Utility (Driving) Iron Guide: Should Golfers Consider Putting One in the Bag?

Posted by on October 28, 2020  /   Posted in golf tips

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In recent years, utility irons (also called flotation irons) have become a growing category in the golf equipment industry. Almost every major manufacturer makes them now.

Compared to traditional long irons, a utility iron design can provide higher ball speeds and launch angles. In theory, it makes them a suitable replacement for those struggling with hybrids, fairway woods or long irons.

But does this mean that golfers should choose an iron over a fairway or hybrid? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. With every equipment decision you make, you must match your swing tendencies with the correct club design .

In this guide, I'll help you understand how utility irons compare to other clubs and what kind of players they can be suitable for.

Expert Analysis

I've learned a lot about golf equipment over the years from some of the best experts in the business. For this article, I used two sources: Mark Crossfield and Woody Lashen.

Mark Crossfield & # 39; s version of Utility Irons

Many of you are familiar with Mark Crossfield; he has one of the most popular golf YouTube channels. I've always admired his data-driven approach and learned a lot from him over the years.

Mark kindly included this video exclusively for Practical Golf readers:

In his test Mark showed how an iron performs compared to a hybrid. Despite having similar lofts, you can see how the clubs perform differently because of the difference in center of gravity and face design.

Woody Lashen

Woody Lashen is the co-owner of Pete's Golf in Mineola, NY. They have been recognized as one of the best club fitters in the industry by almost every media organization. I am lucky enough to have it as a resource for all matters related to club fitting.

I spoke to Woody about his thoughts on utility / float irons and how they work with certain golfers.

He told me that the main advantage of a utility iron (over a traditional long iron) is that they can launch the ball higher due to a lower center of gravity achieved through a concave surface. In addition, they will have a little more MOI (a measure of forgiveness).

Overall, he thinks less than 10% of the players he fits are good candidates for irons, but here are a few conditions that usually lead him to select them:

Utility irons are usually suitable for players with higher ball speeds.
If a golfer tends to spin the ball more than usual, an iron would be a better fit because it can help control the ball more with less spin.
Utility irons are better suited to players who don't work well with hybrids. The gear effect can be a problem with hybrids for certain players, and the iron can reduce those effects.
Some golfers have "emotional" problems with fairway woods or hybrids, and may be more confident with utility irons on approach shots.

While Woody prefers most golfers to choose fairway woods or hybrids as a substitute for longer irons, some of these conditions warrant a choice of a utility iron. One recommendation he made was to match the shaft of your iron to the profile you are using on your iron.

He would like to see more irons offered in higher lofts, such as a five-iron replacement. Woody thinks they could be more beneficial to a wider range of golfers than the top of your bag.

Last but not least, he warned against using an iron only from the tee. I'll explore why later in the article.

My Tests

Whenever I do these types of guides, I like to provide some real-life examples. That way, you can choose equipment as a combination of diagnosing your ball-attacking tendencies and matching the right club that gives you the best chance of success on the court.

Please keep in mind that my results will be different from other golfers so I always encourage you to get a custom fit if possible.

My interest in utility irons was mainly to see how it compares to my fairway wood. Could an iron suit me better? I also wanted to see how the ball flight compares to my 3-iron hybrid and approach shots, one of the most reliable clubs in my bag.

So I had my friends at Sub 70 Golf build a club to my specifications with their 699 Pro Utility Iron. Their club has all the features you'd expect from a modern iron, but their value proposition consists of lower consumer prices and custom options (this club cost $ 99, custom made). You can read my review of it here.

Overall, I am a low launch, low spin player. So when I evaluate equipment, I have to do one of two things to be successful at a club:

A higher launch angle: if I hit the ball too low, the ball cannot stay in the air long enough due to the lower spin
More Spin: The other way to combat a low launch angle is to add spin so the ball can "climb" more effectively.


Using my starting monitor, I hit a series of shots with my fairway wood, the 699 Utility Pro and my 3-iron hybrid. The static loft of my fairway wood and iron were within one degree of each other, while my hybrid had three degrees more loft. However, you can see that static loft is just a starting point in my results. I'm looking at launch angle, spin speed, ball speed, distance and peak height.

Here are my results with a tee:

Club (from tee) Ball speed (mph) Total spin (rpm) Launch angle (degrees) Carry Yards Total Yards Peak height (feet)

Fairway Wood14424941223125063



Here are my results without a tee:

Club (from tee) Ball speed (mph) Total spin (rpm) Launch angle (degrees) Carry Yards Total Yards Peak height (feet)

Fairway Wood14629159.523424559


Hybrid 137319410.921322260

I also took the Sub 70 699 Pro for a few rounds on the track to see how it performed off the tee and on approach shots.

Tee Shot Analysis

From the tee I found a lot of value in the use of a drift iron. The days I took it on the track it was very windy and the turf was firm. It was like hitting a & # 39; stinger & # 39; draw without having to manipulate my swing. The ball launched very low and came off the face with a ton of ball speed, which was useful on holes where I wanted to use less than the driver and play upwind. On several strokes, I could roll the ball up to 250 yards when I hit the fairway.

In addition, the club was very forgiving and had everything I was looking for in performance (good job, Sub 70).

However, looking at the results of my launch monitor, there were a few trade-offs:

The iron had a very low spin speed and a low launch angle compared to my fairway wood. If I'd played in softer conditions without the ball rolling out, or if I'd missed a fairway, I'd give up distance.
My fairway wood has more ball speed and a little more spin which created a more optimal starting condition.

Approach Shot Analysis

While I liked the performance of the iron from the tee, the biggest dilemma was approach shots.

The iron launched so low with so little spin that it took distance. Despite my hybrid having more loft and less ball speed, it still carried on average more than 10 meters further than the iron. And if you look at the comparison to my fairway wood, that's a good idea. I lost nearly 30 feet away.

This is when my swing tendencies (low launch, low spin) worked against me with the iron.

Would I use an iron?

Because of my swing tendencies, the iron was a bit of a one-trick pony. If I used it exclusively as a riding iron, I would only be able to put it in the bag under certain conditions, depending on the track layout. Maybe if the wind was really beating and the turf was extraordinarily firm.

However, that would eliminate the ability to take longer approach shots on par 5s with a fairway wood. This is exactly why Woody Lashen warned against using a club exclusively from the tee. It removes versatility.

For the most part, I don't think it suited my swing. However, that doesn't mean another golfer might find it useful as a fairway, hybrid or long iron substitute. You only know when you test and compare it.

Closing Thoughts

As always, when I write articles like this, my main goal is to show you how equipment can work differently for each golfer.

I have trouble hitting longer irons on approach shots. That's why I've had so much success with my hybrid. So I don't think an iron is right for my game as I can't use them on approach shots. I also don't want to lose the ability to take longer approach shots with my fairway wood, so putting it in the bag as a floating iron makes no sense in most scenarios.

Nevertheless, a golfer who has the opposite starting conditions (more spin, higher launch) could have more success with an iron on approach shots.

Interestingly, companies like Sub 70 are starting to offer irons in higher lofts – they just announced a 7 irons replacement. So we could see more of these designs make their way into the center of a golf bag.

However, based on my discussions with experts and my own testing, I still see an iron as more of a "niche" club – fairway woods and hybrids will work more effectively for most golfers.

Do you play an iron or are you interested in an iron? Continue the conversation about this thread in our Practical Golf community.

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