Single-Length Irons:

Experience

Dave Tutelman  --  August 19, 2007
This page added -- August 24, 2017

I had to opportunity to evaluate a set of Pinhawk single-length irons personally. My experience, by and large, bears out what analysis and rumor suggested in the first two parts of this report.

Summary

I built a set of Pinhawk single-length irons, 5-9, PW, GW for my own use. I built them to the specs of my conventional 7-iron. I did some A-B testing and a lot of playing golf with them. From time to time, I would switch back to my conventional set for a few rounds. Or perhaps I would switch back to the conventional short irons but leave the single-length "long" irons.

"Long" is in quotes because they aren't really any longer, just lower loft. But I will retain the terms "long iron" and "short iron" for the rest of this discussion.) I will also call the wedge between the PW and SW a "gap wedge" or GW. Pinhawk and some other manufacturers mark it with an 'A', probably for "attack wedge".

It took six months of experience before I wrote this article. For much of that time, I was suffering from sciatica, which not only interfered with my making a good swing but also limited my practice time. (Hey, I'm 76 years old. The good news is that I'm still playing walking golf.) In June, the back ailment was treated with a cortisone shot. It has been mostly effective. I am finding that my initial impressions are pretty similar to my pain-free experience, so what is in this chapter is probably correct -- at least for my game.

The bottom line is: I still have the single-length irons in my bag. They seem to be an improvement in reliability over my conventional set. The improvement is not huge, but (a) it is enough to notice, and (b) my scores are distinctly better.

The rest of this article is a lot of details of the evaluation and the differences.

The components

When I decided to build and try out a single length set, there wasn't much doubt about which heads I would use. I mentioned on the previous page that Pinhawk would probably be my starting point. Why Pinhawk?
  • I like the loft lineup. From my computer simulations, it would give distances similar to what I get from my conventional club of the same number designation.
  • The price is reasonable. It isn't as low as lots of conventional sets, but the difference is easily attributable to the lower quantity to be manufactured and inventoried. If single-length sets become the norm, I would expect the prices to be what conventional heads cost today.
  • Nothing exotic is going on. In particular, there is no high-COR flexing of the clubface. That makes it easier to compare with the conventional irons I am used to. Remember, the primary goal of this set is to evaluate the single-length premise. If, in addition to single-length, I were to get heads with enhanced COR, the comparison would no longer test only the value of going to single length.
The choice was made a lot easier when Aaron Banach of Value Golf offered to make me a set to try. After some discussion, we agreed that it would be better if he sent me only the heads; I wanted to make the set to the same specs as my conventional 7-iron, to make sure I am comparing apples to apples.

Immediately upon receiving the heads, I measured them. Assuming there was no individual component selection in the set they sent me, the quality control is very good.
  • I'm used to weight tolerances of 3g for irons heads. All the heads here were between 270 and 272, with the majority at 271g, a tolerance for the set of 1g. (That was after subtracting 1g for the plastic shrink wrap. I have learned over the years that 1g is a good approximation for the wrapping weight. I like to leave the wrappers on until the club is assembled, to prevent marring the heads during assembly, so I usually don't get a chance to weight the clubhead alone without a wrapper.)
  • I'm used to loft tolerances of 1. I measured loft and lie with an old, reliable Scotland L/L machine. The 8- and 9-irons were a half-degree high; the rest were spot-on.
  • The lie angles were all 62 except for the 8-iron at 61. I didn't want to talk about half-degree differences here; it's hard enough to make sure you have the head aligned properly in the L/L machine to get a precision of even 1. You have to visually line up the grooves with a guide line less than 1" long. So I'm impressed with the consistency of the lies.

My measurement turned up something that may be a cause for concern. The insertion depth for the shaft is 1-1/8" to 1-5/32". That is in contrast to the usual 1-1/4" to 1-3/8" in most irons. So the Pinhawk's insertion depth is about 10% less. A shorter insertion depth will increase the stress on the shaft tip. Has that caused any problems -- like snapping shafts? Aaron assures me that they have had no complaints in that regard, and I haven't had that problem in the six months I've been using the Pinhawks.



One thing I noticed about the design: there is an "undercut" in the lower flange. That in itself is not surprising; many irons these days have undercut cavities, and this was even mentioned on their web page. What was a little surprising was that this was minimal in the 4- and 5-iron, but very deep in the wedges -- with a corresponding progression in between. See the photo above for the 4 iron and  gap wedge. Why might they want to do this?

It is a way of equalizing the weights of the heads, without changing too much what they look like compared with a conventional set. You are removing the most weight here from the shortest clubs, which usually have the heaviest heads. The weight difference between a 4i and GW in a conventional set is typically 42 grams, but they are all the same weight in a single-length set. In this set, all the clubheads look like their conventional counterparts, and it's hard to add or remove that much weight and still have conventional-looking clubheads. I measured the cavities as well as I could with simple instruments, and conclude that, depending on the club, up to 30-35 grams is removed from the flange to create the undercut. That accounts for the majority of the weight adjustment across the set.

BTW, I am discounting the idea that this is to increase COR in some of the clubs, because (a) it is in the wrong clubs, the wedges, and (b) the face thickness is over 1/8", which is too thick to exhibit spring action.

The build

The goal, of course, is to create a set of single-length irons with the same specifications as my conventional 7-iron. "Specifications" included length, swingweight, moment of inertia, flex, and grip.
  • Length = 37.7 inches. Yes, that is long. All my irons for more than a decade have been 5/8" to 3/4" longer than the nominal "standard". Around 2004 an instructor and clubfitter I have a lot of respect for, John Ford, pointed out that I had "hole in the glove" syndrome. That's where you grip the club so the top corner of the handle rubs the heel of the hand, wearing a hole in the golf glove there. Why is this bad? Because in order to have proper control of the club, the handle must extend fully beyond the lead hand. I didn't want to change my stance and swing, so I decided to cure the syndrome by lengthening my clubs. Since then, I have built my irons longer than standard, and allow the butt of the grip to stick out a bit beyond my hands.
  • Swingweight = D4.
  • Flex = 275cpm.  Before someone who actually knows something about flex jumps all over me, yes I know that frequency is not a universal measure of flex. But I chose a shaft with a very similar flex profile and weight to my conventional 7-iron. The clubs were all the same length as my 7-iron. I'm sure that more clubmakers today recognize frequency measures than the more precise measures (like sum-of-EI). So using frequency as a measure of matching is valid and perhaps even recommended in this case.
How did I deal with each spec?

Length is easy; just make it that length. I did, though through an indirect method I use to build most of my clubs.

Swingweight is easy, too. With all the heads the same weight (to within a gram of nominal) and all the shafts the same weight (to within a couple of grams of nominal), if they are the same length then they are the same weight. And I have a swingweight scale to trim the small differences. So that worked fine.

Moment of inertia is automatic. If clubs with the same head weights and shaft model are built to the same length, then both swingweight and MOI are going to be the same. Swingweight and MOI are only different across a set if the club lengths are different.

I used my favorite grip, the Star Midsize Wrap. I prefer to play without a glove, so feel is important to me. Star Grips may not be well-known big sellers, but their feel is (for me, anyway) an ideal compromise between too hard and too mushy. Their amazing longevity also helps, as does the ease of working with them in the shop, but I get them mostly for the feel.

That leaves shaft flex. The shaft model I used in my conventional set is no longer available. Fortunately, I had in my basement a full set of shafts, a house brand from Hireko, whose flex profile was very similar to my irons. So I used them. A few had non-negligible spine, and they were not all the same stiffness. But I have the instruments to measure and compensate for this, and I did. When I was done, the clubs matched remarkably well for flex. But in order to do it, the shafts require different amounts of tip trim. You can see this by looking at the picture of the set at the beginning of this article. Notice that the gold bands on the shafts are not all at the same level. The fact that I used an organized approach to dealing with the raw shafts can be seen from the almost monotonical progression of the gold band across the set.

That brings me to a discussion of other ways to set up the shaft flex. It is possible to set the clubs up so the long irons have high-launch shafts and the low irons low-launch shafts. It sounds like there might be some advantages, but I didn't do it that way. Reasons:
  • I asked Aaron whether he recommends it for his heads, and he said no.
  • If I did it, I would not be testing the concept of a single-length set compared to a conventional set. Instead, I would be innovating in the single-length space. That's not a bad thing to do, but I intended this to be a comparison, not an optimization.
Other articles on my site give more detail on the indirect method I used to cut the clubs to length and the method for matching flex on a set of irons.

First experiences

Playing

I finally got around to building the single-length set in February of 2017, almost two months after the heads arrived. I was having a very busy winter, with a few consulting jobs. On top of that, I was bothered by sciatica which limited my ability to swing a golf club, and the climate of the New Jersey shore makes winter golf an iffy thing -- so there was no strong motivation to finish the clubs to play them.

Once they were built, of course, I was itching to try them out. My sciatica made practicing uncomfortable, so I jumped right into a round of golf. I played with some of my regulars at Colts Neck GC, which had been modified for winter play. Temporary tees and greens shortened the course to a par-68 executive course. That made it possible to use the new irons for almost everything. I used the driver on two holes, where there was a forced carry. Otherwise, it was irons for every shot; I wasn't even carrying a fairway metal or hybrid. I teed off with the 4-iron on the par-fours and par-fives. Used my conventional-length sand wedge for actual greenside bunkers and my putter on the [temp] greens, but otherwise every shot was with the Pinhawks.

I wound up with the best score in our foursome, which probably would have happened anyway. But it is notable that they were using drivers from the tee and fairway woods from the fairway; I was limiting myself to long irons for both. A few observations for this first experience:
  • I hit the 4-iron very well off the tee, with a few exceptions in the middle of the round (see below). I had a lot of solid hits that went almost as far as my buddies' good drives (and further than their not-so-good drives), and mostly where I aimed them.
  • I am getting a good distance range. The eight clubs seem to give me as much range as the seven irons plus 4-hybrid in my conventional set. Perhaps a bit more, in fact. I'll need to verify it with actual measurements.
  • My score was comparable to a pretty good round at this course as it is normally set up. It is usually a par-71, but in the winter par-68. I shot 81, and I'm normally pretty happy with an 84 for the summer setup.)
  • Where I gave up strokes, it could be I'm having trouble getting used to a single-length set. Specifically:
    • On the first five holes, I was long twice with a well-struck iron; well beyond the green, so it cost me a stroke. In each case, the ball was high and straight, but it flew the green. I used the experience to reassess what distance to expect. I continued to be long more often than short, but not past the back of the green again.
    • In the middle of the round, I hit a few very thin worm-burner 4-irons off the tee. (Though "off the tee" is not quite accurate; I only used a peg twice. Usually I picked a spot on the teeing area simulating a good fairway lie, and hit from the ground.) My problem? Let me speculate. I think I was trying to put a 4-iron swing on it. My 7-iron swing was clearly the thing to use; I was not going to reach the ball if I assumed the club was a 4-iron length.
    • My chipping and short pitching left a lot to be desired. Too many fat hits. Gotta get used to the longer PW and GW.
  • I tend to hit my irons pretty high anyway, so I was not unhappy at all with the trajectory of the low-lofted irons. (4i at 20 and 5i at 25. I was getting lovely flights from them.) As expected, I was hitting the lofted clubs (9i, PW, GW) very high on my full swings. Plenty of distance -- that was not a problem -- and the shots hit and stopped; but I'll have to see if it is playable in the wind.
I continued to use the single-length set for the rest of the winter and into the spring. Then I started switching with my conventional set for 3-6 rounds. I quickly came to the conclusion that I liked the single-length long irons (4, 5, and 6), but continued to switch out the short irons (8, 9, PW, GW). I will detail the specific differences I found between my single length and conventional sets below, but suffice it to say that I have overcome any problems and now hit them more accurately and consistently than my conventional set.

Calibration

Time to "calibrate" the set, to make my distance chart for the single-length iron set. It was a long wait before I found a good day for it. In order to have good measurement, there needed to be little or no wind and a temperature over 60F, so it wasn't until May that I did it.

My methodology was pretty informal. Hit six shots with a club. Set my GPS to "track" and walk out to retrieve the balls, carrying a clipboard. At each ball, I write the distance reading on the GPS. So I have a six-shot sample for each club. Apart from the relatively small sample size, the results were probably polluted by the fact that sciatica was limiting my ability to make a full, aggressive swing.

The results were a little shorter than I expected, but not much. The results were also more scattered, in both distance and direction, than I had expected. With 20:20 hindsight, the results are probably consistent with a bad ball-striking day on the course. I'll have to go back and do it again sometime.

I did get one important result out of it. My 4-iron distances were barely distinguishable from my 5-iron distances. That was true for the median, the average, and the maximum. By all those measures, there was only 3-4 yards difference. So I packed away the 4-iron and started thinking about a hybrid for the next distance beyond the 5-iron. (More on that below, where I talk about set makeup.)

Detailed experience

In the six months between that first round in February and this writing in August, I played most of my golf using the single-length set. I play three rounds in a typical week, so we're talking about almost 80 rounds total. Occasionally I would swap them for my conventional irons for a week or two. That only happened once with the long irons but three times with the short irons, before I decided the single-length set was my "standard".

Long irons

I experienced pretty much what I expected from the long irons, specifically:
  • More reliability, due to the shorter length. But I need to qualify this. For at least a month, I found myself hitting a lot of 6i-4i shots thin, sometimes nearly a dead top. I think I still had the mindset (the mental "feel") of a conventional set, and was imagining swinging a longer club. After the first month, that miss seemed to go away; it is not a problem any more, but took some getting used to.
  • Lower trajectory, due to the shorter length. That tended to be paired with...
  • Less backspin.
  • No loss in distance noticed. In fact, I often find my best-struck long irons to be longer than I could expect from my conventional irons with the same designation. I believe the extra distance is roll after landing, since I've got a lower trajectory and less backspin.
  • Decided long iron droop. I don't think this is any worse than my conventional clubs, which also suffer from long iron droop. But the droop was measurable and substantial.
There was an unexpected benefit from the shorter 5-iron. The 5-iron is the longest (well, lowest-loft) iron I carry. If I need to do a punch or knock-down shot to keep the ball low, that is the club I use. Now that my 5-iron is shorter than it was in the conventional set, that shot is easier to execute. I can hit the low-flying, long-running knock-down further and much more reliably than I used to. Last week, over the course of three rounds, I had three occasions when I could just punch out from behind a tree (and almost certaily lose a stroke) or be much more agressive about a full-distance shot that stays below the tree branches. In all three cases, I decided to go for it; and I pulled off all three, saving a stroke in each case. With my conventional-length 5-iron I probably would have screwed up two of the three.

Short irons

It took months to convince me to make the single-length short irons part of my permanent bag. I had a few problems getting used to them. Once I did, I was hitting them better than my conventional short irons. But it took several switches between conventional and single-length 8-iron, 9-iron, and wedges before the decision was solid.

Here are the problems.
  • Ballooning. After that first "honeymoon" round in February, I ran into a problem with the 9-iron and wedges. I found it too easy to "flip" my hands at the ball and have it go too high and land well short of where it should. Over the months I have been using them, I have found that the problem goes away if I focus on making a swing with forward lean at impact.
  • Moon balls. Even with my good strikes, the ball goes much higher than it does with my conventional clubs of the same loft. The extra length just seems to launch the ball higher. I still get my distance. (Often my distance and then some. On days when my short iron swing is good, I may get another half club out of the wedges.) I have not had occasion to play these clubs in a strong wind yet. All that height is likely to be a problem there.
  • Fat hits on full swings. This has not been a general problem. But for the first nine after I switch to the single-length set after playing several rounds with a conventional set, it is a recurring problem. This makes a certain amount of sense; in fact it is the complementary problem to hitting the long irons thin that I mentioned above. My body and my mind expect the club to be shorter than it actually is, so the bottom of my swing is lower. The problem is usually gone after less than nine holes, but I found I have to do something to make that happen. Surprisingly, the solution is the same as the solution to ballooning: don't release the club too early. I'm not certain why it works, but it does.
The bottom line is that all my problems with the high-lofted single-length irons are overcome by making sure my release is not early. I should have some shaft lean remaining at impact; flipping is a no-no. I don't know why this seems more critical with the single-length set, but it has been my experience.

I'm sure you're aware that this is good advice for full swings with all clubs (except driver) anyway; the divot should be after you hit the ball, not before and not even directly under the ball. (Driver and pitches are exceptions to this rule.) I'm not an instructor, and I'm reluctant to claim a "magic move" to make this happen correctly. There is plenty of instruction around emphasizing this. One of my favorites is Bobby Clampett's "Impact Zone" book, videos, and instruction program.

I had expected to have a problem with short pitches and chips with the PW and GW. That was a place I thought the extra length would cause fat hits. It didn't happen, once I got beyond the first few rounds with them. I don't know why, but if anything I am more reliable with the single-length wedges. I can't attribute that to the "same swing" theory behind single-length clubs; these are swings I never make with any club longer than a 7i, and seldom with clubs longer than a PW. Sorry, no good scientific explanation from me.

At one point, during the time I knew the long irons were staying in the bag but not so sure about the short irons, I mentioned to Aaron the possibility of a mixed-philosophy set. It would have conventional short clubs and a length limit on the longer clubs. That suggests a product: a partial set of shorter conventional heads with all the characteristics of  the Pinhawk except the constant weight. He was receptive to the suggestion, and even came back with a few more to attack the problem. (Of course, no promise to offer such products in the near future.) Here was his response.
There are some that love the overlength "shorter" clubs and some that don't for the reason you explained. We think a 2-tiered length set might be worth exploring in the future. Simpleton Golf did something similar to this but it never got off the ground (like many other good ideas in golf). Tom Wishon contends that single length clubs should be built mostly to 36 1/2" for just this reason, that the shorter irons don't have as much shock to the system so to speak. But that also makes the 4 and 5 iron harder to launch so it really depends on the player. It might be worth a future experiment for you to try a 36 1/2" length since you don't have trouble with the long irons at 37". It would be interesting to note if Tom's theory would work in your case.

Set makeup

There is one more thing to talk about: how my set makeup was affected. The key to that was the gap wedge, but the implications affect other clubs as well.

I had never used a gap wedge before; I stuck with irons that had close to the typical mid-1990s loft lineup of a 28 5-iron and a 4 loft interval between clubs. It is getting hard to find them, but my last couple of sets were only 1 stronger than that, and I bent the PW to 48. Combine that with a 54 sand wedge, and you have a pretty workable set without a gap wedge.

The Pinhawk set has a gap wedge, and I wanted to test the clubs as the set the designer intended. So I included the gap wedge. I have found it useful, mostly in partial swings within 60 yards of the hole. I also have the full-swing yardage dialed in, but I always had a partial PW swing for that distance anyway. The value of the gap wedge is a trajectory between that of a PW and a SW, where I have a combination of rough or bunker to clear and distance to run on the green.

But adopting the GW has left me with a problem: one more club in the bag than the Rules allow. I solved that by cutting down from three hybrids (#2, #3, #4) to two. I built two new hybrids, one a little stronger than my #4 (at 22) and the other between my #2 and #3 (at 19). I used two older heads that I was always fond of, and an "old reliable" shaft that always worked well with those heads. The combination is serving me well. I now have a bigger gap between my 3-wood and my longest hybrid, but I don't think that is a problem. See my earlier comments about proportional gaps. I consider them better in theory, just hard to remember. My new lineup is closer to proportional gaps for clubs longer than the irons. There aren't many hybrid-metalwood gaps in a set, so not too much to remember.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the single-length Pinhawk irons are still in my bag, and I no longer consider myself experimenting. I don't know that they will stay there forever; progress marches on, and it is my business (well, my hobby anyway) to be on top of what is happening. But they are my game clubs for the foreseeable future.



Last modified -- 8/30/2017