If you're an avid golfer like myself, you probably get the question several times a year: "I have a colleague/spouse/child/nephew/niece who's really getting into the game and wants to buy clubs without breaking the bank. What do you recommend?" A little research turned up seven good sets of irons with suggested retail prices of $500 or less (street prices will be lower). All are game-improvement-type clubs designed for mid to high handicappers, and each has its own style and advantages. The two sets not included in the chart below—the $479 Nike NDS (with which Grace Park won an LPGA event last November) and the $500 Ben Hogan BH-5—were reviewed in our November/December 2004 and January/February 2005 issues, respectively.
Dunlop LoCo Hybrid
$349; 800-235-5516; dunlopgolf.com
SPECS Men's right-hand only. The three hybrids (35) have graphite shafts; the five irons have steel shafts. No shaft flex options.
COMMENTS The bright blue and canary yellow logo on the irons establishes the tone: The LoCos ("crazy long") are designed for those who want to have fun playing golf. The woodlike hybrids, with their cheery yellow shafts, get the ball up fast, while the irons, with their pleasingly heavy, cavity-back heads, have the thick topline most players love. John Daly's endorsement (he plays a blade version of the irons) appeals to the everyman in all of us.
BOTTOM LINE Best Value Have your cake and eat it too. A fun set of low-cost irons that also happens to be very solid.
Nickent GenEx GH Plus
$439 (steel shafts) or $539 (graphite); 888-612-5368; nickentgolf.com
SPECS Right- and left-hand, men's and women's. Steel shafts come in three flexes, graphite in five.
COMMENTS Up-and-coming Nickent Golf pours a lot of technology from its higher-priced clubs into these game-improvement irons. The wide, undercut channel on the back pushes the center of gravity way back and makes it a snap to get the ball airborne. The long irons have progressively more offset, which helps square the face and prevent slices on golf's toughest shots. The short irons exude control.
BOTTOM LINE Best Overall Only the Tour Edge comes close among the contenders for both feel and forgiveness.
Tommy Armour 845cs SilverBack
$399; 800-723-4653; tommyarmourgolf.com
SPECS Right- and left-hand, men's only. Steel shafts come in two flexes. Custom options available.
COMMENTS These are a cast version of Tommy Armour's popular forged 845c SilverBack irons, and in terms of functionality don't suffer much, if at all, by the comparison. With generous offset and substantial weighting around the cavity back, the 845cs's are gameimprovement clubs that look more like players' clubs. The topline and soleplate are relatively thin. The clubhead finish is unpolished. The 845cs is being phased out in 2005, to be replaced by a yet-to-be-named model.
BOTTOM LINE These admirable clubs, with the smallest head and least glitz of the bunch, might be the best bet for players who want to be taken seriously.
Tour Edge Bazooka JMAX Combo
$429 (steel) or $499 (graphite); 800-515-3343; touredge.com
SPECS Right- and left-hand. Steel and graphite shafts come in five flexes each, including "L" for ladies. Custom options available.
COMMENTS The standard JMAX Combo set comprises two ironwoods (the 3 and 4), three forgiving midirons (57) with a deep undercut cavity similar to the Nickents' and three muscle-back short irons (8PW) for more control. But you can order any combination of the above iron types and also customize the shafts, lie angles and grip size. The clubs have a remarkable visual consistency despite their variety, and they produce a crisp, clean feel at impact.
BOTTOM LINE A good price on high-quality forgiving clubs that you can mix, match and customize to your heart's content.
Wilson Pro Staff Multi Metal
$349 (including a driver and two fairway woods); 800-469-4576; wilson.com
SPECS Right- and left-hand, in men's and a similar women's version. Graphite shafts only; no shaft flex options.
COMMENTS The Wilsons win the beauty prize among this bunch. The two hybrids (the 3 and 4) and six irons that come with the set (unavailable without the three included woods) take their design cue from the copper insert in the irons' sole. The matching brown-and-black shafts and tan Winn grips are lovely to behold, as is the oily-bronze crown of the hybrids. The long heads on the irons improve forgiveness.
BOTTOM LINE A fashion-forward recreational set. The price for both irons and three woods makes it a steal.