The Ping i3 irons, introduced in 1999, were the best-selling irons in the U.S. in 2001. The most immediately apparent difference in the new i3+ Irons ($115 per club steel shafts; $150 graphite) is the color of the back insert; it is now black and gray instead of gold. The other improvements are less obvious. According to the company, the leading edge has been modified, the steel shaft is 10 percent lighter and the insert is 15 percent larger to dampen vibration a little bit better and to allow the removal of a little bit more mass from the perimeter for better control. On the smaller-headed i3+ Blade version, designed for better players, the shorter irons have slightly more offset than on the predecessor clubs and a little less bounce. We'll have to take Ping's word for all this; the changes were hard to detect. But we can attest that the clubs set up beautifully and hit the ball with every bit as much fluidity and authority as the original i3 series did. Available in right- and left-hand. Call 800-474-6434 or visit pinggolf.com.
Adams Golf gets creative with its Idea Irons ($599.99). Instead of three- and four-irons, the company substitutes what it calls Long Iron i-Woods. These clubs look more like compact fairway woods than they do irons, and the stylish clubheads vaguely resemble Microsoft's latest computer mouse. At seventeen degrees and twenty-one degrees of loft, the three- and four-irons in this set are significantly less lofted than corresponding traditional irons (typically twenty-one and twenty-four degrees of loft), but their low centers of gravity, slightly longer shafts and rounded soleplates make hitting the ball high off a tight fairway lie or digging it out of light rough far easier than with traditional clubs. The midclubs in the set have a hollow back design, and the short irons are more conventional. As different as the three- and four-irons looked from the rest of the set, the continuity of feel and progression of trajectory were excellent. Available in graphite or graphite-tip steel shafts, right- and left-hand. Call 800-622-0609 or visit adamsgolf.com.
WILSON FAT SHAFT
Wilson Golf's newest Fat Shaft Irons ($499.99 steel shafts) are designed primarily for mid- to high-handicap players who want all the confidence they can get standing over long-iron shots. The three- and four-irons have been replaced by hybrid clubs similar to those in the Adams set, except with even more offset (to make it harder to slice) and the company's highly successful "Fat" shaft, whose wider-than-average tip helps reduce clubhead twisting at impact. The rest of the clubs in the set resemble more-traditional game-improvement irons, with oversize faces, plenty of offset and wide soles. Available in right- and left-hand. Call 800-469-4576 or visit wilson.com/golf.
MIZUNO'S BRIDGE IRONS
Mizuno's muscle-back MP-series blades have long been a favorite among pure-swinging PGA Tour players seeking maximum feedback and the ability to maneuver the ball. At the other end of the Mizuno spectrum, the MX-series offers generous game-improvement features in the company's legendary forged-steel format. The new Mizuno MP-30 Irons ($1,099 steel shafts) bridge the gap for better players who want the classic look and feel of a muscle back with a subtle dose of perimeter-weighted help thrown in, especially in the longer irons. The half-cavity back forged clubheads, with their appealingly thin top line, are smaller than they are on most irons these days and make it easy to work the ball, but we definitely felt less penalized on slight mis-hits than we do using pure blades. In right-hand only (left-hand available in February). Call 800-966-1211 or visit mizunousa.com.
The round begins in midday sun but ends in a cold slanting rain at dusk. You wouldn't expect one garment to handle both these extremes, but the Sun Mountain A/T Latitude Jacket ($179) just might. Part of the new A/T (Advanced Technical) line, this breathable, 95-percent-waterproof windbreaker stays comfortable in temperatures from the mid-forties into the upper seventies—no mean trick. Stretchy material at the shoulders and elbows promotes free swings, and the zipper plackets are welded, not sewn, to prevent leakage. The fabric was pleasingly quiet when we made our brilliant swings; the tidy scorecard pocket at chest level was surprisingly convenient. Available in red, black or blue with black trim (matching pants, $169). Call 800-227-9226 or visit sunmountain.com.
BALLY, NO BUNION
It took more than a century, but Bally, the famed European brand of high-quality dress footwear, has finally come to market with golf shoes. Some of the models, like the Bally Classic Business ($300, pictured), are part of a special Nick Faldo line that features permanent hard-rubber nubbins on the sole instead of the usual replaceable cleats. Faldo wears these soles on Tour, and we agree with him that they provide remarkable stability on the course. Crafted from soft leather waterproofed with a patented membrane, each pair is available with three interchangeable insoles (narrow, medium and wide) and comes with two red, plush, Bally-logoed shoe bags. Call 800-437-2526.