By James A. Frank
Not that many years ago, there was an upper limit to what you could spend for a set of quality irons—usually $599 ($699 with graphite shafts) for eight clubs. Then the $1,000 a set barrier was broken, and now most premium irons from big-name manufacturers will set you back $120–$150 for each club.
But there’s a group of irons with prices higher than a Phil Mickelson lob shot. You’ve probably read about them, maybe even seen some in your friends’ bags. So have you wondered—what makes a set of irons costs $2,500 or more?
“It’s kind of a boring answer,” says Jeff Brunski, director of R&D for XXIO, a Japanese company that’s recently entered the U.S. market with super-lightweight clubs designed for slow swing speeds. “Complicated manufacturing processes and exotic materials are more expensive.”
XXIO’s irons are $170 to $260 each. Miura, PXG, and even industry stalwarts like Titleist charge considerably more than “average” for what they call high-performance products. Their woods, wedges, and putters are similarly high-priced for the same reasons.
Many of these clubs use very strong, very thin steel and/or titanium, and sometimes tungsten, as well. All of those materials are costly, as are the processes necessary to turn them into workable equipment.
“When you combine those materials with different ways of engineering things, sometimes very precise even manual processes, the costs go up,” explains Josh Talge, vice president of Golf Club Marketing for Titleist. “It’s like Swiss watchmaking.”
Titleist’s limited-edition C16 irons—one of its “Concept Clubs”—feature a forged, high-strength steel face and tungsten weights attached to a thin steel body. With a steel shaft, one iron costs $337.50; with graphite, $375. They were designed to be the highest launching, longest, and most forgiving players’ irons the company has ever made, aimed at “the dedicated golfer who is pretty obsessed with golf, likes to play and practice a lot, wants to get better and believes he can.”
But, as Talge notes, these clubs don’t only benefit the player. “They are a chance for us to see what the future looks like, to give us a look into technologies that we can refine and broaden and bring into future products.” He says new Titleist irons, expected this fall, will incorporate some of what’s been learned from concept clubs.
Hand-craftsmanship helps explain the cost—and appeal—of Miura irons. Its forged irons, all made in Japan, are priced from $279 to $339 a club because, says president Bill Holowaty, “The Miura process does not lend itself to mass production. There are hands on the product from start to finish, making sure the tolerances in the head are plus or minus half a gram.”
Plus, there really is a Mr. Miura, who hand-grinds clubheads every day. “We’re telling golfers they can discover perfection,” Holowaty says, “feeling what a good shot feels like, not hiding what a bad shot feels like.” Forged clubs also let golfers hit different shots—high, low, curving—and, says Holowaty, “you’ll be a better golfer because of them.”
PXG took the golf world by storm a few years ago, hiring engineers from other companies, signing Tour pros, and introducing clubs that look different and have the price tags to match.
PXG’s irons, starting at $350 each, are forged, have very thin faces and computer-milled heads, and their cavities are filled with a thermoplastic elastomer material, all expensive technologies. There’s also a row of tungsten screws in the back of each clubhead, enhancing the club’s perimeter weighting to make the irons more forgiving than usual for forgings. But not only is tungsten expensive, so is the process of machining and threading each of the holes, up to 10 per head.
As one industry insider explained, “Any multi-piece head is going to be a lot more expensive to make.” Little wonder the PXG website states that the clubs were built “with no cost or time constraints.”
Other factors add cost to any club, from where they were made (which country, which factory) to marketing, shipping, duty, etc. And don’t forget shafts, which XXIO’s Brunski says may be the “most substantial… maybe half the cost, especially lightweight graphite, which is very expensive.”
No matter what they’re charging, all of these companies say they are doing something special for a discerning audience that wants, deserves, and appreciates the differences that their extra dollars buy.
So are high priced irons worth the money? That’s mostly a question between you and your wallet. But I know a few good players who swear by their Miura irons, and I’ve spoken to players who are playing PXG: Their reactions are generally positive, but as one golfer told me, “When I make a bad swing it doesn’t matter which club I’m playing, I can hit all of them poorly.” This same older gentleman also said it was worth it to pay extra to squeeze out all the distance he could on good shots.
In all cases, both manufacturers and golfers agree, it’s important to be properly fit. A middle-aged golfer said about his PXG irons, “I love the shaft, that’s the big winner,” and although he is hitting the clubs longer than with his old irons, he still feels he might have purchased the wrong head design for his needs.
Everyone I spoke to also mentioned the status high-priced clubs give the golfer. Another industry veteran, noting that status has value, compared it to buying a Chevy versus a Mercedes or even a Rolls-Royce.
As Miura’s Holowaty put it, “There are lots of players out there who play for the 10 good shots a round as opposed to the 80 bad shots. That’s what keeps them coming back.”
What do you think of these expensive clubs? Do you own a set or would you consider saving up for them? Let us know in the comments below!