Let’s start with the assumption that all golf equipment purchases are made by golfers who intend to improve their games. Why then does the golf industry use the label of “game improvement” to almost exclusively describe oversized irons? Isn’t every set of irons, from blades and boxed sets, created for game improvement?

This list, which we are hesitantly calling Best Game-Improvement Irons, includes models that are considerably larger than those on our 2014 Gear Trials: Best Players Irons list. That makes them a better fit for higher-handicap players, as well as golfers who don’t mind a larger-sized iron because of the gains in distance, forgiveness and accuracy they can provide.

How do you know what type of irons you should be playing? This list, combined with our Best Players Irons list, is a great place to start. We’re encouraging our readers to find a reputable fitter who can help them decide whether smaller, more workable players irons or larger, more forgiving game-improvement irons will lead to more pars and birdies.

Before you do that, however, make sure to read through this list and our other Gear Trials: Best Clubs lists to better understand modern golf equipment technology and how it can lead to seriously longer, straighter and more consistent shots when properly fit.

Who votes?

In our past best clubs list, we relied on both the feedback of our equipment editors and an elite panel of custom fitters located across North America. For this year’s list, we decided we needed another component: mass player testing of every major manufacturer’s irons performed by fitters at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti, Mich. Those fitters spent eight days with 33 different testers of various ability levels evaluating a total of 17 different game-improvement irons. Each of the iron sets had its 6 iron tested with its stock stiff-flex shaft. The data was then normalized by the team at Miles of Golf in order to rank each iron’s launch, spin and smash factor.

After that, we surveyed our five other top custom fitters located across North America: Carl’s GolflandModern GolfMorton Golf and two other custom fitters who chose to remain anonymous on the top performing players irons in each category.

The scoring process

Unlike in years past, this year’s scores were entirely based on the performance of each iron, removing the subjective categories of looks, sound and feel from the equation. What was left was the votes of our custom fitters (60 percent of an iron’s score), the results of our mass player test (30 percent of a iron’s score) and the votes of our staff members (10 percent of a iron’s score).

Now that we’ve added up the scores, we present to you our list of the absolute best game-improvement irons in golf. We consider each of these irons to be a winner, which is why they’re listed in alphabetical order (Note: You can click the images of each iron to enlarge the text).

Distance

DISTANCE Listed in alphabetic order

Golfers tend to equate game-improvement irons with distance, and this year’s crop of game-improvement irons is the longest in the game’s history. Adams’ XTD, Callaway’s X2 Hot, Ping’s Karsten, Nike’s Covert 2.0 and TaylorMade’s SpeedBlade fly unbelievable distances: like a club or two longer than the one-piece forgings that many of our readers swear by.

We know what you’re thinking: “Why should I care how far I hit my irons?” Remember, none of these Distance-First irons are one-trick ponies. They score very highly in forgiveness as well as distance and just happen to be the longest irons we tested as well.

Adams XTD irons distance

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Adams’ XTD irons are a favorite of our panel of custom fitters because of their high launch, which is fueled by these irons’ comparatively weaker lofts (28-degree 6 iron). You’d think that would result in shorter-flying shots, but the opposite is true thanks to the XTD’s extremely thin 450 carpenter stainless steel faces and Cut-Thru slot technology in their soles.

These irons also use what Adams is calling a “Cross Cavity” to move the XTD’s center of gravity deeper in the clubhead. That improves their moment of inertia (MOI), a measure of an iron’s forgiveness, and helps these irons perform more consistently on mishits.

Golfers looking for more height and distance from their long irons can swap the XTD 3 and 4 irons for Adams’ Pro hybrids, which made our 2014 Gear Trials: Best Hybrids list in our Distance-First and Balanced-Performance categories.

Read more about the XTD irons irons Buy the XTD irons[/colored_box]

Callaway X2 Hot Distance

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Callaway’s X2 Hot irons are a lot like the company’s Apex irons that we gushed about in our Best Players Irons list except that they’re a little larger and more forgiving. That makes them a better fit for higher-handicap players, and their cast construction also makes them available for the much more palatable price of $699, which is $400 cheaper than the Apex.

Many of our readers don’t equate cast irons with the quality of forged models, but what they might not know is that the casting process offers specific advantages over forgings, particularly with game-improvement irons. These irons have extremely thin faces, which along with their deep undercuts creates more discretionary weight for Callaway engineers to place around the perimeter of the irons to make them more forgiving.

We also love that Callaway decided to include a “stabilizing arch” on the back of the iron faces, which improves sound and maintains more consistent ball speeds on shots hit across the clubface to make your bad shots fly more like your good shots.

Read more about the X2 Hot irons Buy the X2 Hot irons[/colored_box]

Nike Covert 2.0 Distance

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Nike takes the typical game-improvement iron formula a step further with its Covert 2.0 irons, which use the company’s ultra-thin NexCor faces to deliver top-notch ball speeds across the face.

The Covert 2.0’s are really large, so they’re not meant for better players — that’s why the company’s Covert Forged and VR Forged Pro Combo irons were made — but like most Nike irons they look fantastic for their size.

We appreciate Nike’s design philosophy of moving the CG of its irons closer to the true center of the clubface, which is easier said than done in iron design. That not only creates a more inviting visual at address, but offers more more consistent ball speeds on shots hit on the toe: a common error of high-handicappers.

Buy Nike’s Covert 2.0 irons[/colored_box]

Ping Karsten Distance

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Ping’s Karsten irons are the first Ping product to make our distance-first category in 2014 Gear Trials, but you’ll probably notice that in true Ping spirit they also made our Forgiveness-First and Balanced-Performance categories. The Karsten and Nike’s Covert 2.0 are the only game-improvement irons to earn that distinction.

The Karsten irons have the longest heel-to-toe profile of any iron the company has ever produced. That, combined with the Karsten’s extra-wide soles, create an extremely low, deep center of gravity that has helped many golfers hit higher, longer and straighter iron shots than they ever have before.

The irons also have the thinnest iron faces the company has ever produced, but they’re reinforced with Ping’s Custom Tuning Port (CTP) to create more consistency and improve their sound and feel. There is truly no more forgiving iron in golf than the Karsten, which come stock with 3 and 4 hybrids that replace their corresponding irons. Golfers can also choose to replace the set’s 5 iron with a 5 hybrid, which makes the set even more playable for high-handicappers.

Read more about the Karsten irons[/colored_box]

TaylorMade SpeedBlade Distance

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: TaylorMade’s SpeedBlade irons are the second-generation of the company’s game-changing RocketBladez irons, which sold like hot cakes because of the unbelievable distances golfers were able to hit them.

The SpeedBlade irons aren’t all-too-different from RocketBladez and we think that’s a good thing. They’re cast from the same 17-4 stainless steel, but have an improved Speed Pocket that works with the irons’ slightly lower CG to help them launch crazy high for their strong lofts (26.5-degree 6 iron).

If you’re in search of one of the best-looking game-improvement irons in golf that just happens to fly as far (if not farther) than just about every other GI iron, SpeedBlade is the ticket.

Read our review of the SpeedBlade irons Buy SpeedBlade[/colored_box]

Forgiveness

FORGIVENESS Listed in alphabetic order

When it comes to forgiveness, bigger is almost always better, which is why our list of Forgiveness-First Game-Improvement irons are five of the largest irons on this list. While Mizuno’s JPX-EX, Nike’s Covert 2.0 and Ping’s G25 irons could be played by everyone from high-handicappers to single-digit golfers, Adams’ idea and Ping’s Karsten push the size limits of what accomplished golfers might be willing to put in their bag.

If you’re struggling to hit your current set of game-improvement irons high enough or consistently, don’t be scared to give these a try. We’ve found that most golfers are more than willing to play a larger iron if it leads to smaller numbers on their scorecard.

Adams Idea Forgiveness

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Adams’ idea hybrid-irons set takes the company’s original Cut-Thru slot technology and puts it on (USGA-legal) steroids. Not only are there slots on the soles of the hybrids and irons, but there are also what Adams calls “wrap-around” slots on the toe of the clubs, which create more ball speed on shots that are struck on that area of the clubface.

The idea’s set makeup includes five hybrids that replace a typical set’s 3-to-7 irons and as many as six more traditional-looking irons and wedges (8-PW, GW, SW LW), making the idea hybrids-irons the best set on this list for golfers who struggle to get their shots airborne.

More accomplished golfers might struggle to make clean contact with the idea’s wide-soled irons and hybrids, but they’re not the target audience here. If you find yourself unintentionally hitting more ground balls than fly balls, then these hybrids and irons could change that.

Buy the idea irons[/colored_box]

Mizuno JPX-EZ Forgiveness

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Mizuno’s JPX-EX irons could be the irons on this list that convince purists to finally make the switch to a set of game-improvement irons.

Mizuno’s name is synonymous with irons that feel terrific, so it’s no surprise that the JPX-EZ irons get top marks for sound and feel. The long and mid irons (4-7) create the fastest ball speeds of any Mizuno irons thanks to their Hot Face design, which uses a multi-thickness face to create more ball speed. The short irons and wedges (8-GW) trade distance for more consistency with faces that will lead to fewer “flyers.”

Mizuno also deserves a pat on the back for offering the JPX-EZ with a true aftermarket shaft, True Temper’s XP 105 in R and S flexes, as well as a high-quality Fujikura Orochi graphite option.

Read more about the JPX-EZ ironsBuy the JPX-EZ[/colored_box]

Nike Covert 2.0 Forgiveness

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Nike takes the typical game-improvement iron formula a step further with its Covert 2.0 irons, which use the company’s ultra-thin NexCor faces to deliver top-notch ball speeds across the face.

The Covert 2.0’s are really large, so they’re not meant for better players — that’s why the company’s Covert Forged and VR Forged Pro Combo irons were made — but like most Nike irons they look fantastic for their size.

We appreciate Nike’s design philosophy of moving the CG of its irons closer to the true center of the clubface, which is easier said than done in iron design. That not only creates a more inviting visual at address, but offers more more consistent ball speeds on shots hit on the toe: a common error of high-handicappers.

Buy Nike’s Covert 2.0 irons[/colored_box]

Ping Karsten Forgiveness

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Ping’s Karsten irons are the first Ping product to make our distance-first category in 2014 Gear Trials, but you’ll probably notice that in true Ping spirit they also made our Forgiveness-First and Balanced-Performance categories. The Karsten and Nike’s Covert 2.0 are the only game-improvement irons to earn that distinction.

The Karsten irons have the longest heel-to-toe profile of any iron the company has ever produced. That, combined with the Karsten’s extra-wide soles, create an extremely low, deep center of gravity that has helped many golfers hit higher, longer and straighter iron shots than they ever have before.

The irons also have the thinnest iron faces the company has ever produced, but they’re reinforced with Ping’s Custom Tuning Port (CTP) to create more consistency and improve their sound and feel. There is truly no more forgiving iron in golf than the Karsten, which come stock with 3 and 4 hybrids that replace their corresponding irons. Golfers can also choose to replace the set’s 5 iron with a 5 hybrid, which makes the set even more playable for high-handicappers.

Read more about the Karsten irons[/colored_box]

Ping G25 Forgiveness

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: The performance of Ping’s G-Series irons is legendary, which is why if you find a GI iron in a tour player’s bag that’s not a Titleist AP1 it’s generally a set of Ping’s G15, G20 or G25 irons.

Think of the G25 as a more compact version of the company’s Karsten irons, with shorter shafts, smaller blade lengths and narrower soles that add versatility to their design. We love their stealthy black finish and for an iron their size they feel very solid thanks to Ping’s thoughtfully engineered Custom Tuning Port and multi-material insert that softens the blow at impact.

Ping also reinforces the cavities of the G25 irons, and while that limits the distance they can fly it also improves their consistency, which means if you want to hit an iron shot 160 yards and it goes 170 yards, it wasn’t the club’s fault.

Read our review of the G25 irons[/colored_box]

Balanced Performance

BALANCED Listed in alphabetic order

Everyone of the game-improvement irons on this list offers a balance of distance, forgiveness and accuracy, but these five irons are a little better than the others on this list.

If consistency is what you’re after, make sure to test Ping’s G25 and Karsten irons, as well as Titleist’s AP1, which is also the most compact GI iron on this list. Want a bit more distance? If you need to hit the ball higher, go with TaylorMade’s SpeedBlade, and if you want a more forgiving option try Nike’s Covert 2.0.

Nike Covert 2.0 Balanced

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Nike takes the typical game-improvement iron formula a step further with its Covert 2.0 irons, which use the company’s ultra-thin NexCor faces to deliver top-notch ball speeds across the face.

The Covert 2.0’s are really large, so they’re not meant for better players — that’s why the company’s Covert Forged and VR Forged Pro Combo irons were made — but like most Nike irons they look fantastic for their size.

We appreciate Nike’s design philosophy of moving the CG of its irons closer to the true center of the clubface, which is easier said than done in iron design. That not only creates a more inviting visual at address, but offers more more consistent ball speeds on shots hit on the toe: a common error of high-handicappers.

Buy Nike’s Covert 2.0 irons[/colored_box]

Ping Karsten Balanced

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Ping’s Karsten irons are the first Ping product to make our distance-first category in 2014 Gear Trials, but you’ll probably notice that in true Ping spirit they also made our Forgiveness-First and Balanced-Performance categories. The Karsten and Nike’s Covert 2.0 are the only game-improvement irons to earn that distinction.

The Karsten irons have the longest heel-to-toe profile of any iron the company has ever produced. That, combined with the Karsten’s extra-wide soles, create an extremely low, deep center of gravity that has helped many golfers hit higher, longer and straighter iron shots than they ever have before.

The irons also have the thinnest iron faces the company has ever produced, but they’re reinforced with Ping’s Custom Tuning Port (CTP) to create more consistency and improve their sound and feel. There is truly no more forgiving iron in golf than the Karsten, which come stock with 3 and 4 hybrids that replace their corresponding irons. Golfers can also choose to replace the set’s 5 iron with a 5 hybrid, which makes the set even more playable for high-handicappers.

Read more about the Karsten irons[/colored_box]

Ping G25 Balanced

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: The performance of Ping’s G-Series irons is legendary, which is why if you find a GI iron in a tour player’s bag that’s not a Titleist AP1 it’s generally a set of Ping’s G15, G20 or G25 irons.

Think of the G25 as a more compact version of the company’s Karsten irons, with shorter shafts, smaller blade lengths and narrower soles that add versatility to their design. We love their stealthy black finish and for an iron their size they feel very solid thanks to Ping’s thoughtfully engineered Custom Tuning Port and multi-material insert that softens the blow at impact.

Ping also reinforces the cavities of the G25 irons, and while that limits the distance they can fly it also improves their consistency, which means if you want to hit an iron shot 160 yards and it goes 170 yards, it wasn’t the club’s fault.

Read our review of the G25 irons[/colored_box]

TaylorMade SpeedBlade Balanced

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: TaylorMade’s SpeedBlade irons are the second-generation of the company’s game-changing RocketBladez irons, which sold like hot cakes because of the unbelievable distances golfers were able to hit them.

The SpeedBlade irons aren’t all-too-different from RocketBladez and we think that’s a good thing. They’re cast from the same 17-4 stainless steel, but have an improved Speed Pocket that works with the irons’ slightly lower CG to help them launch crazy high for their strong lofts (26.5-degree 6 iron).

If you’re in search of one of the best-looking game-improvement irons in golf that just happens to fly as far (if not farther) than just about every other GI iron, SpeedBlade is the ticket.

Read our review of the SpeedBlade irons Buy SpeedBlade[/colored_box]

Titleist AP1 Balanced

[colored_box color=”white”]Tech Talk: Titleist’s AP1 irons are the least GI-looking iron on this list, which is why you’ll find plenty of tour players using AP1’s for their long irons. Some players, like Ben Curtis, play a full set of the irons, with adds to their credibility with better players.

The AP1’s have a blend of distance, forgiveness and good looks that’s hard to beat, especially for 5-to-15 handicaps who are looking for more consistency than smaller irons can provide. They come stock with True Temper’s XP 95 shafts, but nearly any shaft a golfer could want is available through Titleist’s custom department.

Titleist touts the AP1 as golf’s most progressive set of iron, and we think that’s a fair claim. The CG’s of the long irons are lower and deeper to help golfers hit those clubs higher and farther, while the short irons have smaller blade lengths and narrower soles that contribute to more workability and trajectory control.

Read our review of the AP1 irons[/colored_box]

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30 COMMENTS

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  1. I absolutly could not agree more pn the club dofference 30m just because a club maybe ypu hit the ball the rite way that time but 215 with a 6 iron wow i am amazed i mean i have my best game with my irons by far and i still dont hit that far with my 6 iron maybe my 3 or 4 but a 6? Hmm if you hit it that far with a 6 what do you hit off the t with your driver? Please feel free to leave a replay i work at a golf course where several professional’s play and also have a professional golf coach that has been in the pga tour that would be able tp get you involved with such as log as the 6 iron isnt the only club you hit well

  2. Say what you want but I’d put my Maltby TE Forged Irons against any of these. Plus I made them with the True Temper X95 Shafts and Golf Pride Grips of my choice :) Best feeling irons I’ve ever owned period and their long enough and also forgiving without looking like a Ping Shovel. I’m not knocking on any of these irons I’m just letting you know there are great irons out there from Golfworks and Hireko !

  3. I look forward to buying a 5/4 iron from one of these sets when they are “”surplus to requirements”” from the new owner!
    Great to see Ping get in there with the Karsten !
    Tradition is Cyclic, it just keeps re emerging as New again!
    A great way to add new Zing to your bag.
    Great informative test Zak, thanks!

  4. Good article Zac. I am an aging business guy that can’t get out and play as often as I would like. Moved away from players irons a year ago and surprisingly love my GI irons.
    I laugh at everyone that says ugly irons. If you hit the ball straight and score better, who really cares. Seems to me the lines have been getting blurred for years anyway from player irons to GI.
    I am a 4 hdcp, swing speed with driver from 110-117, and stripe my Amp Cell irons. (By the way, amp cell much better than bio cell…cobra took a step back this year)

    Thanks for the article.

  5. Who cares if they are not attractive? If you shoot better scores mission accomplished. Better than having to wait on a group of 20 handicaps playing Miuras from the tips.

  6. I have hit most of these irons and, I own the Ping G25 irons and hybrids. I am a 13 handicap trending toward a 12. I think this assessment is accurate, cogent and timely. Well done.

    • Your name tag sums you up. You keep playing your blades, I want to get as good as I can before i can’t play no more. JPX ez or Ping G25’s for me once prices come down a bit.

      • Bainz – Good call. I hit 15-18 different types of irons before deciding on the JPX EZ’s. They had the best feel and flight for me. Placing my order in about 2 weeks.

  7. Irons tested:

    Adams Idea 2014
    Callaway X2 Hot
    Cleveland 588 Altitude
    Cleveland 588 MT
    Cobra Bio Cell
    Cobra Baffler XL
    Mizuno JPX-825
    Mizuno JPX-EZ
    Mizuno MP-H4
    Nike Covert 2.0
    Ping G25
    Ping Karsten
    TaylorMade SpeedBlade
    Titleist 714 AP1
    Tour Edge Exotics CU
    Wilson Staff C100
    Wilson Staff D100 ES

    • As one of the Top 100 Fitters in America, I can say that I am flabbergasted that you put the Covert 2.0 in the Forgiveness First Category instead of the 588 Altitude or the Baffler XL.

    • How did the TEE CU fair? I tested these with my Dad when he was looking at new irons, and trust me he needs game improvement. We found them far more forgiving with a heap better feel than the Callaway, Nike or Taylormade clubs. Surprised me because i had never even consider them – i use Nike or TMAG myself. Super hot faces, I hit the 6 iron 197m on the GC2!! about 30m further than normal.

      • They’re great irons, but we’ve just seen a little better results from the irons on this list.

        The experience you had is a great example of why getting fit is so important. Everyone is different and different clubs can work differently for different players.

        Note: This response was written under the assumption that your findings were real. There are very few situations wheere a player can gain 30 meters of distance by simply switching one stock club for another.

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