The introduction of cavity back irons in the 1980s changed the game of golf forever. No longer were average players stuck with the traditional blade clubs that were (and still are) notoriously difficult to hit correctly.
The two clubs have some significant differences between them from design to function and some similarities as well. Over the years, the line between cavity backs and blades has become a bit more blurred, making choosing one over the other a bit more tricky.
Let’s forge ahead and explore the real lowdown between cavity back irons and blades as we look at their history and the impact these two iron designs have had on the modern game, and which one would be better for you.
A Brief History of Blades & Cavity Back Irons
The blade irons were introduced as a result of ball changes in the mid 19th Century. When the ‘Gutta-percha’ balls made from hard rubber came into use and took over from the less durable balls of the time, the first ‘blade’ irons made their appearance.
Before the Gutter-percha era, golf balls were made from leather orbs stuffed with feathers, and the golf clubs were made of wood as steel would wreck the golf balls. With the advent of harder balls, the forged irons followed.
They were known as blades as the slab of steel they were forged from resembled a knife blade. These irons were thin, with a tiny sweet spot, making it challenging to strike the ball well for the average player.
Any hit off-center would result in either a hook or slice, and this remains true for the modern blade irons as well, which is why these are used mainly by a pro or scratch-level players as they have greater swing accuracy than the weekend golfer.
These irons are also known as ‘muscle backs’ and are thin and solidly built and give the player good feedback and the ability to shape the ball. These have compact small heads with minimal offset at the hosel.
They have a thinner top line and thinner sole with significantly less weight behind the club head than cavity back irons.
Cavity Back Irons
Karsten Solheim, the founder of Ping, is credited as the man who developed the cavity back concept, and yet his first cavity back club was a PUTTER! He discovered that he could produce better and more consistent quality contact by shifting the weight from behind the putter head to the heel and toe of the club.
The first cavity back irons were introduced by Ping in 1961 and featured two cavity slots on the back of the clubhead. This set was called the Ping 69 Ballnamic irons, and these were the forerunners of the legendary color-coded Ping EYE Irons.
The introduction of the cavity back irons in the early 80s allowed engineers to move more weight around the clubface to provide greater forgiveness for higher handicap and beginner players. By then, most manufacturers were producing iron sets for non-professional players with some weighting level around the perimeter.
These irons, by comparison, have a much larger clubface with a hollow cavity and thicker sole with more offset. They also have a much larger sweet spot and use perimeter weighting, so the ball goes further and higher.
Known as game-improvement or super-improvement clubs, the cavity back irons made it easier for golfers to hit the ball straighter and further even on off-center strikes and would be the club of choice if you are a beginner or playing in the high handicap range.
How Do Blades and Cavity Backs Differ in Performance
For the top players, the blade irons deliver the most’ feedback’ around their strike and swing quality, which is why so many prefer to play with the muscle backs. Also, these clubs make shaping and working the ball laterally easier.
A purely struck shot with a blade is the apex of achievement in golf; it feels truly effortless and gives the ball maximum distance and supreme accuracy- hence the appeal to the professional and low handicap players.
The cavity backs with their much more prominent sweet spots make hitting the ball solidly easier with reasonable distance and a higher ball flight for the less skilled players. The forgiveness for off-center shots makes playing the game a little easier at that level.
They also make it much easier to get the ball in the air by having the weighted sole, and this allowed an average player to hit the ball further using less loft on the club – hence the name’ game improvement clubs.’
The proliferation and popularity of the cavity back irons have allowed many players to take up the game and play without the constant frustration of off-center and subsequent off-target hits.
Which Irons Should You Choose – Blade Or Cavity Backs?
The kind of golfer you are will determine the answer to this question . If you are a beginner or weekend player, the cavity backs would be the recommended club.
While you may not have a flawless swing or hit the ball the proverbial country mile, hitting the ball consistently is where you want to start, which will grow your interest and passion for the game.
Not only that, but it will also take the guesswork out of trying to be precise with your swing mechanics when you start playing. Cavity backs are much easier to swing and, therefore, provide you with some pleasure when you flush one and be forgiving on the ones you don’t flush.
The primary reason so many golfers quit the game every year is the incredible levels of frustration they experience while playing the game. Most of it lies with the inability to achieve swing consistency from off the tee or on approach, not to mention chipping and putting!
There is no point in further aggravating this by investing in a set of blades as this will compound any swing errors and have you cycling or playing bowls in a very short space of time.
If you are in the lower handicap range and you’re looking to take your game and ball striking to the next level, then investing in a set of blades may well be the way to go. The blades would be the option when you have strong and consistent swing mechanics and need to start shaping the ball more for accuracy and control.
Remember that the swing and ball striking feedback from hitting irons is far better than that of cavity backs, as even hitting a cavity back iron well leads you to question how good your accuracy really was.
With the blades, you’ll never have those kinds of questions, as even a slightly off-center will tell you in no uncertain terms where your ball striking is. Even though the ball flight monitors and other technology give all the swing and strike data possible, you won’t need any of that to tell you if you have hit it sweet or not.
Can A High Handicapper Use Blades?
The real question is can a high handicapper use blades effectively? That they can buy a set and take them on the course is not in question, but will they be able to swing them effectively to be able to play and be in the game.
The short answer is no. The lack of forgiveness in a blade iron for a player that does not have a precise swing would be very frustrating as very few, if any, shots would be straight or far.
No coach or golf pro would or should recommend blade irons for a beginner.
Irons Vs. Cavity Backs- Blurred Lines On Modern Clubs
Many pros these days don’t use the traditional blade irons, and their blades do have some element of weighting around the clubface, but not to the same degree that cavity backs do.
Modern forged blades are being designed and manufactured with shallow cavities to add some forgiveness, while the new cavity backs offer greater levels of feel and maneuverability. So the once clean lines between the blade and the cavity back are become a little less clearly defined.
Cavity Backs VS Blades in Professional Golf.
While you might think that most pros use blades, the reality is a little different. According to Titleist, only 30% of pros use blades, and 70% use cavity back irons. These irons would by no means be the ‘game improvement irons’ for beginners; they would be more of a hybrid mix between muscle backs and cavity backs.
The slight weighting of the clubs and the use of a shallow cavity gives the professional a good balance between forgiveness and control. Hitting straighter more consistently is why a player like Jim Furyk and many others opt for ‘muscle’ backs on tour.
While more like the traditional blade shape, i.e., the thinner, more compact heads and lines of the blade, they have elements cavity backs in some weight distribution and a slightly larger sweet spot.
The ability to shape and control the ball for accuracy while having a little forgiveness appeals to the professional player. The more accurate and consistent you can be while still exert control on shape and flight provides the optimal choice in irons.
With the larger club heads compared to the thinner, more compact blades, the muscle backs offer the pro players more distance and lower risk of the ball flying way off target into penalty areas or other tough spots on the course where shots could be lost.
This doesn’t mean by any stretch that pros don’t hit the ball offline or OB or in bunkers and water; it simply means that slightly off-center strikes are now less likely to wind up way offline than they used to.
This may also be why the scores in tournaments are getting lower and lower, and many players are ‘overpowering the courses’ with the distances they can get on their irons, especially their long irons.
Pros may have a mixed bag of blades and muscle back irons in their bag as the shorter blade irons offer greater control while longer cavity back irons such as the 3 or 4 iron are easier to hit straight than the blades are.
Some pros don’t use cavity back irons at all, and they include the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Rose. Justin Thomas has a four-iron cavity back, while the rest of his clubs are blades.
Cavity Back Irons Pros and Cons
As stated previously, the ‘game improvement irons are just that. They help beginners and high handicap players achieve better ball striking using the perimeter weighting that allows for further higher and straighter shots from a less than perfect swing.
These days, cavity backs come in a wide range of options, from rank beginner sets to clubs suited for more skilled players, and depending on your skill level, you can easily find a set matched to your game.
Using cavity backs to develop your ball striking consistency and accuracy will be easier than trying to do this with blades or muscle backs – and the frustration will DEFINITELY be less!
Once you have achieved a level of swing consistency, you will want to look at ways to achieve better control without losing the strike quality and distance. Here is where you may need to look at either a set of cavity backs suited to a higher skill level or consider a set of muscle backs.
Another significant advantage with cavity backs is that they are affordable, whether new or second, and you can get great deals on complete sets from all the major brands without having to spend a fortune.
Without having to spend a lot on a beginner set of irons, you could get started with a decent used set, and then, if you get bitten by the golf bug badly enough, consider getting your own set and getting correctly fitted as well.
Muscle Backs and Blades – Pros and Cons
Pure blade irons are not recommended for players unless they are low single figure, scratch, or pro-level, and muscle backs would apply to the same skill levels. However, higher single figure or low digit double-figure (10-12) handicap players may also be able to use muscle backs.
The beauty of blades is amazing to hit if you hit them right and provide the best insight into your swing quality and mechanical accuracy more than any irons available; plus, they look amazing in your bag and are beautifully designed and made.
This is why when shopping for clubs, DON’T shop with your heart, but use your head, or you may come home with a beautiful set of expensive irons that will only break your heart!
The downside is that they are difficult to hit properly and consistently, and you will find balls flying way offline on mis-hits, and these are expensive as well.
The muscle backs are the middle ground, and most players that achieve a good level of skill in the game, playing from the low single figure and better, will opt for muscle backs as these provide the balance between power and control.
Muscle backs will not be as cheap as cavity irons and would be recommended for players ready and prepared to invest both time and money in taking their golf up a few levels.
It’s clear that while the traditional blades may well be on a slow fade away from mainstream golf, they have not lost their place in the game at a professional level. Advances in manufacturing technology and club design have allowed all levels of golfers to improve their games.
The cavity backs and muscle backs came about from a desire to make the game easier to play and enjoy for everyone of every age and ability. Ben Hogan said,” Judge your swing by the shape and flight of the ball,” and whether you achieve this with blades, muscle backs, or cavity backs, the result is the same.
To enjoy your game and your time on the course is the goal for any player, no matter what clubs you have, so go out there and keep swinging.