The Facts About Game Improvement Irons

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More Yards and More GIRs

Last month, we unveiled the first half of one of our biggest Golf Myths Unplugged tests yet [get caught up HERE].  After extensively testing different combinations of iron heads and shafts, we busted several myths about how to hit your iron shots higher and with more spin.

In Part 2, we’re bringing you the data on what you’re really chasing: distance and accuracy.  Are game improvement irons all they’re cracked up to be in terms of forgiveness?  Could you hit more greens with a more “challenging” iron?  Let’s find out.

The Myths

Myth #1 – Game improvement irons are always the most consistent

Myth #2 – Heavier iron shafts always improve shot consistency

Myth #3 – Game improvement irons always produce longer shots

Myth #4 – Lighter iron shafts always produce longer shots

Myth #5 – Game improvement irons always produce straighter shots

Myth #6 – Heavier iron shafts always produce straighter shots

How We Tested

For this test, we brought together seven golfers with handicaps ranging from 0 to 14.  Each player hit five shots with each of nine combinations – a matrix of three shafts and three iron heads.  Every player used the same matrix but hit the combinations in a different order.

The three shafts were all the same flex but had different weights and flex profiles.  For our purposes, we will refer to them as Heavy, Medium, and Light.  The three iron heads all came from the same OEM and were set to stock specifications.  They will be referred to as Blade, PD (Players Distance), and GI (Game Improvement).

All shots were recorded on Trackman.  All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.

The Results

More than distance or accuracy, game improvement irons promise improved consistency.  They claim to take the sting out of mishits and turn your bad swings into playable results.  And while there is no argument that some GI irons have tremendous stability and amazing face technology, do they always produce more consistent results than any other type of iron?  The answer is no.

Take this “Busted” with a grain of salt.  The game improvement irons were the most consistent irons in our test.  However, they were not the most consistent for every golfer, every time.

To evaluate consistency, we looked at the range of ball speeds, smash factors, carry and total distances, and left-right dispersion that each golfer produced with each combination.  Roughly two thirds of the time, the game improvement iron was the most consistent, but there were cases where it was the worst.  Most of the additional tests were won by the players distance iron iron, but the blade did squeeze out one victory.

An old saw in club fitting is that a heavier shaft will slow you down, improve your tempo, take the “hit” out of your swing, and generally improve your consistency.  We found no evidence to support this in our testing.  The Heavy shaft produced the most consistent results in about one third of the tests, which is the same as the Medium and Light.

This is a “Busted” you can take to the bank.  You need to find the shaft weight that works with your swing.  Adding extra weight arbitrarily will not improve your consistency.

Similar to what we saw with consistency, the GI iron won the majority of our distance testing, but failed to compile a perfect record.  In spite of having the strongest loft and the most forgiveness, the GI iron lost over a third of our tests on carry distance and over a quarter on total distance.

Looking at carry distance, the GI iron won thirteen tests.  The PD iron won eight, and the Blade actually grabbed one victory despite having the weakest loft (yes, this adds up to 22, there was one perfect tie).  Switching to total distance, the GI racked up more wins because of its low spin and superior roll out.  GI won fifteen tests with PD winning the other six.  Interestingly, on total distance, every player produced their best distances with the same iron head regardless of shaft weight.

What this result speaks to is the impact of the iron on a player’s ball striking.  An iron’s look, size, and weighting can have a tremendous impact on a golfer’s ability to find the center of the face.  On paper (or on a robot), the game improvement iron is the longest every time.  In reality, many players will be longer with other types of irons.  

The logic behind this myth seems incontestable: a lighter shaft should allow you to swing the club faster, which should, in turn, produce longer shots.  The reality isn’t so simple.

When we looked at carry distances, we had a surprising barbell result – eight tests won by Light, five by Medium, and eight by Heavy (again, there were ties).  For total distance, it was similar with Light winning eight tests, Medium winning six, and Heavy winning nine.  There was only one sweep across carry and total distance testing.

You may be thinking that these results aren’t too unusual – many players aren’t used to a light shaft, so they weren’t able to convert the extra club speed into ball speed.  But here’s the kicker: the Light shaft didn’t even produce the most club head speed.  Light won just four of twenty one tests for club head speed, and, in some cases, lost by over 2 MPH!

This result continues to make the case that shaft weight is a critical variable in club fitting, and one that can’t be “solved” with old adages.  Try a lot of different shaft weights – the results may surprise you.

While the results haven’t been perfect, the GI irons have been holding their own so far.  Despite two “Busted” myths, the GI irons have proven to be the longest and most consistent, on average.  When it came to accuracy, however, the GI irons were in last place.

I had predicted that the GI iron – with its strong loft and low spin – might not fare well, but I was surprised to see it win just three of the twenty one trials.  The big accuracy winner was the PD iron.  With a slightly weaker loft but still packing a lot of stability, PD won thirteen – over half – of our tests.  The blade iron won five tests, showing that the additional loft and spin can somewhat make up for forgiving technology, at least when it comes to accuracy.

The results of our shaft testing have been remarkably consistent in their myth busting.  Not only was the Heavy shaft unable to sweep the accuracy portion of the program, it didn’t even win.

Looking at average distance from the centerline as well as the total left-right dispersion, the Light shaft was the most accurate, winning ten of our tests.  Heavy came in second with seven wins, followed by Medium with four wins.

I’ll say it again in case the third time is the charm, shaft weight matters a lot, and you can’t easily predict what weight will work best for you.

Opportunities for Further Testing

As if often the case, these results left us hungry to do more testing.  One avenue we’d like to explore is testing with different OEM’s iron heads.  While we would not expect to see much difference in the performance of the blades, it would be interesting to see how different OEMs dial in and contrast the performance of their GI and PD offerings.

The other change we could make would be equalizing the lofts.  Not doing so was an intentional choice for this test for a variety of reasons.  First, most golfers play stock specs, so we used stock specs to make this data applicable to the majority.  Also, we wanted to test the clubs in the way that the OEMs designed them.  Finally, we did not want to open the question of what lofts we would use and how that would bias the test.  For example, if we bent everything to the PD lofts, that could give those irons an advantage due to their offset, bounce, and address look being the way it was designed to be.

If you’re interested in reading about different types of iron heads being tested at the same specs, we have two previous Golf Myths Unplugged where we did that with a focus on distance.  Click on the titles below to read more.

Are Distance Irons Really Longer? from 2014

Are Distance Irons Longer than Blades? from 2019

The Takeaway

To return to the headline question from Part 1, our data suggests that you shouldn’t choose an iron based on your handicap or the shot height you want.  Our testing showed that game improvement irons were not always the highest flying, the easiest to hit, the longest, or the straightest.

Turning to today’s question, yes, game improvement irons can be very helpful, but that doesn’t meant they’re the best choice for any given player.  We saw players who were longer, straighter, and more consistent with “less forgiving” options.

And let’s not forget the importance of the shaft.  Being fit for the right shaft weight can have just as much impact on consistency, distance, and dispersion as choosing the right club head.


Editor In Chief at Plugged In Golf
Matt has worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking.He founded Plugged In Golf in 2013 with the goal of helping all golfers play better and enjoy the game more. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.