In modern golf club construction, there are basically two methods employed by clubmakers when creating clubheads: forged and cast. These processes are not special to golf clubs, but are general metalworking techniques used in many industries. In order to answer the question of “Forged vs cast irons: Which is better for you?” we have to take a look at what the preferences of the consumer are, as well as the differences between the two methods. We will do that in this article, and show how and why both manufacturing techniques have a strong place in the marketplace.
In This Guide
- Forged vs Cast Irons - What Is The Difference?
- Forged vs Cast Irons Distance
- Forged vs Cast Irons Durability
- Forged vs Cast Irons Spin
- Pros And Cons Of Forged vs Cast Irons
- Some Of The Best Forged Irons
- Some Of The Best Cast Irons
- Final Thoughts
Forged vs Cast Irons - What Is The Difference?
The difference between forged and cast irons is in how the metal is formed into the shape of the clubhead. Also, because of the differences in the processes, slightly different steel alloys are preferred or suited to each method, which also affects the final product. Both techniques have been used for THOUSANDS of years!
Very simply, the forging process involves heating metal and hammering it into a desired shape while the casting process involves melting metal and pouring it into a mold. Let’s take a look at how those processes apply specifically to golf clubs!
How Are Forged Irons Made?
Forged irons are made through the process of heating a “blank” piece of steel and hammering it into the desired shape, basically. Think: blacksmith holding iron over a fire and banging it with a hammer to form tools. Except obviously nowadays this is done with high-precision processes that are automated by machinery.
Here is a cool video that shows how forged golf irons are made.
How Are Cast Irons Made?
Cast irons are made by heating steel to the point that it becomes molten, or liquid, and then pouring that liquid metal into a preformed mold and letting it cool and harden into the desired shape (the clubhead). It’s like making Jello, but with metal!
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Forged vs Cast Irons Distance
You will often see that many irons advertised as “distance” irons are going to be golf clubs made through the casting process. This doesn’t have much to do with the process, per se, but more what the process lets the clubmaker achieve. While in theory there could be some extremely minute differences in how “springy” the metal is, the difference in “distance” that is noticeable to the player is due to a couple of other factors.
First and foremost, the casting process allows the clubmaker to achieve more intricate designs of the clubhead - i.e. removing more of a cavity from the back, making hollow bodies or hollow soles, and adding more perimeter weighting with complicated clubhead designs. This is going to give the clubhead more of a “trampoline” effect with a thinner face and also give it more distance on mis-hits, but well-struck balls from forged clubs aren’t going to fly shorter or farther than their cast counterparts, if the lofts and other parameters are comparable - at least not solely because of the way the metal was formed.
Which brings us to our second factor: that clubs designed this way generally also are appealing to the “game improvement” category of golfer and will tend to also feature lofts that are lower than a comparable set of forged “players” irons.
So if a cast 7-iron is going farther than a forged 7-iron it is going to be almost entirely due to the fact that the forging process cannot cut as intricate of a cavity (which can create a thinner and potentially slightly “hotter” face) and because the lofts on the club may be different, rather than anything to do with the actual process used to shape the club.
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Forged vs Cast Irons Durability
In many metalworking industries, forged materials are considered to be more durable than cast counterparts. In golf, the specific types of strain involved make it so that the general consensus is the other way around, but it depends on exactly what kind of durability you are looking for.
To understand why this is, understand that forged clubs are typically made from a “softer” steel alloy and the heat and pressure used in the process achieve something called “grain flow.” The result is that you’re going to have a “bend but not break” finished product, which is ideal for somebody who wants to adjust their clubs with a loft and lie machine. The tradeoff is that with EXTREMELY high use we can start to see the grooves on a forged club deforming and smoothing out sooner due to repeated impacts of the “soft” metal, making them in need of replacement.
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Cast iron golf clubs use metal alloys and a process that cools the metal into a harder, more brittle final product. The grooves on these clubs are considered more durable and harder to deform or smooth out over time, although they will still wear out eventually. The downside is that these clubs can snap or crack open if they are subjected to too much strain. This is very unlikely to happen during proper use, but is very much a risk if trying to loft-or-lie-adjust one of these clubs in a golf club bending machine.
Regardless of what the rest of their set is comprised of, many golfers opt to play cast clubs in their wedges (even though their wedges are simpler, more blade-like designs that could be easily forged) because these clubs are practiced with the most and the grooves wear out the fastest and are the most important to keep sharp.
Forged vs Cast Irons Spin
Whether a club is forged or whether it is cast makes no difference at all (all else being equal) in how much it will spin. The grooves on any clubs made from the early 1990s onwards are all cut to conform to the same rules and come from the factory pretty much to this specification. The types of metals involved, etc., make no difference in spin.
However there are a few things that can play a factor. First of all, because forged designs must by nature be simpler, one-piece designs, you are going to see all forged clubs come only in blade, muscleback, and very small cavity back designs. Meanwhile, the casting process is going to be necessary for clubs that are game improvement and super game improvement designs that feature large cavities and a lot of perimeter weighting. Also as we mentioned before these iron sets will tend to feature lower-lofted clubs. All of these factors can cause players to favor shots that spin less on off-center hits, and wide soles on these clubs allow players to get away with “fatter” shots which will hit higher on the face than would be optimal for a blade-iron player. All of these factors will produce shots that spin less, but not because of the construction process, just because of the engineering elements that the construction process allows.
Conversely, the grooves on forged irons can wear out faster. Typically this is not an issue for many seasons, and/or for players who are hitting thousands of shots a month. Most non-professional players will grow tired of their clubs or decide they need an “upgrade” before the grooves wear out, but older forged clubs can start to spin less if they are heavily worn whereas their cast-iron counterparts can retain a little more longevity. Because of this many players opt for and equipment companies prefer to offer more cast designs in their wedges, as these clubs receive more use and wear than the rest of the set. The most popular wedges on any professional tour - Titleist Vokey wedges - are made from casting.
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Pros And Cons Of Forged vs Cast Irons
-Softer, more “buttery” or “thick” impact feel
-Easily adjusted for loft and lie fitting
-Arguably more aesthetically pleasing sound
-Classic “players iron” look is easily achievable
-Slightly more expensive to produce
-Cannot take advantage of super-game-improvement engineering
-Clubs can change loft and lie over time and need re-adjusting
-Clubs can get groove wear and “bag chatter” over time
-Slightly lower production cost in some cases
-Can be engineered into aggressively forgiving designs
-Clubs retain their loft/lie measurements and groove sharpness longer
-Difficult to adjust loft/lie more than a small amount without breaking
-Clubs can have “memory” and return to factory-issued loft/lie
-The impact sound and feel of these clubs can be less aesthetically pleasing
Some Of The Best Forged Irons
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Callaway Paradym Irons
The newest offering from Callaway is the Paradym iron set. These clubs feature pretty much every advancement possible in order to produce their top-line “players distance” model.
This club features a multi-material design combining tungsten weighting with a hollow body (cast) piece and a forged face in order to give all the forgiveness possible while retaining the soft forged feel and feedback from the clubface.
-Great combination of feel and performance
-Forged face with hollow body design
-Tungsten weighting increases launch
-Hollow body makes clubs less loft/lie adjustable than fully forged
-Cutting edge materials and design means cutting-edge pricing
-Compact clubhead might not be forgiving enough for high-handicap
Overall the Callaway Paradym iron set is trying to achieve the “best of both worlds” with feel and forgiveness, and appeals to the mid-handicap player. They are presenting the best blend of technology they can in this range, but if a player wants strictly feel and aesthetics, or strictly forgiveness, they could go for a design targeting a lower- or higher-handicap player, respectively.
The TaylorMade P790s have become an instant classic in the same mid-handicap market that targets the combination of all the possible technology available to maximize both forgiveness, feel, and aesthetics.
Featuring the common theme of clubs in this “class” that is a hollow body (cast) clubhead with a forged face and tungsten weighting, the P790s also add their “SpeedFoam” which fills up the hollow body and creates a softer feel and sound, attempting to get closer to a truly forged design while adding all the forgiveness possible.
-Uses all available technology to maximize feel and performance on mis-hits
-Mimics a “classic” muscleback look while still moving materials around for forgiveness
-Tungsten weighting allows high launch without changing aesthetics as much
-Still not going to feel as FULLY soft as a one-piece forged design
-All this technology comes with a price
-Limited somewhat in loft/lie adjustment options
The TaylorMade P790 was designed to fill the niche of the mid-handicap golfer, but that also makes it one of the most versatile clubs in TaylorMade’s lineup. It’s blend of feel, forgiveness, and looks represents everything modern clubmakers can squeeze out of a design currently. While the target audience is the mid-handicap golfer, these clubs are suitable for anyone, as they are a forgiving club for somebody trying to improve their game, and are actually used by some PGA Tour pros as well.
Bob Parsons’ flagship PXG 0311 Gen3 irons are built around the moniker that they want to cater to absolutely top-notch construction and materials, with no concern for price or marketing limitations. This attitude from the get-go has made their clubs for those who want to be as ruthless as possible when getting everything they can out of their 14 clubs, regardless of the cost, as they compete with the traditional golf club manufacturers.
-Lots of customization options with 3 head sizes to suit your handicap
-Hollow body + forged face = feel and forgiveness
-Fully forged body means fully bendable for loft and lie adjustments
-Most people either love or hate the aesthetics
PXG is a relative newcomer to the scene, but excels in the marketing and engineering departments. While they’ve taken awhile to break-through with winning Tour player sponsorships, they offer top-of-the-line clubs with every customization possible to suit any player’s needs.
Some Of The Best Cast Irons
TaylorMade Stealth Irons
The TaylorMade Stealth lines are the newest offering from one of the leading names in golf. They are known for releasing new clubs very rapidly, each one offering minor tweaks on the previous generation’s technology. These clubs take advantage of the flexibility in the casting process to move around as much material as possible to promote as much performance as possible on mis-hits.
-Low CG, high launch
-Some carbon and polymer insert materials to dampen vibrations and sound
-Great aesthetics for a game improvement club
-Less bendable than a forged iron for loft and lie adjustments
-Might launch too high for some players
-Despite advertising, sound and feel is different from forged
Strides are made every year with “game improvement” clubmakers taking advantage of the engineering designs that the casting process offers and lately trying to blend them with retaining the look and feel of classic forged clubs. The TaylorMade Stealth pulls out all the stops in this category and is in the elite class of clubs for any beginner or high-handicapper.
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Callaway’s Rogue ST Max Irons are once again a great example of equipment companies striving to make their top game-improvement lines look and feel like players' irons sets. By leveraging many technologies such as tungsten inserts and polymer inserts behind the face, Callaway is maxing out their options to deliver a club that feels and sounds better than “your grandpa’s game improvement irons.”
-Cast iron design allows for a strong, thin face and maximum perimeter weighting
-Urethane “microspheres” are inlaid to enhance the sound
-Limited bending ability due to cast design
-May launch too high for some faster swing players
-Aesthetics such as sound, feel, and look, still fall short of one-piece forged designs
Callaway hits a home run with their top-of-the-line game improvement irons here, and these are a great choice for anyone who wants to enjoy the maximum forgiveness that current technology has to offer. The urethane microspheres are a unique feature to add some feel and sound to the club. These are definitely worth a look for anyone looking to invest in very playable iron heads while leveraging technology to retain some look and feel that may have been lost in previous generations of game improvement irons.
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The TaylorMade SIM Max irons are the predecessor to the Stealth line from TaylorMade, but don’t write them off just because of that. TaylorMade is famous for releasing clubs in very short order, often with extremely minute alterations to the design. Often times you can find these clubs that give 99%+ of the performance of the current-season model at a fraction of the cost, or maybe just a “look” that you prefer better without sacrificing performance.
-Pinnacle of game improvement and forgiveness
-Good enough for PGA Tour pros to use in their long irons
-Can be cheaper than TaylorMade’s most recent releases
-All-cast body limits customization through bending loft and lie
-Sound and feel can be sacrificed for the sake of launch and forgiveness
The SIM Max irons were a hit when they came out, and remain a great choice for anyone who doesn’t like the look or doesn’t want to take the full hit of getting fitted into a brand new set of Stealth irons. They are best-in-class game improvement irons and not much has changed since 2020 when it comes to breakthroughs in clubmaking technology, so despite what marketing materials might try to push, these could be a great option for any golfer looking at a modern, maxed-out cavity back club.
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Forged vs. cast irons and which is better isn’t really a “debate” so much as understanding the technology involved. That is, understanding the limitations of each process as well as the advantages.
For forged clubs, you can use a much softer metal but are limited to more solid, one-piece designs that favor more compact “players” irons with maximum feel, feedback, and loft/lie fine-tuning.
For cast clubs, you get the ability to really aggressively cut cavities into the club and even design hollow bodies, as well as cut production costs some times. This allows clubmakers to introduce unparalleled forgiveness and ball speed into the clubs.
The latest irons have been using multi-material construction to combine forged clubfaces with cast hollow bodies, as well as polymer, tungsten, and foam insert components to slightly change the feel and sound of a whole new era of clubs, attempting to get the “best of both worlds” incorporated more each season.
All in all there is no right or wrong answer, but understanding what each type of construction allows can let you easily compare and contrast the offerings on the market, understand why clubmakers prefer each option for different applications, and make an informed choice the next time you pick up a new set of irons!
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