why you consult with a club fitter, as the article recommends. You might want to just skip a particular iron or to have the loft adjusted to you have an in-between iron in those longer clubs. Plus, let’s face it: even pros are using hybrids liberally nowadays. If you’re still using a three iron and you’re not a scratch golfer, get with the program.

  16. Jeff Summitt says:

    Guys,

    There is some marketing going on because that is want you want – more distance. As you get older and start to lose distance, then you want to buy new clubs to hit the ball as far as you used to. But that is aside from the point of the lofts not all being in nice even increments. Some of the lofts are stronger because of two things: 1. CG’s are lower and further back than they were years ago and 2. shafts are lighter, more flexible and launch the ball higher. If you maintain the same lofts of yesteryear, then the ball will only go higher, spin more and potentially lose distance.

    This is why you see Dynamic Gold, Project X and KBS Tour or C Taper shafts in player’s clubs that don’t have jacked up lofts and lighter weight shafts in game improvement irons with stronger loft. But guess what? In both cases, lofts aren’t in 4 degree increments.

    I like Jim’s comments that he sees the gaps differently. That means he is fitting based on how far the player actually hits the ball and adjusting the lofts accordingly. Kudos! Even here, the lofts aren’t always in nice even increments. We can all argue about the distance claims by renumbering the clubs, but that was not the intent of this article. But thanks all for your comments and participation.

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