If you’ve ever shopped for golf clubs, there is no doubt you’ve come across both cavity back irons and blades. If you’re anything like I used to be, you may be unsure of the differences between the two. I remember purchasing a set of blade irons many years ago as a 20 handicap because I watched Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour using them every week. That didn’t end well for me. I want to help you avoid the mistake I made. So let’s take a look at the differences between blades and cavity back irons.
The differences between blades and cavity backs are the blades generally have smaller clubheads, a thinner sole, and a condensed sweet spot while the cavity backs have a more robust clubhead, thicker sole, and the weight is more evenly distributed throughout the clubface providing more forgiveness.
Keep reading as I’ll continue to further break down blades and cavity back irons, and I’ll also let you know if any pros are using cavity back irons these days.
What Are Blade Irons?
Blades are the original golf iron. The soles are thin, and the weight is evenly distributed throughout the clubhead which means less forgiveness. If a shot isn’t struck in the sweet spot, the result will be poor plus you will likely feel some sort of vibration in the hands.
Before Karsten Solheim designed the first cavity back iron in 1969, blades were the only option available. Being forged from a piece of steel, blades don’t have any fancy technology. As you may expect, blades are generally used by the higher skilled player, although even that trend is starting to change. More and more players are moving away from blade irons as they are really difficult to hit. Why struggle to hit a blade that provides no forgiveness on mishit shots when you can play some sort of cavity back iron which has a similar performance level and does provide forgiveness on mishit shots?
Kevin Na, a former PGA Tour player and current member of LIV Golf, has a phenomenal quote regarding using blade irons.
I can’t play a blade. It’s too difficult, and I’m a pro golfer. I think a blade goes shorter. Off-center hits aren’t going to perform as well as cavity-backs. I don’t see a reason why you’d want to play a blade. I really don’t. I played blades in my early 20s, maybe one year — when I was dumb. But I’m wiser now and play a cavity-back.
In the longer irons, I even look for more — I don’t want to say a high-handicapper club — a more forgiving club.Kevin Na speaking on Golf.com’s Fully Equipped podcast
Unlike today where the players have options, all of the players who played any time before the 1970s played with blades. MacGregor, Spalding, and Ben Hogan Golf Company were some of the most popular companies to produce these clubs. Jack Nicklaus played with the MacGregor VIP irons from 1967 to 1975 and won over 40 golf tournaments including 7 majors using this set of blades.
In recent history, Tiger Woods famously played with blades including the 2008 released Nike Victory Red Forged TW Blades.
What Are Cavity Back Irons?
Cavity back irons are known as game improvement clubs. The soles are thick, and the weight is distributed throughout the clubhead due to a “cavity” in the back of the club. So if a shot isn’t struck in the sweet spot, the resulting shot will still likely go toward the target with decent distance.
The invention of the cavity back iron is one of the more underrated feats in the game of golf. Golf is already hard and just imagining a 20-handicapper having to use blades gives me nightmares. There are many clubs that come with the promise of “game improvement”, but the cavity back iron is one of the few which actually provides it.
The clubhead on a cavity back iron is generally bigger than that of a blade iron. The cavity carved out of the back of the clubhead allows for weight to be applied around the perimeter of the clubhead which provides more forgiveness. The sweet spot is essentially larger on a cavity back iron. Instead of having to strike the iron directly on the sweet spot to make solid contact (i.e. blades), a golfer can mishit a shot and still get a decent result. Also, the wider sole of a cavity back iron encourages a shallower angle of attack where the sole can glide through contact and not dig into the ground. The blade iron, if not used by a skilled player, could encourage the opposite and lead to a lot of fat shots with huge divots.
Do Any Pros Use Cavity Back Irons?
The majority of players on the PGA Tour use cavity back irons these days. According to a 2020 PGA Tour article, 20% to 30% of players each week are playing blades. This means 70% to 80% of players are using cavity backs.
This number surprised me when I came across it. I would’ve assumed the complete opposite with the majority of players using blade irons. Not the case. Even Rickie Fowler, who’s played blades his entire career, recently made the switch to cavity backs. As time goes on, I expect to see the cavity back iron percentage continue to rise. Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, and players of this older generation likely started playing blades at a young age and never switched. The younger generation, with all the advances in golf club technology, is wisely starting out with cavity backs.
What Are Muscle Back Irons?
Muscle back irons are essentially a blade iron with additional mass (muscle) right behind the hitting area. Due to the muscle back design, the sole is larger, and the center of gravity is higher than that of a normal blade. Also similar to a normal blade is the minimal forgiveness on mishit shots.
The differences between blades and cavity back irons are substantial. The blade iron is the dial-up internet of irons while the cavity back is high-speed internet. Have you tried watching a YouTube video lately with a dial-up connection? It’s about as fun as hitting a bladed 3-iron with a 200-yard carry over water. Kevin Na summed it up perfectly when describing why he doesn’t use blades. They are too hard to hit! If you’re a golf purist, by all means, play the blades as they are steeped in tradition. If you’re a 3 handicap or higher, play the cavity back irons. You’ll have more fun and shoot better scores. Good luck!