As a general rule cynical and seen-it-all equipment reviewers are not supposed to be impressed just at the sight of a piece of golf equipment. Beautiful and fabulous bits of kit are our daily bread and butter as we are constantly spoiled by modern equipment that passes in front of us. So it says something to be reduced to silence by the jaw-droppingly, pant-tightening gorgeous RAFC-01 irons from Vega.
Vega are the premium brand from the Japanese forging house Kyoei where Katsuhiro Miura worked before he left to start his own eponymous company. The Ichikawa-based company celebrated their 50th anniversary last year and Vega’s RAF line consists of the CM Blade, the C-01 and C-02 Cavity backs and the W-03, W-05 and W-08 wedges (the more eagle-eyed among you will remember our earlier review of the the excellent 05 and 08 wedges). Vega use a mix of traditional one piece forging along with more modern techniques such as CNC milling and say that they are part of the endless search for the finest clubs possible. This might account for the amount of Tour usage without any payments to players. We got to look at their better player cavity back, the RAFC-01.
Material: S25c soft carbon steel
Standard shafts: steel – FST 90/90 Pro/115/115 Pro/125/125 Pro, graphite – Matrix Studio, custom options: any requested
Standard grips: Golf Pride Sand Grips, custom options: any requested
Available lengths: -1.0″ to +1.5″ but other lengths can be accommodated
Swing-weight: Std D3, custom C8 to E1
Available head weights: 8g lighter (gold), standard (white), 4g heavier (black)
Manufacturing tolerance: 1-2g
The prevailing attitude to Japanese forged equipment is that they are always but always the best looking irons available. My instinctive reaction is to kick back against this and say: ‘yeah right’ and contrarily disagree – but on this occasion I can’t. The fact of the matter is that these are sexier than Adriana Lima in a whipped cream bikini. Everything about these clubs exudes class. From the flawless matt finish in the cavity to the perfect paint fill. From the beautiful brushed satin finish to the exquisite build quality, Vega have left nothing to chance. Even tiny details, such as the ferrule being turned down to merge seamlessly with the hosel, only go to emphasis that these are top quality clubs
At first glance the cavity almost seems a little bare, so used are we to plastic inserts and colour schemes that appear to have been designed by a sugar-crazed 3 year old with a box of fluorescent markers. The reality is that the clean graphics and unfussy stampings show that a whisper can be more effective than a shout when it comes to style. It could be argued that all the best looking irons in the world are blades and frankly I would have a hard time disagreeing with you but for a cavity backed iron to look this good means that they really are something special.
The head shape is not as small as a blade but are definitely no game improvement shovel either and they have been quite rightly described as a ‘compact cavity back’. The size and shape of the head are the first indication of what these clubs are about – a club for the better player looking for pretty much the same workability as a blade with just an extra bit of forgiveness. The top line, though thicker than that found on most blades, has a reassuring sleekness. The angled toe retains its presence from 3 to PW, something that all too commonly seems to be missed in modern irons especially in the higher lofted clubs, and the transition from hosel to clubface is smooth and unobtrusive. The offset on the shafts quite subtly progresses throughout the set – the PW with the smallest amount with the leading edge of the clubface almost in line with the leading edge of the shaft and the 3 iron with the most offset where the leading edge is further back than the higher lofted clubs but still forward of the centre of the shaft.
It would be agonising if the RAFC-01 irons looked this good but then couldn’t perform but there is no worries on that score. Unlike many cavity backs were the weight is moved almost exclusively to the bottom of the head, the weight is spread more evenly with only a slight bias towards the sole. This has the effect of enlarging the sweetspot without overly lowering the COG. Because of this, shots have a penetrating mid trajectory that sends the ball deep but still emphasises control. The added forgiveness is definitely as mishits travel almost as far as perfectly struck shots but the feedback definitely lets you know where any misses came from. The standard steel shaft is the FST 125 which for those that have not hit it before, feels more like Dynamic Gold than Project X but hits the ball with a slightly higher trajectory than DG. While the shaft feels stiffer then the equivalent DG at address (presumably because it is slightly more butt stiff), there is no boardiness when the clubhead is in motion and locating the head throughout the swing is instinctively easy.
Special mention should be made of the sole grind. With the heel-toe camber and killed leading edge this is a very versatile grind that works across any surface bar cartpath-like hardpan. The killed leading edge is especially good on punch shots where the clubhead resists digging in superbly and also you to really crunch into the ball and generate laser-straight low fizzers. Because the leading edge grind effectively exaggerates the amount of bounce the club has when striking down, it also allows for a shallower crisp strike that gets the ball up into the air very quickly maximizing carry and giving a soft landing, perfect for pin hunting and making the short irons deadly accurate.
Being forged from a single piece of S25c steel, the excellent feel is exactly what you would expect. Comparing the sound and feel at impact to some of the more commonly seen forged iron it is more solid than Mizuno, not as clicky as Titleist and easily the equal of either.
With stunningly good looks, top notch build quality and superb performance there has to be a catch and with the RAFC-01 it’s the price. Coming in at about twice the price of standard forged iron, some may shy away at these but the truism that you get what you pay for is as valid now as it ever was. In our review set, every single measurement from loft to lie to swing-weight to length and others besides were absolutely 100% bang on spec. The only way to look at these is, in the words of a certain European beer maker, ‘reassuringly expensive’. Purchasing irons like these does guarantee a certain amount of exclusivity – but since when did exclusivity ever improve your score? – but more importantly guarantees a level of quality and craftsmanship that is all too rare. The RAFC-01 irons are the total package, the only question is whether you feel you deserve them. Vega’s expanding presence on both the European and US PGA Tour is testament to their quality and if you are considering Japanese forged irons for your next set, you owe it to yourself to try these.
And one final thought, if you are going to treat yourself to something like the Vega irons, you would absolutely want to get custom fit for them. The idea of spending a large wad of cash for irons that aren’t set up for you is borderline insane and a custom fitting turns a what is merely an exceptional set of irons into a superlative one.
For more information, visit http://www.vega-golf.com