Blades vs. Cavity Back vs. Muscle Back Irons (…and which you should play)

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You’ve heard the terms blade, muscle back, and cavity back irons for years…but you’re still confused about what they actually mean.

I’ll break it all down for you and explain why the choice should actually be really simple for you.

What Is A Blade Golf Club?

A blade golf club is a smaller traditional-looking iron that typically has a smaller and thinner head. The smaller size means the sweet spot of the club is smaller and off-center strikes will lose more distance compared to other larger clubs.

Blades are very difficult to strike well and require a high degree of consistency to play well with.

The small size also raises the center of gravity more towards the center of the club. This makes it harder to hit the ball high. A less skilled golfer may have difficulty getting the ball high enough for a decent golf shot.

What Is A Cavity Back Iron?

A cavity back iron is a more modern design where the clubhead carries most of the weight around the perimeter and the middle is essentially hollow, forming the cavity from which it gets its name.

Cavity back irons have a larger sweet spot as a result of the design as well as a center of gravity that is lower. The lower center of gravity helps to launch the ball higher in the air even with a less than idea strike.

The majority of golf irons on the market today are cavity back irons. In fact, all of the clubs on our list of the best irons for mid-handicappers are cavity backs.

What Is A Muscle Back Iron?

A muscle back iron has the visual design of a blade but the mass of the club is distributed lower to give some of the benefits of a cavity back iron. It combines the look of a blade with some of the forgiveness of a cavity back.

As far as forgiveness, the muscle back iron falls somewhere between the blade and cavity back. They generally have more mass of the club shifted to the bottom which helps lower the center of gravity and help the ball get into the air easier. However, they lack the cavity and perimeter weighting of a cavity back that gives more forgiveness on off-center hits.

This makes the muscle back iron best utilized by more skilled players and as driving irons or long irons.

Difference Between Cavity Backs and Blades

The primary difference between cavity backs and blades is that in a cavity back, most of the mass of the club is positioned around the perimeter to offer more forgiveness while blades have less mass overall that is more evenly positioned.

These design differences mean that blades will be far less forgiving than cavity back irons. An off-center hit on a cavity back will lose less distance than an off-center hit on a blade because of the added mass around the perimeter.

The design of blades does often afford the golfer more ability to spin the ball left and right. Highly skilled golfers use this to curve the ball on purpose for strategic reasons on the course.

This can be a double-edged sword as added sidespin can be detrimental as well. Additionally, there are plenty of cavity backs on the market that will let you spin the ball as much as you want.

Are Muscle Backs The Same As Blades?

Muscle backs are not the same as blade irons although they may appear similar. Muscle back irons often have more mass in the clubhead than blades and position that mass lower on the back of the club and in the sole of the club.

However, they are much closer to blades than they are to cavity backs. Muscle back irons are essentially blades with a little more mass low behind the sweet spot to add some height to the ball flight.

Cavity Back Advantages

Cavity back irons have several advantages over other types.

The added mass in the clubhead and perimeter weighting means that the sweet spot is considerably larger and you’ll get increased forgiveness on mis-hit shots. That means that even when you don’t hit the ball on the sweet spot, you’ll see minimal distance loss.

The perimeter weighting of cavity backs also helps to hit the ball straighter. Having more mass behind the ball when you miss the center of the face reduces the gear effect of missing the center of the clubface. This means less side spin from off-center hits.

Cavity back clubs also help you to hit the ball higher, even if you have a slower swing speed. By making the sole of the club larger, it lowers the center of gravity which means more of the mass of the club gets under the ball at impact, resulting in a higher launch angle. Many modern game improvement irons also reduce the loft of their clubs to ensure that the launch angle doesn’t get too high.

This combination of more mass, lower center of gravity, and stronger lofts often result in more distance without increasing your swing speed.

The larger sole of a cavity back also helps prevent the club from digging into the ground in the event that you hit the ball a little fat.

You can find cavity backs that take advantage of all of these design features to some degree. So regardless of your skill level or preference of iron sizes, you should be able to find a cavity back that fits your game.

Blade Advantages

There aren’t many advantages to using blades. Conventional knowledge says that blades make it easier to impart sidespin on the ball on purpose or control the height of your shot. But there are plenty of cavity back irons that allow you to do that as well, without the lost forgiveness.

Muscle Back Advantages

Muscle back irons are a small step up from blades in terms of forgiveness. You will still get the classic blade look and feel with a thin top line to look at when you address the ball.

However, they will give you slightly more forgiveness on off-center strikes, especially hits low on the face. A muscle back will also have a lower center of gravity which will give you a slightly higher ball flight trajectory. This is especially helpful with the long irons.

Are Blades or Cavity Backs Better?

If you’re reading this, you should not be playing blades. In fact, most PGA Tour players use some form of cavity back iron.

Every iron on our list of the best irons for high-handicap golfers is a cavity back.

Who Should Use Blade Irons?

Frankly, no one really needs to use blade irons. They are very difficult to hit consistently and have little forgiveness for off-center strikes. Even most PGA pros use some form of cavity back irons.

Who Should Use Cavity Back Irons?

Every golfer except the best in the world should use cavity back irons. There’s really no compelling reason for the average, or even above average golfer to use any type of irons other than cavity back irons.

They afford more forgiveness on off-center hits, typically have more mass to add distance, and give up almost nothing in terms of workability. Today, you can find cavity backs of all shapes and sizes to fit your skill level so even if you absolutely hate playing those massive super game improvement “shovels,” you can still enjoy the benefits of a sleek player’s iron cavity back.

Who Should Use Muscle Back Irons?

Muscle back irons are best used by highly skilled golfers. If you want a classic blade look and feel then you should at least go with a muscle back iron rather than a pure blade. The added weight at the sole of the club will give you a little more forgiveness without sacrificing the look and feel of a blade.

Should Beginner Golfers Use Blades?

Beginner golfers should not use blades. They are extremely difficult to hit will and can cause a lot of frustration on the part of beginner golfers. Using difficult-to-hit blades as a beginner can also negatively affect how you learn the game and can even cause enough frustration to make you want to give it up completely.

Golf is difficult enough for beginners to learn. Don’t try to start with blades and make the game less enjoyable.

Do PGA Tour Pros Use Blades or Cavity Backs?

More PGA Tour Pros use cavity back irons than blades. Contrary to popular belief, cavity back irons are quite popular on the PGA Tour. Tour pros mostly use smaller cavity backs rather than the larger game improvement type, but they are still cavity backs.

Should I Hit Blades Or Cavity Backs?

If you have to ask whether you need blades or cavity backs then you should be playing cavity back irons. Even the best players in the world use cavity back irons more than blades, so the average golfer would see no benefit to playing blades.

Do Blades Hit The Ball Further?

Blade irons do not hit the ball farther, even if you strike the ball on the center of the clubface.

Are Muscle Backs Forgiving?

Muscle back irons are only slightly more forgiving than pure blades. They have a relatively small sweet spot and strikes that miss the sweet spot will lose a considerable amount of distance.

Are Blades Really Harder To Hit?

Blades are quite a bit harder to hit than other types of irons. The combination of a smaller sweet spot, higher center of gravity, and less mass overall make it so that you need to hit almost perfectly on the sweet spot of the club with a good angle of descent in order to get a decent result.

Any strike outside that sweet spot or a swing that gets a little “scoopy” will result in a significant loss of distance. Do yourself a favor and only use blades for fun or when practicing to help develop your skills.

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Pete | Editor-in-Chief
Pete is an avid golfer since he was 10 years old and currently plays to a 9 handicap. He started Under Par Goals to help other golfers all around the world improve their games and learn more about the game.