Pros: Classic looking irons with big forgiveness and hot faces that add distance through the set.
Cons: The polished chrome finish looks great in the bag, but might be a little bright for some golfers at address.
Bottom Line: These irons offer game-improvement-like performance hidden deep inside a classic, compact design. The updated SpeedPocket with ThruSlot Technology generates slightly faster and more consistent ball speeds across the face leading to more distance, even on mishits. While the SLDR irons are cast, the sound and feel aren’t a distraction.
For some time now, TaylorMade and the golf industry at large have been pushing the limits of distance across all their product lines, especially in the game-improvement category. Each new product seems to offer the same thing: more distance.
While TaylorMade has enjoyed success with its SpeedBlade irons for golfers looking for more distance and forgiveness, as well as with the Tour Preferred CB and MC irons, which are slotted models with smaller blade lengths that are preferred by many better players, the company felt that there was room for something in between. That’s where the SLDR irons come in.
With the SLDR irons, TaylorMade set out to create a model that would appeal to a very wide group of golfers, from tour players all the way to higher-handicap golfers. This required the design team to not only think about the distances, forgiveness and playability of the irons, but also sound, feel and looks. TaylorMade created a stunning blend of performance and classic styling with the SLDR irons that delivers longer distances with a soft feel and sound that rivals many high-tech forged offerings on the market.
Ultra-thin face and enhanced SpeedPocket with ThruSlot Technology
One of the ways the TaylorMade product team squeezed more distance out of the irons without having to bulk up the size was by enhancing the SpeedPocket with ThruSlot Technology, which is available in the 3 through 7 irons. Unlike the previous SpeedPocket, the updated 2mm-wide SpeedPocket extends all the way through to the bottom cavity. The ultra-thin faces, deep undercuts and SpeedPockets work together to create a trampoline-like effect at impact that translates into higher ball speeds, launch, distance and also more consistent gapping through the set. The designers also moved some of the weight from the sweet spot to the perimeter, which creates a more stable club at impact and offers more forgiveness.
Since the goal of the SLDR irons was to get them into the bags of better players, as well as those simply seeking increased distance and forgiveness, a lot of attention was paid to the feel and sound of the clubs. Each SpeedPocket is filled with polymer and vibration damping technology was also added behind the face. These two main features, in addition to others, work together to generate the soft feel, feedback and sound that better players expect in their irons.
The SLDR irons sit between the Tour Preferred CB and the SpeedBlade irons in TaylorMade’s product line, and the SLDR lofts sit right in the middle as well. The SLDR 6-iron has a loft of 28 degrees and the PW is 46 degrees. This makes them more comparable to the Tour Preferred CB, with a 6-iron and PW loft of 28.5 and 46 degrees respectively.
SLDR Iron Specs
SLDR irons are available in 3-AW ($899 for an eight-piece set). Additionally, a SW and LW will be sold separately for $119 each. The stock steel shaft is KBS’s new Tour C-Taper 90, which is designed to promote a higher launch and better spin control, and is available in R and S flexes. The graphite option is made by Fujikura and is available in three weights and flexes:, 77 grams (Stiff), 67 grams (Regular) and 57 grams (Senior). Each iron comes standard with a Golf Pride Tour Velvet, 47.5 gram grip. Custom shaft and grip options are available.
The irons will be shipping pre-orders and available in stores on June 6.
Performance: Driving range and golf course
I tested the irons outside at a driving range during calm conditions and on the golf course during a normal round. My first stop with the clubs was at the driving range. I started with the pitching wedge and one of the first things I noticed was the feel. I’ll talk more about it below, but the feel was incredible. The clubs have a soft, responsive feel and the sole design cut through the turf nicely, making contact crisp and effortless. The ball flight was really tight and stable through the air and didn’t balloon, and it had the height I expected. This same result was consistent throughout the bag.
My distances looked spot on, but when I flushed a shot I was definitely getting more distance. I could shape shots left and right, and even with the short irons I was able to keep the flight low if I wanted.
The C-Taper 90 shaft was light, but it still felt responsive and appeared to launch a bit higher without spinning up too much. I’ve previously been playing Callaway X-20’s with True Temper Dynamic Gold S300 shafts, and it did take me a range session or so to get comfortable with the lighter shafts. However, the slightly higher launch and lighter weight match nicely with the SLDR head and should be a good option, especially for golfers looking for a bit more height out of their irons.
The SLDR continued to produce on the golf course. I use both GPS and GameGolf devices, which gives me a very accurate picture of my true yardages. Each iron I hit was as long as I expected and actually a bit longer than X-20’s by about 4 yards. More importantly, the ball flight I was seeing on the range transferred to the course. Once I put a real ball in play and not a driving range ball, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to see them balloon up or too much spin. The flight and feel, as you might expect, was even better than on the range. The irons produced the spin I needed to hold greens, but not too much where it was going to be a problem. I was able to attack a par 5 with a long iron and get it to hold nicely.
One of the things I really liked to see was that shots weren’t getting away from me. The dispersion was nice and tight.
Performance: Launch Monitor
I tested the SLDR irons on a FlightScope launch monitor at the Nike Golf 360 Fitting Center in Acworth, Ga. Based on Taylormade’s claims about the SLDR irons, I was interested to see how ball speeds were affected on mishits, if the launch angle and trajectory was indeed higher and I was also hoping to see a consistent gap in distances between clubs. I threw out true mishits and also looked at ball speed on shots off the toe and heel, as well as high and low on the face. My goal was to simply see if the ball flight matched TaylormMade’s claims. The balls were typical Nike range balls, not premium balls, and the numbers reflect that below.
My distances were all inline with what I was seeing on the golf course, adjusted slightly for the different type of ball. My spin was not getting out of hand and was consistent through the bag. I typically launch my irons a bit lower than I’d like, and while I saw a slight increase visually in my launch, the numbers still indicated a normal to slightly lower launch.
Again, the ball plays a role here, but as I moved down into the long irons I was launching the ball lower than I should. I was still getting good distance, however, and a very playable flight. I can’t fault the club for this, as the lower launch angle is due mostly to a swing fault with my long irons that I am working through. With that limitation in mind, it was nice to see that the forgiveness in the clubs still allowed me to see nice distance, dispersion and forgiveness with the long irons.
Forgiveness on mishits
The updated SpeedPocket and ThruSlot Technology are said to also increase forgiveness for shots hit away from the sweet spot. Overall, as expected, I noticed that shots struck lower on the face still produced good distance with only an average loss of 1 yard. Shots hit high on the face, however, lost an average of 3 yards of distance. Heel and toe-side hits both saw an average decrease of 4 yards.
Hitting the center of the clubface is what we all strive for, and the SLDR has a large sweet spot that produces great results. But the sweet spot, which isn’t as large and not necessarily in the exact visual center of the club, unlocks even more distance.
For the SLDR, I noticed that when I hit the sweet spot of the clubface, which I found to be about a groove and a half up from the measured center, these clubs went into another gear and I saw an average of 5 yards more distance with near perfect launch conditions. This is significant for all players. Hit the middle of the face and they perform very well. But hit the sweet spot and you’re getting a distance bonus for sure.
Another very important aspect to any iron set is gapping. If the lofts and makeup of the clubs through the set don’t produce consistent gapping, it makes club selection more difficult. As you can see in the chart above, my gaps were close, not perfect, but neither is my swing. There is a 5-degree gap between the 8 iron, 9 iron and PW and my average distance gap between each club was a little more than 11 yards . The 5 iron through 8 iron have 4-degree gaps, and my average distance gap between each of those clubs was a little more than 10 yards. The gap between the 4 and 5 irons is only 3-degrees, and I had an 8-yard distance gap. With gaps that close and consistent, the differences are really only attributable to my swing.
Looks and Feel
I haven’t always been a fan of the design of Taylormade irons, especially their game improvement models, which I found a bit too sporty for my taste in both looks and feel. The SLDR, however, is the complete package. The polished chrome on the heads and shaft, as well as the detail, lines and edges, create a sophisticated and powerful look. In the bag — and on store shelves — these irons will turn heads and really stand out. Sure, the polished chrome will show wear after the first trip to the range, but when cleaned up, they have a very striking look.
Getting past the general aesthetics and down to the details, the SLDR has a smaller, more compact and traditional shape. The toplines and soles are noticeably tighter than TaylorMade’s RocketBladez and SpeedBlade irons, and and there is only a slight bit of offset, which should appeal to the better player. With a pitching wedge all the way to 4 iron in hand, the traditional, trimmer design of the irons sit comfortably behind the ball and looked great to me. That said, for higher handicap players looking for more forgiveness out of their irons, the deep undercut and all the mass low on the back of the irons produces a comfortable, solid look that reminds you that you don’t have to swing out of your shoes to hit these clubs well.
I was impressed with the feel of the entire set. These irons have a surprisingly soft, responsive feel for a cast club. I’ll admit, I’ve always preferred the feel of a forged club to a cast one, but the SLDR has started chipping away at that preference. I found the feel off the sweet spot to be just as soft as some of the high-tech forged clubs on the market today. Mishits were instantly identifiable, even slightly off the toe, heel or even just a groove high. Without question, the SLDR is one of the best feeling cast clubs I’ve hit.
TaylorMade put out the bold claim that they believe the SLDR irons fit equally as well in the tour player’s bag as they do in the mid-to-high handicapper’s bag. To achieve this, they had to engineer irons with classic shapes, feel and sound, but pack them with modern performance to deliver increased forgiveness and powerful distance.
Modern iron technology is breaking down the assumption that better players need smaller, forged irons for more consistent iron play, and the SLDR is one of the best examples of this trend. Sure, some golfers won’t like the larger size of these at address, but for a player who wants to hit longer, higher and more consistent iron shots, there’s no better move than trying a set of irons like SLDR. This iron and models like it blendsthe looks, sound and feel of a players irons with game-improvement technology that has been proven to help everyone from tour players to weekend golfers.