What Are Game Improvement Irons?

Written by John VanDerLaan 

Game improvement irons are, technically, any clubhead that has a feature that deviates from a pure blade design to improve performance on mis-hits. This almost always includes some degree of cavity back / perimeter weighting, some degree of offset, a wider sole, and some degree of oversized clubhead.

In modern times this has expanded to include inserts into the back of the club and faces made of different materials to increase ball speed and forgiveness, as well as “loft-jacking” or delofting the clubs to increase distance while keeping the number on the club the same (i.e. a set could include a 31 degree “7 iron” instead of a 34 degree “7 iron”).

The truth is almost all clubs on the market nowadays use some of these “features” but they exist on a spectrum from very very subtle lines labeled “players distance” or “players cavity” to maxing out all of these attributes, creating “super game improvement” lines.

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What Is A Game Improvement Iron?

Game Improvement Iron

A game improvement iron technically speaking will use one or all of the following modifications in order to improve the performance of a golf iron for off-center hits and swing flaws: oversized club heads, perimeter weighting or cavity backing, offset, wider soles, and mixed-metal construction.

Typically nowadays since these technologies have been built into so many clubs used by all levels of players including tour pros, the “game improvement” label will be reserved for clubs marketed to higher-handicap, casual, amateur players in order to make the game easier.

Most Tour pros have at least some clubs in their bag that use these features, but more and more have been taking advantage of these exact same “game improvement” or even “super game improvement” lines from their sponsors in their longer irons.

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What Are Super Game Improvement Irons?

Super Game Improvement Iron

The “super game improvement” moniker is reserved for clubs that take advantage of ALL of the different “game improvement” technologies and also attempt to build the club with the maximum possible amount of each attribute.

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These clubs make no reservations about their purpose, and that purpose is very specific: to build as much forgiveness into the club as the materials will allow. Everything else is secondary. 

You will see these clubs with the most offset to help close the face and encourage a draw or less of a cut. They will also have the biggest club head sizes possible, the most perimeter weighting possible, the widest soles and thickest toplines possible, attempting to maximize the trampoline effect for the biggest area of sweet spot that the engineers can come up with.

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Features Of Game Improvement Irons

Engineers and clubmakers have come up with a lot of technology over the years, but behind all the marketing buzz there’s really only a limited number of variables they can play with. Let’s take a look!

Clubhead Size

2 different size clubheads

The first thing that can be done to increase the size of the “sweet spot” is increase the clubhead size overall. Some manufacturers have used the tag “OS” but modern day marketing schemes have re-labeled these with much more sophisticated names.

The opposite of the prototypical 1960s “butter knives” blade set, game improvement irons are going to try to build in more clubhead size, and super game improvement irons are going to build in as much as possible.

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Clubhead Type

TaylorMade RBZ Game Improvement Iron

Basically without exception, anything that can even begin to claim to be a “game improvement iron” is going to feature a cavity back club head design.

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These designs could feature more or less dramatic cavities, and many nowadays will feature an insert that is either purely decorative (like a piece of plastic to fill part of the cavity) or more likely a multi-material design that adds a tungsten or titanium type weight (sometimes with a plastic cover, sometimes not) to the back of the club right near the sweet spot

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Perimeter Weighting

PXG Iron With Perimeter Weighting

Perimeter weighting is pretty much synonymous with “cavity back” and you will see it again in almost every set of game improvement irons.

It’s a simple enough concept - that weight taken out of the middle has to go somewhere to form the cavity, so the perimeter is bulked up. Without getting too into the physics of it, the effect of this is that the clubhead is less affected by off-center strikes and there can also be a “trampoline” effect when you hit the dead-center of the clubface.

When that weight is moved to the perimeter, you will see two other common attributes of game improvement irons appear - a thick topline and a thick sole. Naturally, those are two of the perimeters. The thick topline is a dead give-away at address that there’s a big cavity hiding back there. The thick sole has a functional use of both putting more mass under the strike location, increasing launch and helping players “get the ball up in the air” more easily, as well as usually providing extra “bounce” and sole width to keep the clubhead gliding along the turf more which can save a few MPH on “fat” shots.

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Offset

Game Improvement Iron With Offset

Offset refers to how far the clubhead is “offset” from the hosel. This is a matter of millimeters. While true zero-offset clubs (where the front edge of the hosel is perfectly in line with the leading edge of the clubface) do exist, almost all irons, even blade sets used by PGA Tour pros, will typically feature a very tiny amount of offset, depending on the club. Justin Thomas is one example of a player who has played zero offset irons on TOUR.

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At the highest levels, it is usually a matter of a slight aesthetic and micro-tuning certain ball flight tendencies which dictate whether a player will have zero offset, or a few millimeters of offset. For players looking for game improvement, there is a technical reason for adding more and more offset:

More offset gives the face more time to close, helping reduce a right-side miss (for a right-handed golfer). Since this is the most common miss amongst high-handicap and amateur golfers, club manufacturers have started to build in compensation for it. It by all means will not be a miracle cure for anything but it can help keep your tendencies playable.

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Shaft Flex

Golf Iron Shaft

While shaft flex isn’t NECESSARILY related to game improvement in golf, it can be seen that swing speed has a direct correlation with handicap. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but in general, better golfers swing faster if you average out all golfers.

So, typically game improvement iron sets are going to be fitted with regular flex or senior flex shafts. If you are a high swing speed player who is still looking for a lot of forgiveness, don’t overlook this aspect as it might be harder for you to control a softer flex that comes stock in some iron sets, negating any consistency advantages of the game improvement clubs.

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Who Should Use Game Improvement Irons?

Golfer with a game improvement iron

The truth is, anyone who wants to build in more forgiveness to their game and is less worried about aesthetics, feel, and wants to take some curve OUT of their golf ball instead of make sure they have it when they need it … is a candidate to have at least some game improvement irons in their set.

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The most common makeup for tour pros and many golfers getting custom fitted these days is to blend together different types of irons in their sets. That said, the overall trend is that golfers are getting more and more past the stigma of playing “game improvement irons” and going with whatever produces the best numbers and results for them. It’s pretty much the norm for a tour pro to use a club with a lot of forgiveness technology built-in in 4-irons, 3-irons, and below, but more and more are building in that forgiveness in the rest of their sets too, so no amateur golfer is “too good” for some degree of “game improvement” iron in their bag, really.

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What Are The Advantages Of Game Improvement Irons?

Callaway Rogue Game Improvement Irons

The advantages of game improvement irons are basically forgiveness, which technically speaking means less spin, less deflection, and more ball speed on off-center hits. Aside from this, game improvement irons that have an offset built-in can also help players who struggle with a right miss, or slice (for a right-hander) to straighten out their start lines. Finally, game improvement irons that have a wide sole built in can also help reduce a little bit of the chunkiness of a fat shot by helping the club not enter the ground as easily.

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What Are The Disadvantages?

There are a few reasons why many golfers who feel they can reliably hit the center of the face will choose a build that is not “game improvement.” First of all, many golfers have been playing with a certain aesthetic and for both style reasons and psychological reasons they prefer to play with the same type of club that they have played with their entire lives. They feel it gives them continuity in standing over a shot to see a certain “look” from a club that inspires confidence, demands a pure strike, and is easy for them to aim.

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As far as performance, the second most cited thing would be that while amateurs need their ball to spin LESS, high-level players in some circumstances want their ball to spin MORE. Whether it’s trying to work a ball both ways on command or get a ball to stop on a green, they feel they have total control over their club and want to have this at their disposal instead of eliminating it.

Lastly, one overlooked aspect is that a cavity-back design can have, as we mentioned, a “trampoline” effect. Which is fantastic fun for a weekend golfer to feel that pure shot jump 10 yards farther than they’ve ever hit one. But for a low-handicap golfer who relies on precise distance control, that “hot spot” effect when you hit one right on the screws is reduced with more conventional designs. While most amateurs just want to hit their irons as long as possible, the tour-level golfer just needs them to go the exact same distance every single time.

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Do Any Tour Pros Use Game Improvement irons?

Kevin Na With A Game Improvement Iron

Too many tour pros use game improvement irons to possibly list here. A big part of this equation is what constitutes “game improvement.” It is definitely a sliding scale. For example the Ping Eye 2 irons were one of the most classic cavity-back “game improvement” irons ever made and were gamed by some of the best ball strikers in the game for many seasons, such as Freddie Couples. Tiger Woods actually used Ping Eye 2 irons with full cavity backs and offset and oversized heads to dominate during his amateur career, before he signed equipment deals with other manufacturers and became the prototype blade-iron player of the modern era.

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Ping Eye 2 Game Improvement Iron

The interesting thing is that the “standard” irons you see on TOUR these days have way more technology built into them than those Ping Eye 2 irons that were so popular. Brooks Koepka famously used clubs from the Mizuno JPX line - that was originally intended as one of their “game improvement” lines - to win multiple major championships, before switching to a Srixon ZX7 line that also has a full cavity back, but is favored by many high-level players.

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But even throwing that debate aside - you will find many players, and not just hanger-ons, either - playing with clubs that there is no debate about. Harry Higgs made headlines by switching his full set to game improvement irons, and it is common for TOUR pros to use game improvement options in their long irons.

Kevin Na was also famously quoted in 2022 espousing the benefits of game improvement irons for tour pros:“I can’t play a blade,” Na said. “It’s too difficult, and I’m a pro golfer. (...)I played blades in my early 20s, maybe one year — when I was dumb. But I’m wiser now and play a cavity-back. In the longer irons, I even look for more — I don’t want to say a high-handicapper club — a more forgiving club.”

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When Do You Switch Away From Game Improvement Irons?

TaylorMade P790 Player's Game Improvement Irons

The main reason to switch away from game improvement irons is if you feel your ball striking is good enough to where you want the increased feel and feedback of a more simple, solid design. Game improvement irons mostly are used to launch the ball higher, improve performance on off-center hits, and help players through some fat shots and some bouts of leaving the face open.

If you are starting the ball on line, hitting the sweet spot as much as you’d like, hit all your launch windows at will, and have elite low-point control, then you should start looking into clubs that feature different aesthetics, different feel/feedback, and allow you to build more shot-making into your game. But don’t break the bank on new clubs before you set aside some cash to enter next year’s Q-school, if you really do check all the boxes on this list!

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FAQs

What Handicap Are Game Improvement Irons For?

There are many professional golfers who use at least 1 or 2 game improvement irons in their sets, and several who actually use entire sets that could qualify as “game improvement.” So it is difficult to say, any more, that there is a cutoff or target market for game improvement technology and forgiveness.

However, traditionally, most golfers would only consider going with a fully blade-like design if they were at or near scratch. Anybody in the single-digits could use a mixed set or go for a “players cavity” or “distance cavity” design, and the more into the double digits you get the more you can use every bit of technology possible in the “game improvement” or “super game improvement” categories.

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Are Game Improvement Irons For Beginners?

Game improvement irons are for beginners and tour pros alike. While you will see a mix of clubs in a tour pro’s or expert’s bag, and a variety of clubs from player to player, if you are an absolute beginner then you should give heavy consideration to building in as much game improvement technology as possible.

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The lone exception to this is if you are seriously committed to building your game long-term, especially if you are a developing junior player … while it would not be necessary to go fully into blade irons, you could consider using a set of irons that you can “grow in to” that will punish bad shots adequately and subconsciously reinforce good mechanics and good ball striking. This is only if you are willing to sacrifice short-term performance for better long-term habits and honing of your skills.

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What Is The Difference Between Player’s Irons And Game Improvement Irons?

These days, the differences are less night and day than they are shades of gray. Of course the “true” players irons would be a “true” blade or even a muscle-back blade (with a slight bulge and no cavity), but the majority of irons the market and the majority of irons played by the best players in the world fall into some kind of range of game improvement.

You will see all kinds of nomenclature describing these clubs - from “players cavity” to “compact game-improvement” and these clubs are marketed to the best players in the game.

So what makes the difference between player’s irons and game improvement irons? In some respects, NOT MUCH these days! It’s just a matter of how MUCH of the parameters mentioned in this article are built in.

Player’s irons will generally have no cavity or a small cavity, while game improvement irons will have a large cavity back. Player’s irons will have zero to a few millimeters of offset, while game improvement clubs can have more than double that. And “player’s” irons will almost always feature a more compact head shape and thinner top line.

What Irons Should A 20 Handicap Play?

A 20 handicap should play whatever set of irons lets them get out there and play golf as often as possible. For most 20 handicappers, that is going to be a set that gives them as much forgiveness as possible and gives the biggest technical and psychological advantage when they go to address the ball.

For almost all 20 handicappers, the size and shape of a game improvement or super game improvement iron set is what is going to inspire this confidence to go out there and have as much fun as possible by giving the biggest margin for error in their long game.

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Do Game Improvement Irons Go Further Than Blades?

Game improvement irons usually go farther than blades, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

One of the “tricks” of the club marketing business is to build clubs that are lower and lower lofted, and then sell players on the idea that they now hit their “7 iron” farther.

For example in many bladed sets the 7 iron could be 34 degrees or even 36 degrees in older sets, but the lofts of the newest Callaway and TaylorMade super game improvement sets are 27.5 and 28.5 degrees, respectively. That’s the same loft or even lower than a standard 5 iron from some player’s sets!

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Final Thoughts

The world of golf is always evolving rapidly. While technological advancements have always been met with some skepticism from purists, innovation in equipment and the game of golf have always gone hand-in-hand.

The term “game improvement irons” sounds a little self-deprecating, and has often had the best players reluctant to “stoop” to that level. With the advent of radar technology really bringing club and ball performance to center-stage, more and more elite players are being convinced to build more and more forgiveness into their iron sets, making the game easier.

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The engineering behind these clubs was always intended to help the average golfer, but now anyone can take advantage of a little bit of help and be in good company with some of the best ball strikers in the world.

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John VanDerLaan

John is the Lead Editor and founder at Golf Gear Advisor. He is a golf coach and mentor to his 2 sons that are current playing professionals. His son John is currently playing on the Korn Ferry Tour and his son Michael is currently playing on mini tours and preparing for Q School. John Sr. has been their coach and mentor since they were 2 years old. He helped them to succeed in golf with the right equipment, instruction and mindset. John knows a thing or two about playing good golf and he has a passion for sharing his knowledge with others.

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