Many of you have surely seen pictures of Tiger's irons with wear spots in the sweet spot. But what about for the average player? Do golf irons wear out from normal weekend play?
Besides the putter, golf irons are going to be the longest lasting clubs in the bag. If properly cared for, the actual iron head itself is very hard to wear out. It will typically last hundreds and hundreds of rounds.
This, of course, depends on other factors such as being stored properly and cared for properly.
In this article, we will look at some of the variables and factors that can determine the lifespan of your golf irons, how to tell when they are wearing out, and when they need maintenance versus replacement. Understanding all of this may even help you choose which kind of irons are best for you.
How Long Do Irons Last?
The question of how long irons last has more to do with frequency of use and maintenance/storage than the actual age. If used regularly and taken good care of, golf irons should last a minimum of a few hundred rounds or five years, and can last several hundreds of rounds and up to a decade, even with regular use!
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Apologies in advance if any significant others of an avid golfer are reading this. Or, of course, a TaylorMade advertising executive. In that case, of course new irons are needed every season! At least!
In all honesty though, golf irons - both men's and women's - are extremely durable. If irons have been sitting unused in temperature-controlled environments stored away from elements that would allow them to rust, mold, warp, dry rot, or otherwise deteriorate - they can be used just as if they were new, even 50+ years later!
The key factor that determines whether an iron is worn out or not is how much “life” is left in the grooves, above all else.
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Do Golf Irons Wear Out?
Golf irons can wear out. While grips can and should be replaced (several times) before the club heads wear out, and shafts also can be worn out or otherwise damaged and replaced, the club head will let you know when the club has finally run its course.
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More specifically, the club face. Even more specifically - the grooves. The grooves on a golf iron are what determine its playability. Eventually the grooves will wear out on all clubs, but it takes quite a while - thousands and thousands of shots. Every time you take a divot, or hit a ball out of the sand, you are contributing to the wear of the golf club. And considering we typically spread our shots out amongst most of the set, this should take many years for anyone who isn’t practicing full time.
Don’t let browning on the face or discolorations be mistaken for groove wear. These signs of wear are cosmetic, and many times a club can have a wear pattern on the face where some of the “chrome” has come off the club far before the actual depth of the grooves and playing characteristics start to become affected.
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How Long Do Forged Irons Last?
A good lifespan estimate for forged irons is 4-5 years for an avid golfer. However, this can change depending on many factors.
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Forged clubs are made of a softer steel than their cast-iron counterparts, which technically means they are subject to wearing out faster, but for the vast vast majority of players the wear will still happen so slowly that they will barely notice the difference.
Most recreational players will end up upgrading due to technological advances or just for the plain excitement of it before their grooves have worn to the point of being unplayable.
If well taken care of, forged irons could last up to 10 years with semi-regular use, and many decades if kept unused in storage.
How Long Do Cast Golf Irons Last?
Cast golf irons should last a player at least 5 years, but could last 10 or more years depending on many factors. Cast iron clubs tend to wear out less quickly than their forged counterparts, but eventually these clubs too will start to have the faces smooth out and playability will be affected beyond repair.
If a club, like a wedge, is used thousands of times per week, as it might be for a professional practicing for hours daily, it is definitely possible to wear it out in a season or less, even if it is cast. Most golfers can expect to get 300 rounds of golf out of a cast golf iron, but that number could vary by several hundred rounds in either direction, depending on how much the clubs are used in practice, and if all the practice is done with a certain iron or certain wedge exclusively.
Since cast golf irons often take advantage of more forgiveness technology, it is more likely that a player will want to upgrade due to the newest clubs having updated features and specs to help their game far before the actual club faces become worn so thin that they affect play.
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How Long Do Ping Irons Last?
Ping is commonly considered one of the best golf club brands. Ping irons, for reasons we will explain, last as long or in some cases even longer than irons from any other manufacturer. Therefore, you can expect a solid 5 years with regular use, 10 years with semi-regular use, and many decades perhaps with extreme care.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, PING (like all major club manufacturers) has both cast and forged products in its lineup, they are famous for their forgiving (typically cast) game-improvement irons.
Starting with Karsten Solheim introducing the first cavity back irons to the market in the 1960s, PING has built golf clubs to an extremely high standard. This means that not only do their clubs hold up physically over time without cracking, breaking, or wearing out but they also hold up technologically over time.
Some of the clubs with the most “staying power” in players’ bags in the history of the game have been PING designs, such as the Ping Zing and Ping Eye 2 models. These clubs pushed the envelope during their time, and because of that, can still “hang” with many modern club designs, and they were so popular that there are a lot of sets floating around still, proving the durability of the materials as well as the concept.
How Long Do Golf Wedges Last
Generally, golf wedges last less long than the rest of the clubs in the bag. This is typically because your average golfer uses wedges more often than any other club in their bag. This is true both during practice and (hopefully) on the course.
Even if it’s a little chip, pitch, or short wedge shot the grooves are undergoing wear and the accumulation of all these little shots are what wear out a golf iron more so than a big, powerful strike.
The other aspect is that players are generally more particular about the grooves on their golf wedges and the grooves should be the deciding factor on when a club is replaced due to wear and tear.
At the level of the very highest professionals, it is possible for a pro to play with brand new wedges every single tournament if they want to, and some pretty much do this, with others changing the clubs every few weeks or months. For a normal golfer, however, they should only see their wedges wear out maybe 2-3 times faster than their iron set.
The “official” data from club manufacturers (who have their own bias) suggests that you should change your wedges every 75 rounds. What this means is that they don’t see any performance drop-off at all before 75 rounds in their testing. In reality, most golfers probably aren’t hitting the same spot as often as they are in their testing, and it’s also up to the golfer whether they feel it’s worth it to change clubs as soon as the first measurable change in performance comes, or at a more reasonable point in the club’s lifetime.
If an avid recreational golfer who practices a lot can keep an iron set for 4-5 years, they can probably keep their wedges for at least two seasons. Even then, they could consider rotating out the lob wedge (or whichever club is used for the majority of sand shots, which generate the most wear), as many pros do, and keep the rest in the bag for another season.
How Can You Make Your Golf Irons Last Longer
The #1 way to make your golf irons last as long as possible is to make sure they only get wear and tear that they need: from clean contact with the actual shot you are hitting, and not being worn down in between shots or being set up to get unnecessary wear during the shot. This is accomplished with proper cleaning, maintenance, and storage.
You can even take the rust off of golf clubs that have not been properly stored in the past!
Golf Iron Care
This might sound silly but other than wearing out the grooves, a golf iron really shouldn’t get damaged unless you hit something besides a golf ball with it. We won’t list all the examples of what not to hit, but rather just keep it that simple: only hit golf balls with your golf irons.
Some things to be aware of are rocks, cart paths, tree roots/stumps/trunks, etc.
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Golf Iron Cleaning
The #1 way to extend the life of your grooves and therefore your golf irons is by cleaning them between every shot. Any amount of sand, debris, or dirt (which often contains specks of sand or rocky material) will act as an abrasive on the next shot and make a big difference on how much microscopic metal is removed when the clubface makes friction against the golf ball.
It’s microscopic but it’s the aggregate effect of hundreds and thousands of these strikes that wears out the grooves on your club, and the difference is significant. Clubs that are properly cleaned between each shot (even in practice) can last several times longer than clubs that effectively are creating a “sandpaper” effect on the clubface and grooves with every strike.
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Golf Iron Storage
If you really want to keep your golf clubs in stable condition, they should be stored in stable conditions. Anywhere that goes through hot/cold extremes, does not have good airflow, or is too humid is going to result in early/unnecessary wear to various components of the club. Some possibilities are browning on clubfaces, rust, dry-rotting of grips, and even iron shafts that oxidize at mechanical stress points and can shear off in play in extremely unpredictable and dangerous ways.
The easiest thing to do is to think like this: your golf clubs are going to be comfortable in the same places where you would be comfortable. Think: Climate-controlled areas. Depending on the time of year and your area, you can get away with the garage, but try to put your clubs inside the house especially during hot, cold, or rainy months. And make sure to dry them well after you play in the rain!
Also, never store your golf clubs in the trunk of your car if you want to get the most out of them. It is especially important if the clubs have gotten any moisture on them at all to get them out of the trunk as soon as possible after the round.
Golf Iron Protection
Many players use iron covers in order to protect their golf clubs, but this is mostly only going to affect the aesthetics. Generally, the vast majority of wear - whether it’s to the playing surface (face or sole) of the club, or nicks on other parts of the club, are going to come during the course of play, when the iron cover is removed.
The only thing iron covers help protect against is what is known as “bag chatter” … with many golfers preferring the rugged and “seasoned” look of bag chatter (which is mostly only an issue on soft forged clubs) to getting in the routine and accepting the aesthetic of using iron covers.
Evens and Odds
One thing that professionals and those who love range time will do to extend the life of their irons is to practice with different clubs on each day. One easy way to do this is to change between using even numbered irons one session and odd numbered irons another session, or if you practice every day … quite simply just hit your even numbered irons on even numbered days, and odd numbered irons on odd numbered days!
This way, practice-heavy players can keep the wear a little more even than the player who just likes to use their 7-iron and 9-iron (consciously or subconsciously) to do most of their practice with, for example.
How Do You Know When To Replace Golf Irons?
The test for how to know when to replace golf irons is easy. It’s called the “fingernail test.” To do this take your fingernail and try to get it caught in each groove of the iron. If a fingernail can still get caught in the groove, then the groove has enough depth to induce spin on the golf ball. If it passes over smoothly without “catching” then the iron is not going to perform as it should.
Be sure to do this over the length of the groove (from heel to toe).
Other components of a golf club can wear out (such as the grips) or break (such as the shafts) but neither of these warrants replacing the “club” per se, you can just replace one or both of these components and keep the most important part (the club head) in the rotation for many season to come.
How To Tell When Your Irons Are Wearing Out
Generally the best thing to do is to check the faces of your golf clubs to see when they are wearing out. You might notice some things during play, but unless you are a professional who has extremely reliable contact and spin control, it will be hard to say whether it is the club or your strike that is producing some results without inspecting the club. Here are some things to look out for though as irons start to age:
Loss Of Distance
In theory, a ball that is struck with a degrading iron face will have less spin, and typically that “knuckle” effect can cause a ball to carry farther and roll out farther. However, spin is a finicky thing, and if the spin reaches below certain levels, the ball can also “drop out of the air” causing a loss of distance.
With a newer, more intricate cavity-back type of club with a hollow body, if you are noticing a dramatic loss of distance, check not only the faces but the integrity of the body of the club to see if there is a crack anywhere. This wouldn’t be so much related to wear, but a complete failure of the body of the club, which is possible with some designs as they push the limits of how thin they can make the metal as clubmakers try to move more weight around with each generation.
If you have a forged club and are losing distance with your club but the grooves are in good shape, one thing is to get the club checked by somebody skilled in accurately measuring lofts and lies. Especially with forged clubs, these clubs can slowly “drift” or morph slightly, a process often accelerated by hitting a lot of shots off of mats or hitting a lot of shots in general. This is completely normal and depending on how much you play, this should be checked periodically with fully forged iron sets to make sure no two clubs have gotten too close together in loft or that any one club or the whole set hasn’t drifted due to use. These clubs are not worn out; they just need to be tuned back to their specifications.
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Loss Of Feel
“Feel” is a very subjective thing, but in general, a golf club shouldn’t lose its “feel” over time. That is, if “feel” means how the vibrational feedback feels like when the ball is struck, unless there is severe damage to the structure of the club or shaft (like a crack).
If you are losing “feel” such as your ability to hit the club the distance you expect on half shots or to control the spin like you used to, then check for a club that has gotten bent out of its loft or for grooves that have worn thin.
The number one sign of a golf iron getting too old - and the only reason a well-maintained club should lose performance - is losing its ability to generate spin. Professional players are very adept at noticing this, as they have a very fine-tuned expectation of how much each club should spin based on the quality of their strike and the playing conditions. For amateurs it is a lot harder to notice because of variations in strike quality and a lot easier to check your grooves to see if there may be an issue with the bow, the arrow, or with the Indian.
Golf Iron Condition
As we’ve said, the vast vast majority of issues with golf irons are going to be mostly cosmetic, but a few can affect performance.
As far as grips, the rubber should be in-tact, and tacky to the touch when dry. These can and should be replaced periodically throughout the life of the club, if used regularly.
Iron shafts generally speaking are either broken, or not. They don’t exactly wear out, but you can check - if the clubs have been put away in wet/humid conditions and/or used to hit off of mats a lot, some corrosion can start to occur right where the shaft meets the hosel, and eventually the club head will shear off at this point. Other than that unless they have been mis-treated to cause bending or denting of the shaft, or stored improperly to cause some corrosion on the shaft, iron shafts should perform until they fail entirely due to one of the above issues, with little in-between.
The club head is the most important thing to check the condition of. When the club face wears out, that’s the end of the life of the club. Be careful not to mistake browning or sweet-spot wear for actual groove wear. A club can and will change colors on the club face as the chrome wears off through use but can still have plenty of sharpness in the grooves. Don’t get rid of a club just because there’s a cosmetic wear mark, if you don’t want to, but do check to see if a fingernail can get caught in the grooves from time to time.
How Often Do Pros Change Their Irons?
Pros change their irons as often as they want. Some might change multiple times per season. Some are known to change their wedges every tournament or two, or at least the wedges that they used the most (like their lob wedge).
There are also famous stories of pros using the same iron sets for decades. In these cases, such as with Adam Scott, Jonax Blixt, or Daniel Berger - the player often hoards sets of irons that are no longer in production, but tries to use them for multiple seasons before changing them out, or in the case of Steve Stricker goes back to decade-old irons they had in their garage at one point or another!
What To Look For In New Irons
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If you’ve actually managed to join the prestigious club of golfers who have actually worn their irons thin before they’ve gotten sick of them or given in to the marketing pleas that blanket any golf media these days, congratulations!
If you’ve made it this far, you’re basically going to be thrilled with any of the offerings that are available on the market. You also have a good starting point to decide how you might want to adjust your new iron set, based on your last iron set.
Every manufacturer offers some very great clubs these days, and they all offer them in different ranges, usually falling on a spectrum between “feel” and “forgiveness” with their cutting edge models promoting the maximum in both areas.
When you’re looking for new irons, look at your old irons and first decide if you want something more forgiving than you used to play, or if you feel your game has gotten a lot better and you’ve outgrown some of the game-improvement features you may have started with. That will help you figure out if you want to go with more of a player’s club head or a game improvement club head, and from there you can work with a custom fitter to pick out the correct shafts, grips, and loft/lie specs to suit your game, body type, and athleticism level.
The old timers used to say “hit ‘em ‘til the faces cave in” and some of the all-time great ball strikers and world-renowned range rats like Ben Hogan, Moe Norman, and Lee Trevino used to do just that. Nowadays, it is very rare that a recreational player can actually wear out an iron before their patience wears out or technology advances so much that they are forced to upgrade.
In reality, about five years is a decent mark for either occurrence - either you will start to get noticeable wear, or the technology will have changed so much that the pressure to upgrade becomes overwhelming. That said, with proper care, and doing things like alternating between practicing with even numbered clubs and odd numbered clubs, cleaning your clubs between each shot, and storing your clubs properly, you can make a good iron set last up to a decade if you are a casual player.
And here's the kicker - whether your goal is to break 90 or win your club championship, knowing the conversation around "do golf irons wear out" and how to tell when it's time for new ones is a great way to help you achieve it!