Yes, You Should Play Blades

There’s a rumor going around that blades are for low-handicappers only. Middle- and high-handicappers should stick with cavity-back irons. Game improvement irons. Like most rumors, this one doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Blades, or more correctly, muscleback irons, have a fairly flat back with extra weight on the bottom of the clubhead, which helps get the ball airborne. The weight distribution of a muscleback, though, lets a mis-hit be a mis-hit. A cavity-back iron, with weight distributed all around the perimeter, tends to smooth out mis-hits and keep the ball going straight. This works against the intentions of players who like to work the ball. They tend to be the better players, and they use blades. Hence the rumor.

But there are other reasons why blades have a devoted following. More weight is concentrated behind the ball because the clubhead is smaller. This means that when the ball is struck it has more authority, and the sweet spot is thus much sweeter. You also get more feedback with a blade, since you can feel exactly where on the clubface the ball was struck.

For a long time, every golfer played blades because that was the only type of club to be manufactured. Unless you have good hand-eye coordination, it is hard to hit the sweet spot, or sufficiently near it every time. Hence the introduction of game improvement (GI) irons.

But at the same time, hybrid irons were introduced. They replaced the difficult-to-hit long irons, which were the clubs that made people shy away from blades. Many golfers now carry nothing longer than a 6- or 5-iron. The longest iron in my bag is a 6-iron.

It is not that hard to hit a short iron in the center, because the swing is not that big, so blades at this end of the set are now a reasonable option. The benefits of blades listed above are now available to you.

No golfer should be reluctant to try out a set of blades and find out how it feels to hit them. True, there is a bit of snob appeal — they are the sports cars of golf. But there are serious benefits to using them and you should not be dissuaded unless you have tried them for yourself.


December 1, 2011 update:

A few days ago, I stumbled across this web page which showed that while blades have a smaller sweet spot than GI irons, the sweet spot on a blade is much sweeter than on a GI iron. There’s a lot to be said for that, especially if you have nothing longer than a 6-iron in your bag, since you will hitting the sweet spot more often than with the longer irons.

If you would like to try a set of blades, I recommend Ben Hogan Apex models. I have a set of the 1999 Apex irons, the last blade model the Hogan company put out, and a set of Apex Red Lines, built in 1988. I bought the 1999s new, but I got the Red Lines from a dealer on the web for under $200 and they were in top-notch condition. They are my everyday clubs now. The Apex Grind model (1990) is also highly thought of. At his death, Hogan himself had the 1979 Apex II (white cameo) irons in his bag.

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