Which Callaway irons should I buy? Your guide to each iron in Callaway’s 2022 line-up, who they are aimed at, and how they performed when tested by our pro.
Most major golf brands have five, six or even seven sets of irons in their 2022 line-ups. Some are new models, others carried over from previous ranges, but they are all aimed at very specific golfers.
There’s been a huge influx of new forged models over recent years, but choices still range from sublime musclebacks to hollow heads, cavity backs and super forgiving hybrid-style irons. While some are forged from soft carbon steel, others have springy fast faces, just like a driver.
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With so many options out there, it’s easy for golfers to get confused over which will best suit their game. And even those who have a good idea of which iron will suit them often don’t realise what’s put on the line in terms of ball speed, carry distance and forgiveness by choosing a set above their ball striking capability.
With every major 2022 iron model now available in the shops, the time felt right to show how each brand’s iron range compares when they go head to head. If it’s a Callaway model that has caught your eye, we’ll walk you through their range and find out how they perform.
Thanks to our consistent test pro and his launch monitor data, we can show how whole families of irons stack up. You can read how we test, here. We’ve also given each model a forgiveness rating and a handicap guide to spell out simply which players should be considering each model, and, more importantly, why. Find out more about the ratings, here.
If you want to see how all of year’s irons performed then check out our full irons test or, if there are other brands on your shopping list, take a look at which, TaylorMade, Ping, Mizuno, Srixon and PXG irons are right for you.
RRP £1,099 | VIEW OFFER
Category Muscleback blade | Forgiveness rating 1/5 | Handicap range Four and below | Construction Forged from a single piece of 1025 carbon steel | 7-iron loft 34º
Today’s Golfer verdict: The Apex MB was our blade of the year in 2021, as we loved not only the head’s beautiful straight top and leading-edge shaping, but also the concept of the changeable weight behind the centre of the face that makes it possible to swing weight the set for different shaft models and lengths, without shifting the centre of gravity location.
However, as gorgeous as the MBs are, think very seriously before putting a set in play yourself. Even Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele choose the slightly more forgiving cavity back TCB.
WATCH: Best Muscleback/Blades Test
RRP £1,099 | VIEW OFFER
Category Players’ | Forgiveness rating 2/5 | Handicap range Four and below | Construction Forged from a single piece of 1025 carbon steel | 7-iron loft 34º
Today’s Golfer verdict: The clue lies in the Tour Cavity Back name. Make no mistake, this is an iron for elite players only. We say that because the TCB has very little offset, which means the centre of gravity is further forward.
The set-up keeps shots lower and controlled but also makes them tougher to launch, especially in the mid and long irons at anything but above average speeds.
Our data shows how the Apex MB, TCB and Pro are all pretty evenly matched for carry distance, but also highlights how, from a slightly stronger loft, the Pro launches and flights shots higher with a steeper descent angle than the other two.
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RRP £1,099 (s), £1,399 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category Players’ distance | Forgiveness rating 2.5/5 | Handicap range Eight and below | Construction Forged 1025 hollow body | 7-iron loft 33º
Today’s Golfer verdict: One of the benefits golf club engineers tout when explaining thin, fast face, hollow body irons is how these designs give a jump in launch angle.
Our data for the Apex 21 Pro completely supports that theory, but what really impresses us about this cracking hollow body design (which some golfers feel can give less shot-to-shot consistency) is how it also gave our pro his smallest carry distance drop-off (7yds/4.1%) of the whole Callaway iron family.
RRP £949 (s), £1,149 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category Players’ distance | Forgiveness rating 2.5-3/5 | Handicap range 10 and below | Construction Cast with 450 stainless steel cup face | 7-iron loft 30.5º
Today’s Golfer verdict: Any iron coming up against Callaway’s super strong Apex family is right up against it. The Apex are forged and recognised as the best irons Callaway make, yet the new Rogue ST Pro has its place because it’s a cast hollow body design, which targets decent players who put less of a premium on playing forged irons.
The Pro has a sleek, almost blade-like appearance, with a high toe/low heel shape that decent players tend to love. If you’re considering this model, you have to look at the Apex 21, too.
WATCH: Best Players Distance Irons Test
RRP £1,099 (s), £1,399 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category Players’ distance to mid-handicap iron | Forgiveness rating 3/5 | Handicap range 14 and below | Construction Forged 1025 carbon steel with AI Face Cup | 7-iron loft 30.5º
Today’s Golfer verdict: The Apex 21 hovers brilliantly between the players’ distance and mid-handicap iron categories and it can confidently slip into the hands of golfers sat on either side of the fence.
It wasn’t quite the fastest, longest or most forgiving players’ distance iron we tried this year, but we’d still love a set in our bag as we feel they’re a brilliant all-rounder now and will be for years to come.
If your swing speed is anywhere close to average (92mph with a driver) then we’d seriously recommend having a look at the more forgiving Apex 21 DCB, which comes with an easier launch and lighter stock shaft.
RRP £849 (s), £,1049 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category Mid-handicap | Forgiveness rating 3.5/5 | Handicap range 20 and below | Construction Cast with 450 stainless steel cup face | 7-iron loft 27.5º
Today’s Golfer verdict: Callaway’s cast mid-handicap irons haven’t been ‘lookers’ for a few years. But at this end of the market performance is much more relevant than appearance.
The ST heads are chunky, with a wider top edge than most of the competition and the face has a natural tendency to roll shut at address. But those are the exact traits that up forgiveness on off centre hits and help tons of golfers eliminate weak right sided shots (for a right-handed golfer) that end up short and right of the green, and often in a bunker.
RELATED: Tested – Best Mid Handicap Irons
RRP £1,099 (s), £,1399 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category Mid-handicap | Forgiveness rating 3.5/5 | Handicap range 20 and below | Construction Forged 1025 carbon steel with AI Face Cup | 7-iron loft 30º
Today’s Golfer verdict: We love how Callaway have opened the forged Apex family up to more club golfers with the cracking Apex DCB (Deep Cavity Back); it’s exactly what a lot of average players hanker after.
By using different weight shafts for each Apex model (the Pro have Elevate 115g shafts, the Apex 21 are Elevate 95g, and the DCB are Elevate 85g), the DCB are perfect for average swing speed players.
RRP £849 (s), £1,049 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Category High-handicap | Forgiveness rating 4/5 | Handicap range 28 and below | Construction Cast with 450 stainless steel cup face | 7-iron loft 28.5º/ 31.5º
Today’s Golfer verdict: OS stands for oversize, which means this model will be particularly attractive to less confident golfers who find additional comfort in seeing plus-sized heads at address.
Of course we understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why there’s seven other Callaway irons to choose from. But we reckon that for golfers who want as much help to enjoy the game, the OS should be standing proud at the top of any shortlist.
Launch monitor data: How the Callaway Irons compared
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Callaway’s 2021 iron models
While the two models below are no longer being marketed by Callaway among their current models, they are still widely available and, in both cases, at quite substantially lower prices.
You’ll also find plenty of them on used golf club sites like Golfbidder, so they’re still well worth your consideration in 2022.
RRP £849 | VIEW OFFER
Category Mid-handicap | Forgiveness rating 3.5 | Handicap range 20 and below | Construction Cast with AI Face Cup | Availability 4-PW, AW, GW, SW | Stock shaft True Temper Elevate 95 (s), Project X Catalyst (g) | 7-iron loft 27°
Callaway have been at the cutting edge of the strong-lofted irons conversation since the Rogue X in 2018. In 2021 the Mavrik remained the brand’s strongest iron (27° 7-iron), which unsurprisingly meant it was also Callaway’s longest and most powerful option.
Last year’s data had the Mavrik generating five yards more carry than the brilliant Apex DCB, yet we reckoned nine out of 10 golfers will prefer the much more attractive DCB.
And if your swing speed is more moderate than feisty, you really should be looking at the Big Bertha B21, below.
RRP £899 | VIEW OFFER
Category High handicap | Forgiveness rating 4 | Handicap range 28 and below | Construction Cast with AI Face Cup | Availability 4-PW, AW, SW, LW | Stock shaft KBS Max CT80 (s) Callaway RCH (g) | 7-iron loft 29°
Once golfers hit 60, swing speeds are proven to fall by 0.5mph a year. It’s that sort of knowledge that led Callaway to create the B21 irons to specifically offer help to golfers who play the game at average speeds.
To ensure they can launch shots optimally with less club speed, the B21 have slightly weaker lofts, plenty of offset and very lively KBS Max CT-80 shafts.
Whether your game is prone to spraying shots all over the iron face and/or your club speed is moderate, the B21 was Callaway’s most forgiving and longest iron of 2021.
Launch monitor data: How the 2021 Callaway irons compared
– We created an indoor test lab at Keele Golf Centre to ensure a controlled environment
– Callaway supplied their 2022 irons in our Test Pro Neil Wain’s spec.
– We rejected major misses but recorded how shots launched, span, peaked and dropped out of the air, before crunching the numbers to come up with our conclusions.
How we analysed our Callaway irons data
Before we came to any conclusions, we analysed the data for each club tested; on distance, spin rates, forgiveness. The latter we refer to as drop offs; the differences in ball speed, spin and carry between our test pro’s on- and off-centre hits.
This insight gives a reliable indication of how forgiving each model will be on the course, as we’ve argued for years that dispersion can be very misleading as it’s based on how you swing on a particular day. We analysed all that data before choosing winners.
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Category 5: Hybrid Irons
Hybrid irons have been the much maligned black sheep of irons for years, but they now represent a huge opportunity to keep golfers – who typically lose 0.5 mph of clubhead speed each year once they hit 60 – in the game for longer.
There has been a growing trend in this area in recent years. Not only are brands showing more interest in producing hybrid irons, golfers are more willing to use them. The extra playability that hybrids have brought to the long game have transformed many golfers’ games in the past decade.
If your game or swing speed have gone south, hybrid irons are a brilliant option.
Typical performance traits
In the hands of average club golfers, hybrid irons are more forgiving than any other model. They have big wide soles to launch shots high with increased forgiveness, while designers claim they also help prevent digging into the turf, thereby reducing fat shots.
It’s exactly the type of styling that led golfers to fall in love with long iron replacement hybrids/rescues. The centre of gravity in hybrid irons is far lower and deeper than a typical cavity-back iron.
Who should use hybrid irons?
Golf should be fun and hybrid Irons can turn a frustrating round into an enjoyable one. The extra playability means more shots carry sand and water hazards. Hybrid Irons aren’t just for players with slower swings. They’re for anybody who wants to reduce frustration and have more fun.
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Category 4: Super Game Improver Irons
This category is as forgiving as it gets if you insist that an iron needs to look like an iron and you’re resistant to exploring hybrid iron alternatives.
Historically, golfers have traded looks for forgiveness in this category, but modern models have come a long way in recent years. It’s now possible to get your hands on an iron like the Ping G710, which is not only great looking, but also super forgiving and powerful.
Better yet, it won’t highlight you as a hacker before you’ve even hit a shot!
Typical performance traits
Historically, super game-improver models have big chunky heads, thick toplines and even wider soles. The best of the latest models challenge that thinking, though, thanks to dense tungsten weighting that places critical mass in very specific areas of the head.
Category 4 models have either a deep cavity-back or a hollow head and they’re very often the lightest in a brand’s iron range. Shafts are often lighter with softer tip sections to increase launch and spin, which helps maximise distance at lower speeds.
Some models unashamedly reduce weight to naturally add speed. This is great as long as your swing isn’t too weight sensitive and you lose the ability to ‘time’ shots. It’s worth remembering that the larger the head size, the easier it is to get an iron face to flex and add speed.
Who should use super game improver irons?
Golfers who aren’t afraid to admit that their game needs as much help as they can get their hands on is a reasonable rule of thumb here. Whereas game-improver models often suit 20-handicap golfers and below, super game-improver models fill the gap above this really nicely.
However, make sure that you’re well aware which models are lightweight and/or strong lofted and make a decision on which best suits your game after trialling both. Get that right and the irons within this category can seriously raise your enjoyment of the game.
Forgiveness Category 3.5: Game Improver Irons
This area of the market produces the most sales simply because there’s more mid-high handicappers. Brands invest huge sums developing new technology in this area.
Typical performance traits
There’s disagreement among brands as to whether this category should be home to their strongest loft irons and there’s a discussion to be had around whether strong loft irons are suited to the highest handicappers with the slowest swings. These players often struggle to launch strong loft irons high enough to optimise carry and backspin.
The extra offset pushes the CG back to aid launch. It’s not uncommon for these irons to be 10mm+ longer with sole widths some 45% wider than a Category 1 blade. Toplines are often twice the width of a blade, too.
Who should use game improver irons?
Fitted with slightly lighter shafts and, sometimes, a lighter swing weight, these irons help maximise swing speed. It’s no secret the engineers target 18–20 handicappers with these clubs.
Forgiveness Category 3: Game Improver Plus
When it comes to matching an iron to your ability, it’s really important not to confuse this category with full out game-improver models. Simply put, they’re not.
As a benchmark, the Ping G iron has always been a stalwart of the traditional game-improver category but the current G410 falls into our Category 3.5. Category 3 models are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Very often, Category 3 and Category 3.5 irons end up in the hands of improving golfers, but they subtly target different players, hence why Callaway make both an Apex 19 (forged and in Category 3) and a Mavrik (cast and in Category 3.5).
Typical performance traits
The fact that five of our eight Category 3 irons are forged tells the story of who they’re aimed at. And just to highlight the point, none of the Category 3.5 models are forged.
Models in this category will have either a decent-sized/depth cavity-back or a hollow head. The cast PXG 0211s are a great example of a set that combines compact, less offset short-irons with larger, more forgiving mid- and long-irons to appeal to golfers seeking both looks and performance within a single set.
Offset will often be a fraction less than with full on game-improver models, while toplines will be a fraction wider than in Player Irons. Lofts will likely be a little stronger than those of a Players Distance iron. On average, our eight Category 3 models had 1.4° less 7-iron loft (30.1°) than Category 2.5 models, which means they can target ball speed and distance.
Who should use game improver plus irons?
If you’re a mid-handicap golfer, you absolutely should look at some of the models within this category. To be the best match, though, it’s highly likely your handicap will be 15 or below – depending on your ball-striking confidence.
Category 3.5 models bring together traits often best-suited to 18-20 handicappers and below. Category 3 models usually offer a decent-looking clubhead, which is often forged, along with added speed and distance for golfers who don’t quite have the ball striking prowess to use one of the two Player Iron categories.
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Forgiveness Category 2.5: Players’ Distance Irons
In 2015, PXG founder Bob Parsons tasked his top engineers with the unenviable challenge of creating an iron that looked like a blade but played like a cavity-back. What they came back with – the original 0311 – changed the iron market.
TaylorMade joined the hollow-body players distance iron market in 2017 with the P790. It became the brand’s biggest-selling forged iron ever. Titleist then launched the popular 718 AP3 and Ping joined the party in 2018 with their i500.
The rapid growth of this category can not only be attributed to aspirational aesthetics, but faster ball speeds and more distance than traditional player’s irons.
Typical performance traits
In many instances, the clubhead size in this category will be a little larger to inspire more confidence at address. And don’t expect too much hosel offset, either. The toplines are reasonably thin and shaft weights tend to be a little lighter than those found in blades.
The face might be forged – as found in the TaylorMade P790, Ping i500 and Cobra King Forged Tec – while several models favour hollow body technology. The average 7-iron loft in this category was 2° stronger than in the Category 1 models, which inevitably means extra ball speed and distance.
You may find some fast-face technology in these clubs, too, while some kind of internal tungsten weighting is also common. This gives the manufacturers’ engineers the ability to manipulate the centre-of-gravity location in the clubhead to help shots launch higher from a stronger loft as well as deliver more forgiveness over Category 1 and Category 2 models. That’s some seriously good food for thought.
Who should use players’ distance irons?
Don’t be fooled by our data into thinking that Players Distance Irons are the wonder drug for all golfers… they’re not. What the data does show, though, is what’s on the line when a golfer chooses either a Category 1 or Category 2 model when, in fact, they should be playing a Category 2.5 iron.
While the typical shaft weight and profile was perfect for our test pro, many mid-handicap and above golfers would benefit from the slightly lighter weight and added consistency of a Category 3, Category 4 or even a Category 5 model. Irons in this category bridge the gap from traditional game-improver to player models brilliantly, which means they usually work best for golfers with handicaps of 12 and below.
Forgiveness Category 2: Players’ Irons
If you need any evidence to support which type of golfer this category is aimed at, you only need to look at tour players like Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry and Jason Day. All are major champions and currently play irons that fall within this category.
These types of irons are very good options for impressive ball-strikers who don’t necessarily want to compromise on looks, but still want some forgiveness built into what is essentially a blade shape clubhead.
Typical performance traits
Player irons generally are pretty similar to blades for hosel offset, topline thickness and sole width. The majority are forged (with the exception of Ping’s models) as the decent players who use them often believe forging delivers a premium feel/sound. Plus, it’s worth remembering that more than 90% of tour events are won by players using forged models.
For us, a Category 2 model must have some type of cavity-back, either shallow as with the Mizuno JPX919 Tour or deeper as found in the Honma T//World 747 Vx. There absolutely will be no thin fast-face tech (not in the mid- to short-irons anyway), as many purists believe that face flex leads to inconsistencies.
Lofts generally are fairly traditional, since golfers at this level want very consistent gapping and predictable yardages, even on slight mishits.
Who should use players’ irons?
It goes without saying that you need to be a decent ball-striker to get the best out of Player irons. That means you’ll need to be very close to a category one golfer. There’s a very good reason why Players Distance irons (forgiveness Category 2.5) have become so popular over the last few years.
It’s because they bridge the gap that was really difficult to cover when golf didn’t have fast-face tech, strong lofts or hollow body constructions. If you can tolerate some modern tech, you can not only get extra ball speed and distance but more forgiveness, too.
Forgiveness Category 1: Muscleback Irons
Musclebacks, also known as blades, are not only the most traditional irons, they’re also the most unforgiving, hence our forgiveness rating of 1. Any golfer thinking of buying a set of blades should have no real desire to add any extra speed, distance or forgiveness to their game.
In fact, the 10% of tour pros who use blades typically do so because the forgiveness levels are so low. It means they can shape shots at will while barely needing to alter their swing.
Typical performance traits
Blades are typically forged rather than cast. The forging process that stamps the irons into shape under high pressure compresses and aligns the grain of the metal more closely, which is said to improve feel and feedback. Musclebacks also have the least amount of hosel offset, which means the centre of gravity (CG) of the clubhead is further forward.
A forward CG delivers a lower, more penetrating ball flight, even though blades tend to have the highest lofts of any iron category. Head sizes are generally very compact, while soles and top lines are typically very slender, which means they should appeal only to the very best ball-strikers.
Most blades come as standard with heavy 120g+ shafts since the more accomplished golfers who use them typically create more swing speed.
Who should use muscleback irons?
There’s a strong school of thought among some hardcore golfers that blades are the only true way to play the game. Some also swear that blades are the best way to learn the game because you’re severely punished for mishits and therefore have to focus more intently on developing a robust swing technique.
Regardless, to get the best out of Category 1 irons you’ll need a handicap of low single figures or better. It’s our opinion that you shouldn’t really consider using them until you get close to scratch.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Daddow is the Equipment Editor at todaysgolfer.co.uk
Simon has worked in the golf industry for 30 years. Starting out as trainee professional at Downes Crediton GC where he learned the art of golf club making, before going onto work for Clubhaus Plc and Tony Charles Ltd as a golf club maker, and running Product Development at Benross Golf.
Joining EMAP Active (now Bauer Media) in 2006 as Equipment Editor Simon has worked for Today’s Golfer and Golf World magazines and the Today’s Golfer website.
Simon is 46 years old, he’s played golf for 40 years and plays to a handicap of 10. A lack of club speed means he’s short off the tee, but very handy from 125 yards and in.
He uses a Ping G400 SFT driver, PXG 0341 X Gen4 3-Wood, PXG 0341 X Gen4 7-wood, PXG 0317 X Gen2 hybrid, Callaway Rogue X irons (6 – PW), Cleveland CBX2 wedges (52°, 58°), Bettinardi Inovai 6.0 putter and a TaylorMade Tour Response golf ball.
You can contact Simon here.