When I accidentally left my 4-iron on a weedy Pittsburgh-area public course tee box two summers ago and nobody turned it in, I was extremely ticked off. It’s just common courtesy to return a lost club.
But the honest truth was, I didn’t miss the club much. As a senior golfer with a meniscus-less knee and two increasingly numb feet, I didn’t hit it very well. I didn’t replace the 4-iron, either, and was playing with only 12 clubs (two fewer than the allowed 14) until I found a 5-wood I liked (High Heat 257+) last winter.
In this Age of Hybrids, long irons seemed obsolete. I quit carrying a 3-iron six years ago. The last 2-iron I used was a Hogan Apex model back in the mid-‘90s — you know, golf’s Dark Ages before Tiger Woods arrived.
Long irons aren’t dead, they’re just in critical condition but Chicago-area-based New Ground Golf (NewGroundGolf.com) aims to revive them. Company founder Joe Jung has been hooked on golf ever since he began as a caddie at Lakeshore Country Club in Glencoe, Ill. He’s a 40-year veteran of the equipment business and a master clubfitter, and he doesn’t believe long irons are ready to the list of obsolete golf things that includes mashies, niblicks, kilties, brassies, stymies and gutta percha balls, to name a few.
How come I can’t hit a decent long iron anymore? It’s not me, Jung says, it’s the modern ball. It’s not me? Geez, I want to hug him.
“When the ball changed 19 years ago, the ball’s significant reduction made most long irons pretty much useless,” Jung said. “You couldn’t keep the ball in the air with them.”
Jung was part of Callaway Golf’s original sales team and was there when the company introduced the Rule 35 ball, the company’s first urethane golf ball. “That ball had the qualities of balata with a wedge and the qualities of a Top-Flite with a driver,” Jung said. “When that ball came out and the tour switched over — now it’s mostly Titleist Pro-V1 — the balls have a significant reduction in spin off the lower-lofted clubs.”
Hybrid clubs were invented to fix that problem, Jung said. A hybrid club is longer than an iron, so it created more clubhead speed, and the bigger head meant a deeper center of gravity and more launch.
Not every average player likes hybrid clubs — or fairway woods, for that matter. So the latest trend is crossover irons, part hybrid, part iron. “They’re incredibly ugly and at $250 a pop, very expensive,” Jung said.
Long irons are apparently dead in the eyes of the big equipment companies. Try finding a new set with a 2- or 3-iron. The search is not as easy as it used to be.
My question to Jung is how he was able to create a hittable long iron when the big club companies that spend millions on research and development and multi-millions on marketing can’t?
“I don’t think they want to,” Jung said. “Why would they want to produce an affordable iron when they can sell a hybrid at twice the cost? It’s like Zero Friction’s one-size-fits-all glove. Foot-Joy would never do a single-size glove, that would kill the bottom line. Sell only one glove? That’s not in their best interests.”
So New Ground Golf has found an out-of-favor niche in long irons. The question is how many golfers still want long irons? Is that niche big enough to make a business? Jung believes it is.
The good news about New Ground Golf’s clubs — the models come in 1-, 2- and 3-irons only so far — is their price. At $119 per club, $149 with graphite shaft, they’re extremely reasonable in today’s marketplace.
The better news about New Ground Golf’s clubs is that they work. I admit I was skeptical until I got a couple of demo models. My first three swings with the 3-iron were revelatory and all I needed to see. That club went right into my bag, it’s in the starting lineup.
I clunked my first 2-iron shot, then reeled off four straight beauties. My battered Adams Boxer hybrid may be in danger of getting benched.
The 1-iron? I made a couple bad swings at first, total clunkers, possibly due to the intimidation factor of swinging such a club. A third shot was solid but a little too much of a line drive to center field. The fourth swing was one of those moments you savor. I hit it flush, the ball’s trajectory was reasonably high, and it felt effortless, the way hitting a home run felt a hundred years ago when I was young. If you played baseball, you know what I mean.
I wanted to start a diary so I could make a note that on July 17, 2019, at 10:17 a.m., I nutted a 1-iron. I don’t think I have a need for a 1-iron but it’s nice to know I have one I can hit. Hell, it’s a minor thrill just to say I now own a 1-iron.
The New Ground Golf irons have oversized heads. That’s nothing new, it’s been done with the old Hogan Magnums, Spalding Executives and Nike Slingshots long irons.
New Ground Golf used the latest technology to create thin faces on a clubhead with a very low center of gravity. The combination produces the speed of a hybrid and, Jung says, launch angles like a 5-iron.
The unique soles feature wavy grooves. “That allows us to maintain bounce and have someplace for the turf to go,” Jung said. “I’m really quite proud of it.”
New Ground Golf started shipping product three months ago. Jung is working on creating more irons, from 4-iron on up, so New Ground Golf will be able to offer a full set. For now, the only question is whether his new long irons will enjoy a long run.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.