Golf is a game of choices, and that’s true of golf equipment as well — especially when it comes to irons. No other club category is as personal as a golfer’s irons, which is why equipment companies make them in so many different shapes and sizes.

The largest, and most forgiving irons are most often referred to as “game-improvement” models, because they can drastically change the way a golfer navigates a course. Give a 20-handicap golfer a blade iron, and he might need to hit a 5 iron on a par-3 that measures 150 yards. But give that same golfer one of the game-improvement models below, and he may be able to hit a 7 iron to the same green.

That’s a big difference that can lead to lower scores.

For this year’s 2015 Gear Trials: Best Game-Improvement Irons list, we polled six of the top custom club fitters on the planet. That’s not our opinion. Four of the six are rated top-100 club fitters in America by Golf Digest, while the other two (Modern Golf and True Spec Golf) are top international club fitters. Each club fitting team also performs in excess of 1,000 professional fittings each year.

The 2015 Gear Trials Panel includes:

Learn more about our Gear Trials: Best Clubs Lists

OUR GEAR TRIALS PANEL COMBINES THE EXPERIENCE OF DOZENS OF CLUB FITTERS WHO, AS A GROUP, PERFORM HUNDREDS OF TRACKMAN-BASED FITTINGS EACH MONTH WITH the LATEST equipment.

To make this list of the top-eight performing game-improvement irons currently available, we asked each Gear Trials Panelist to leave looks and feel out of the equation, and base their votes solely on performance.

THIS LIST GIVES GOLFERS THE INFORMATION THEY’VE ALWAYS WANTED: WHAT CLUBS ARE PERFORMING BEST FOR REAL GOLFERS IN REAL FITTINGs?

Related: Looking for something smaller? Click here to read our 2015 Gear Trials: Best Players Irons list. 

Before you scroll down to the list, we want to make one thing clear: We encourage every golfer to be fit for their next set of irons (and all their clubs) by a reputable fitter. We can make recommendations on what irons might be best for you, as we have below, but keep in mind that nearly every iron set is sold with slightly different lofts, lie angles, and stock shafts that will affect performance. They also have different blade lengths and sole widths, which will work better for different golfers depending on their needs.

THIS IS THE STARTING POINT FOR YOUR NEXT SET OF IRONS, NOT THE FINISH LINE.

Editor’s Note: If you’re more concerned with the looks and feel of your irons than you are distance and forgiveness, STAY TUNED. We are in the process of finalizing 2015 Gear Trials: Best Blade Irons list that was created for golfers like you. 

The Winners

chart_geartrials15_bar_GIirons_v2

The Ratings

Below are the distance, forgiveness and overall ratings for each of our 2015 Gear Trials: Best Game-Improvement Irons. The ratings (scaled 1-10) represent the votes of our Gear Trials Panel in each category.

Note: In cases of ties, irons are listed alphabetically

TaylorMade RSi 1

geartrials_slider_GIirons_RSi1

  • Construction: Cast
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 44 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: Reax Steel, Reax Graphite (graphite)
  • Price: $799 (steel), $899 (graphite)

Our Gear Trials Panel voted TaylorMade’s RSi 1 irons the longest on this list — no surprise given its long-flying predecessors. But according to the fitters, the RSi 1 irons are much better rounded than TaylorMade’s previous game-improvement irons: RocketBladez and SpeedBlade.

“An all-around performer,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “A nice, high trajectory, plenty of ball speed and distance … solid feel and sound compared to what you think it might feel and sound like. It’s a favorite among testers in this category.”

The most noticeable feature of the RSi 1 irons is their slots — one in the sole of the 3-7 irons (called a “Speed Pocket”), and two on the faces of the 3-8 irons (called “Face Slots”).

“Even though the slots look gimmicky, they really work on mis-hit shots,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “They have a mid-high launch and good ball speed.”

Another Gear Trials Panelist added: “The slots seem to help [the RSi 1 irons] launch relatively high, and with good distance on off center shots.”

Buy them from TaylorMadeBuy Now on Amazon

Callaway XR

geartrials_slider_GIirons_XR

  • Construction: Cast, Multi-material
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 44 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: True Temper Speed Step 80 (steel), True Temper Project X SD (graphite)
  • Price: $799 (steel), $899 (graphite)

Callaway’s XR irons have the company’s new 360 Cup Faces, which are independently welded to the iron bodies to create more ball speed, and maybe more importantly, a higher launch angle.

“[The XR’s] predecessor, X2 Hot, was just about the lowest-launching and fastest-ball-speed iron we had ever seen,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “The XR produces that same very high ball speed, but flies higher … So we can get more guys into it, relative to last year, when most guys swinging in the [70-mph range] couldn’t hit it high enough.”

The XR irons also feature Callaway’s “Internal Standing Wave,” a specially designed part of the sole that lowers center of gravity (CG) and improves moment of inertia (MOI), a measure of forgiveness on mishits. The XR’s are still one of the lowest-launching irons on this list, but it’s clear that the improvements have kept Callaway’s flagship game-improvement iron a distance monster, while making it a better fit for a wider variety of players.

“Tremendously fast ball speeds lead to increased distance compared to other models in this category,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “They have a slightly lower launch and spin due to stronger lofts, and fit a variety of player types — from slower speeds up to better players.”

Buy them from CallawayBuy Now on Amazon

Cobra Fly-Z

geartrials_slider_GIirons_FLYZ

  • Construction: Cast
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 45 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: FST Steel, Matrix graphite available
  • Price: $699 (steel), $799 (graphite)

The good news about Cobra’s Fly-Z irons? They don’t do anything poorly, according to a Gear Trials Panelist. The bad news? They don’t do anything the best, either. But they’re pretty much near the top in every category.

“A mid-launch and mid-spin iron with good ball speed,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “An underrated club here.”

Looks, feel and affordability can play a big role for golfers shopping the game-improvement iron category, and the Fly-Z irons excel in all three areas.

At address, the Fly-Z irons look more refined than other game-improvement irons, and they sell for the budget price of $699. That makes them the most affordable set of irons on this list. The Fly-Z’s also feel surprisingly soft at impact thanks to their Harmonic Cavity Inserts, which put TPU material directly behind the impact area to muffle vibration.

Into personalization? The Fly-Z irons are available in one of six colors — orange, red, black, white, blue and green.

Buy them from CobraBuy Now on Amazon

Mizuno JPX-850

geartrials_slider_GIirons_JPX850

  • Construction: Cast
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 45 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: True Temper XP 105 (steel), Mizuno Orochi (graphite)
  • Price: $799 (steel), $899 (graphite)

Mizuno’s JPX-850 irons were released in September 2014, and as a result they don’t have as much buzz as some of the newer irons on this list. But as equipment aficionados know, buzz is not always synonymous with performance, and the JPX-850’s are one of the most well-rounded offerings on this list.

“In the “mid-handicap” line, this is one of the more forgiving options,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists.”

The JPX-850 irons have thinner faces for more ball speed than the JPX-825 irons they replace. They use Mizuno’s “Power Frame” design, which pushes their coefficient of restitution (COR) right up against the USGA’s legal limit for ball speed, according to the company, and also makes them more consistent on mishits.

“The JPX-850 iron are a solid performer, and people love the way they feel,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists.

In the end, choosing the JPX-850 irons over one of their competitors could come down to something as simple as the fact that Mizuno offers a wide range of shaft offerings — 13 steel and graphite models — that help fitters dial them into each golfer’s swing.

Buy them from MizunoBuy Now on Amazon

Nike Vapor Speed

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 3.49.23 PM

geartrials_slider_GIirons_SPEED

  • Construction: Cast, Multi-material
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 44 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: True Temper Dynalite 105 (steel), Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki Z 70 (graphite)
  • Price: $799 (steel), $899 (graphite)

Nike’s Vapor Speed irons aren’t tops for distance, but what they lack in ball speed they make up for with a very high launch, ample forgiveness, and a relatively soft feel.

“These are a great looking iron with tons of forgiveness,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “They’re not the longest iron in this category, but the long irons can fly properly and get out there. Fitting is important with this model because of the longer-than-standard shaft lengths.”

The irons are also a good fit for golfers trying to decide between bigger and a smaller game-improvement model, with a progressive design that blends bigger-than-average, hollow-cavity long irons (3-7) with RZN cavity-back short irons (8-A) that are smaller and allow for more trajectory control.

“They’re arguably just as long as [Callaway’s] Big Bertha, but at a way better price point,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “They also come in a 3 iron for better players looking for a ‘driving iron.”

If you’re a low-ball hitter, and want to hit your irons higher, these should be the first game-improvement irons you try.

Buy them from NikeBuy Now on Amazon

Callaway Big Bertha

geartrials_slider_GIirons_BIGBERTHA

  • Construction: Cast, Multi-material
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 44 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: True Temper Speed Step 80 (steel), UST Mamiya Recoil 460 (graphite)
  • Price: $999 (steel), $1,099 (graphite)

The Big Bertha irons have a large, hollow-body construction and very wide soles that make them the largest, highest-launching irons on this list (and noticeably higher-launching than Callaway’s XR irons).

“These are very fast off the face, and VERY high launching — even with their strong lofts,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “Customer feedback is that the ball really jumps off the face.”

Like the XR irons, the Big Berthas use Callaway’s 360 Cup Faces, and their hollow-body construction drives CG low and rearward, creating their high ball speeds, high launch, and mid-to-low spin rates. That’s a great combination for golfers who struggle to hit their iron shots high enough, and those who need the extra forgiveness a larger game-improvement iron can provide.

“The look builds confidence at address, and more offset performs better for higher handicap players,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists.

A selling point for many golfers is the stock graphite shaft: UST Mamiya’s popular Recoil 460. They’re available for $100 more than the stock steel option. The Big Bertha irons are also available as a combo set with Callaway’s Big Bertha hybrids, which made our 2015 Gear Trials: Best Hybrids list.

Buy them from CallawayBuy Now on Amazon

Ping G30

geartrials_slider_GIirons_G30

  • Construction: Cast
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 45 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: Ping CFS Steel, Ping TFC 419I (graphite)
  • Price: $110 per club (steel), $125 per club (graphite)

When most golfers think of game-improvement irons, they think forgiveness… and maybe of one of Ping’s G-Series irons, too. There’s a reason for that. Ping’s newest model, the G30, is Ping’s most-forgiving G-Series iron to date, and was voted the most forgiving iron on this list by our Gear Trials Panel.

“The G30 is so good for 90 percent of players, and our bestselling irons due to its ease of use,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists.”

The G30 irons are cast from 17-4 stainless steel, and designed to give golfers the most forgiveness possible. Their solid-face construction doesn’t create as much ball speed as other irons on this list, but the G30’s offer acceptable distance with progressive shaft lengths and a low, rearward CG that creates the high-launch, high-spin launch conditions that are optimal for the majority of golfers interested in game-improvement irons.

“G30 will work for almost every player in this category,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “Only the look or sound may give get it bad feedback.”

Learn more from PingBuy Now on Amazon

Titleist 714 AP1

geartrials_slider_GIirons_AP1

  • Construction: Cast, Multi-material
  • Pitching Wedge Loft: 44 degrees
  • Stock Shafts: True Temper XP 95 (steel), Mitsubishi Rayon Kuro Kage 65 (graphite)
  • Price: $799 (steel), $999 (graphite)

Titleist’s AP1 irons were released in October 2013, and along with Ping’s G30 irons, they’re noticeably shorter-flying than the other irons on this list. But for their size, which is a bit smaller than the others, they’re impressively forgiving. That makes them great for better players looking for additional forgiveness — especially from their long irons.

“Nice forgiveness, adequate, but not great distance,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “Traditional look and solid feel.”

The AP1’s are cast from 431 stainless steel, and have a progressive design that includes wider-soled, higher-launching long irons and narrower-soled, lower-launching short irons that create a more penetrating trajectory.

“These are the least ‘game-improvement’ irons we sell in this category, which is a plus for most players,” said one of our Gear Trials Panelists. “The tungsten Titleist adds helps them play more forgiving than they look, and customers love that these are a bit smaller than the others. “

If you don’t currently play a gap wedge, you’ll probably want to add one to this set. The pitching wedge measures 44 degrees, but Titleist offers two other wedges with the set — a 48-degree “W wedge” and a 52-degree “W2 wedge.”

Learn more from TitleistBuy Now on Amazon

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24 COMMENTS

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  1. Just an observation. Seems like titleist clubs are always bringing up the rear in these comparisons. I find that curious,especially since the. Number one player in the world
    Plays titleist. Hmmm. Isn’t that odd? Don’t get me wrong
    I really don’t have a dog in this fight. Other than the old
    975J Driver in my bag. I don’t own any other titleist clubs. I’m 65 years old still hit my driver pretty well,however it’s
    Time to put down my old Harvey pennicks. Well I suppose you guys are smarter than me and it’s probably a fluke that
    JS won 22 million this year playing those horrible clubs of his. Guess I better look at some irons that say speed or rocket or some such thing. I’ll keep doing my research
    Thanks for all the info. I’m thinking maybe Api 716
    Or Taylor made rsi2. Like to hit the ball lower. Any
    Suggestions?

    • Distance seems to be a big factor in these types of comparisons and Titleist keeps their lofts more true with their irons. If you cranked the ap1 down 3 ° per club like the other manufacturers do they would go just as far. They don’t sacrifice being able to stop the ball at the other end for a few extra yards. The AP range are great clubs.

  2. I have had adams, callaway game inmprovement irons before…this is/was my first set of Pings, g30..
    I don’t know how any others could be straighter and higher….I mean I am not leaving the stick and have actually hit the flagsticks….they set up nice and square and I like that fact that they DON:T have slots, and different finishes on different parts of the head…the pw is 45 degrees so that is the common loft I guess but all of them leave a huge gap between that and the sw. I noticed that if I had also bought the gw, sw, lw of the set, they are 50, 54, 58 so even those are lower.
    What Ping does very very well is the fitting since you can start with the proper lie angle to begin with and make minor tweaks rather than bending the heck out of the so-called standard lie.

  3. I went in to get fit for new irons (my first custom fit set) a couple months ago, intending to get the TM RSi1. One of the alts he offered was the Callaway XR however he accidently gave me to Pro head to try and I loved it – far better than the standard and it was instant love. I’m far from a “Pro” player either, handicap would be around 20.

    A definite +1 for those so try them also if you are looking at the standard XR’s.

  4. Not saying this is wrong, but I own G30s and don’t see any issue with the distance compared to others I have tried. Was the loft of each club considered or are you going 7 iron to 7 iron, etc.?

    • I found the G30’s to be at least a half club, sometimes a full club, shorter than the G20’s I played previously. It seemed like a natural upgrade but I lost huge distance with them. Really disappointing to catch one squarely and come up short, especially when I knew the 20’s would have reached. Turned them in on the Callaway XR’s and hit them significantly further, higher and straighter. Have never enjoyed hitting any iron set as much as this one.

  5. I had tried a few of these sets a couple months ago and came away with the rsi 1’s. They are really helping my game this year and quite happy with them. They are the real deal.

  6. If these so called best fitters had any idea what they were doing, they would have had the Wishon 771CSI as one of their game improvement irons on this list. None of the irons that were tested have won a Golf Digest award as a best performer. The problem I have with this test is that it steers toward the big 4. These fitters will not go outside the square to actually fit the best irons around

  7. Super surprised the Srixon Z 545 irons are not part of this list considering the 745 irons are on the players iron list. They are super long, they have nice feel and they look amazing. They are plenty forgiving as well. They would easily be as forgiving as some on this list and look 1000 times nicer. They look nicer than a couple on the players iron list if you ask me. Nice list though. Love the G30’s too.

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