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If you flip on the Golf Channel or CBS any weekend during the PGA TOUR Season, chances are you’ll catch one of many pros using a utility iron to rip a stinger down a tight fairway. They’re not the only ones making use of modern utility irons. Originally a butter knife blade, the low lofted 2 or 3-iron has come a long way since the days of Jack and Arnie playing low runners at the Open Championship.
As technology has advanced, so too have the variety of options available to golfers. The modern utility category has evolved to nearly as broad as the iron categories for which it provides an alternative. Hollow-body (or goo-filled hollow-body) construction isn’t just common; it’s ubiquitous within the category. Some Utilities are designed to be hit low and long off the tee, whereas others leverage rear Centers of Gravity and wide soles to help launch the ball high while providing more forgiveness. The reality is that utility irons are no longer exclusively for high swing speed, low handicap golfers. With a design range as broad as you’ll find between players cavitybacks and game-improvement irons, a plethora of new options has opened up the category to nearly every golfer. If you’ve ruled carrying a utility iron in the past, it might be time to take a second look.
This year’s test featured 14 utility iron models from nine different manufacturers. Our testing pool consisted of 20 players who combined to hit nearly 3,000 total shots. We’ve continued to refine our data processing and analysis – and to that end, we’ve changed our ranking methodology from last season. Our 2019 ranking methodology is based on statistical reliability and Strokes Gained (off the tee). For more information on how we test and rank golf clubs, visit our How We Test page.
If you’re in the market for a utility iron in 2019, this test is for you.
Most Wanted: Mizuno MP-20 HMB
Utility Iron Buying Considerations
Performance should be your primary concern when buying a new utility iron, but there are some additional factors you may want to consider before you make your purchasing decision.
Utility Irons vs. Long Irons
Do you tend to hit all of your long irons the nearly the same distance; or do you struggle to make solid contact with your 4, 5, or even 6-iron? For many, the answer to those questions is yes, and yes. The long irons are (not surprisingly) a part of our bag makeup that perhaps doesn’t get the attention it should. If you struggle to hit your long irons consistently, it might be time to look into swapping them for more forgiving, easer-to-hit utility irons. Many manufacturers today like Srixon and Tour Edge offer utility iron replacements for long irons, and several offer lofts that overlap with traditional 6 and even 7-irons. Utilities that creep into middle iron territory typically offer wider soles and lower, deeper centers of gravity to help launch the ball high in the air while providing that extra bit of forgiveness we can all use on the course.
Be aware that utility irons will typically launch higher and fly a bit farther than the stock long irons they’re replacing. You may need to tweak your lofts along the way to ensure consistent gapping.
Utility Irons vs. Hybrids
For many golfers, the Utility iron serves as the ideal alternative to a hybrid. While some models like TaylorMade’s GAPR Mid ride the line between categories, the appeal of the utility iron is sometimes little more than the fact that it’s not a hybrid. For golfers who struggle with hybrids (particularly those who tend to hook them), or simply don’t like hybrids for any number of other reasons, the Utility – which is often better-suited to golfers with steeper attack angles – may be a better way to bridge the gap between fairway woods and irons.
Loft for loft, Utility irons will typically launch lower, produce a more penetrating trajectory, and will generally be more workable than the equivalent hybrid. For better or worse, they’ll likely also be a bit shorter. As always, mind your gaps.
Utility Irons vs. Fairway Woods
Many golfers find fairway woods to be the most difficult clubs in the bag to hit consistently. Lower lofted utilities can provide an alternative to higher-lofted (5-wood and above) fairway woods. Even as forgiveness in the utility category has increased, most brands, however, are reticent to offer a true 1-iron. The reality is that few of us can actually hit them, and the limited number of buyers doesn’t justify the manufacturing expense. That means 3-wood-replacing utilities are few and far between (16° is about as low as it goes). That said, a utility 2-iron offers an alternative to your 5-wood. This is particularly true for golfers who are steep into the ball, want more workability, or prefer the look and playability of a smaller head.
In most cases, a utility iron will launch lower and fly a bit shorter than a loft equivalent fairway wood.
Choosing the right loft for your utility iron(s) is essential to improving your performance. We’ve said this before; yardage gapping is a massive part of the success equation on the golf course. If you’re looking to create a split set with utilities in place of your long irons, make sure you’re properly fitted, and the loft gaps between clubs translate to consistent yardage gaps on the course. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in the market for an off-the-tee utility iron, a 2 or 3-iron offering might be just what the doctor ordered. The plethora of lofts and models available across the major manufacturers can make it easier to dial-in your distances and find the right club for your game.
Proper shaft selection is a big part of creating a consistent shot pattern for predictable results. A professional fitter can help you find a shaft that has the right specs (weight, stiffness, bend profile) for your swing profile. Failing that, we recommend you take the time to understand the performance characteristics of the available shafts.
Graphite is usually lighter, which means it is often (not always) swung faster. If you struggle with generating clubhead speed, graphite might be a good option. Steel is generally heavier, with advancements in technology, however; lightweight steel shafts are reasonably common options in the utility category. In the world of stock shafts, when the choice is between graphite and steel, the graphite option is often higher launching and spinning and will typically have a softer bend profile overall.
Also, note that head weight often varies depending on whether the stock shaft is graphite (light) or steel (heavy) shaft. In those cases, moving between graphite and steel may not be as simple as swapping the shaft. Swing weight screws (if part of the design) may need to be swapped, and depending on the design of the club, you may not be able to achieve your desired swing weight without significant effort – or at all. Take the time to work with a fitter to be sure you get it right the first time.
Four of the fourteen utility irons tested offer an adjustable hosel. That’s not a massive percentage, but it means that golfers can now leverage adjustability in the utility category. It also means fitters have a bit more fine-tuning capability. The small details are often where the differences are found.
During each test, we look for trends that provide us insight into where the market as a whole is moving. We also look for noteworthy changes manufacturers have made to improve year-over-year performance. We also solicit feedback from our testers. We want to understand what they liked, what they didn’t like, and why. We want to reemphasize that, while we do collect and share noteworthy portions of this subjective feedback, it does not factor in our rankings.
Trends and Tweaks
- Graphite shafts seem to be a staple in utility irons. Our 2019 Utility Iron Test featured 11 out of the 14 models in graphite shafts. While the winning utility iron was not among those with graphite shafts, graphite has become the more popular choice for the majority of manufacturers. The steel shafted models often share design characteristics like thinner soles and smaller head profiles. Within the Utility category, heavier steel shafts are generally better suited for golfers with faster swing speeds.
- As it has in other club categories, the use of hollow or filled-body technology is on the rise in the utility category. Every model we tested that isn’t filled with something features full hollow-body construction. For those who like their irons with a goo filling; all three TaylorMade products in our 2019 Test feature the company’s SpeedFoam technology, while the PXG 0311X Utility features its proprietary COR2 material.
- Adjustability is slowing creeping its way into the Utility iron space. Four of the fourteen models tested this year have an adjustable hosel. While most would likely be best served to take a set it and forget it approach, adjustable hosels allow golfers to tweak loft and face angle to suit different course conditions. Playing a firm and fast course? Dial down loft to increase distance and decrease launch. Soft and slow? Crank up the loft to maximize carry.
- One of the most important things to pay attention to when searching for a utility iron is loft. Stamped lofts for this year’s test of what manufactures designated as #2 Utilities ranged from 16°-19°.
What's the deal with hollow-body design?
One of the few design characteristics common to every utility iron tested, it's that they're either hollow-body or hollow with some sort of filling. The idea behind hollow-body technology is simple - leverage the most beneficial design properties of metalwoods (hollow, thin face, lightweight) and blend them with something that closely resembles an iron. The multi-piece construction of Hollow-body irons gives equipment designers greater opportunities to increase ball speed and strategically move weight around (Tungsten anyone?) to increase launch angles boost MOI while still retaining the look that many golfers prefer in their long game clubs.
Notes from the Testing Pool
- The highest-rated club for combined looks, feel, and alignment score in our 2019 Most Wanted Utility Iron Test was the Mizuno MP-20 HMB Utility Iron. The construction of the HMB features a Grain Flow Forged face and neck laser welded to a stainless-steel back piece. It’s a design that helps to preserve Mizuno’s signature forging while leveraging the benefits of a hollow-body design. The MP-20 HMB has 12-grams of tungsten raised just above the sole to drive CG back and down to provide higher launch.
- While not among the highest-rated for looks or alignment, the Cobra KING Utility was the best rated for feel among the test group. The Cobra KING Utility and KING Utility One Length both utilize a forged steel face and hollow-body construction to maximize ball speed. Testers also praised the KING Utility One Length for its ease-of-use and ability to hit the center of the clubface.
- The best-rated utility iron for looks was the Titleist U500. Just released, both the U500 and U510 feature the hollow-body construction typical for the category. Of the two, the U510 offers a larger footprint, including a longer blade length and a wider sole. The more player-centric U500 was a favorite among testers. They commented that the iron appeared smaller but packed a punch, even on off-center hits. While ball speed standard deviations (a measure we use for consistency across the face) were small (that’s a good thing), tester feedback was unanimously negative on the sound and feel of both U-series utility irons on off-center strikes.
- Our testers with slower swing speeds who struggle to launch utility irons high favored clubs with wider soles and larger (deeper) head designs. Models like the Tour Edge Exotics HL4 and CBX119 utilities were preferred among this subset of testers. On the opposite end, faster swinging golfers in our 2019 Test favored those utilities with more compact heads and heavier (steel) shafts like the Callaway X Forged and Mizuno MP-20 HMB.
- Unfortunately, in every test, some clubs receive poor feedback from the test pool. The TaylorMade GAPR Lo, Titleist U510, and PING G410 Crossover were those rated at the bottom subjectively among the test group. For all three models, testers reported poor feel on off-center hits and blade lengths that were too long. The response suggests there is a fine line between too big and too small when it comes to utility iron preference.
Fast and Forgiving - TaylorMade GAPR Lo
In the lead up to the Open Championship, the GAPR Lo found its way into a few TaylorMade tour player bags. The GAPR Lo features modest offset and is a touch larger than the original P790 UDI (also tested). What is billed as a design for better players, the GAPR Lo produced some of the highest ball speeds and longest distances, while retaining a reasonable amount of forgiveness.
Like the other TaylorMade GAPR and UDI utilities in the test lineup, the GAPR Lo features TaylorMade's proprietary SpeedFoam technology. Billed as a ball speeds increaser, SpeedFoam works by dampening vibrations to enhance sound and feel. Although testers didn't rave about the subjective stuff (looks, sound, feel), the performance of the TaylorMade GAPR Lo is sufficient reason for golfers looking for a small to mid-sized utility iron to include it in the consideration set during their next fitting.
2019 Most Wanted Utility Iron Data
To filter and compare by club, use the drop-down list and checkboxes to select the only the drivers you wish to compare. Please keep in mind that the averages are from 20 testers across a wide range of swing speeds and ability levels.
EXPERT TIP - A TRUE Utility Iron
The word utility is defined as - "useful, especially through being able to perform several functions." That's exactly what you should expect from a true utility iron. We've stated before, every club in your bag should have a purpose, but that doesn't mean every club needs to be a one-trick pony. A versatile utility iron can serve you well in any number of the conditions you'll invariably face on the golf course.
If you need to hit it low, can you hit a utility low, or hook it around a tree? Conversely, if you need to float one to hit a green, can you do that too? Given the rapidly increasing number and variety of utility irons hitting the market, there's almost certainly one out there that will suit your playing style. Make sure to assess your game to determine which utility will work best for you.
How We Test
Our Mission is to help you find the best utility for your game.
We are 100% independent and unbiased, and we always put the #ConsumerFirst.
About Our Testers
Our pool of testers consists of 20 golfers with handicaps ranging from plus to the high single digits. As a group, they span a broad range of swing characteristics (head speed, attack angle, etc.).
Over the course of several sessions, each golfer is required to hit 10-12 "good" shots with each club. Club order is randomized on a per tester basis.
Limiting Variables and Gathering Data Reliably
Crunching the Numbers
Before determining our rankings, we identify and remove outliers using a proprietary detection methodology.
To arrive at our final results, we calculate the averages of key metrics (ball speed, distance, dispersion, etc.), while also considering the standard deviation and the statistical reliability of those values.
For more detailed information on our test process, visit our How We Test Page.
2019 Most Wanted Utility Specs
|Callaway X Forged|
|Cobra KING Utility|
|Cobra KING Utility One Length|
|Mizuno MP-20 HMB|
|PING G410 Crossover|
|PXG 0311X GEN 2|
|TaylorMade GAPR Lo|
|TaylorMade GAPR Mid|
|TaylorMade '17 P790 UDI **||17°||17°||60°||39.25"||1.6|
|Tour Edge Exotics CBX|
|Tour Edge Exotics HL4|
* denotes measured value vs. manufacturer’s stated spec.
** TaylorMade ’17 P790 UDI has been replaced and is no longer available at retail.
Multi-use, multi-length - Cobra KING Utility and KING Utility One Length
Likely one of the most versatile utility irons from our 2019 Test is the Cobra KING Utility iron. Ranked 5th overall, the Cobra KING produced the highest launch angles of any utility iron in the test. The Cobra KING Utility and KING Utility One Length irons feature hollow-body construction and tungsten weighting low and deep behind the face to help increase launch angles for high soft shots.
One of the key features of the Cobra KING Utility family is the adjustable hosel sleeve. Where almost all of the utilities in our 2019 feature glued heads, Cobra stands out as one of two (TaylorMade is the other) that offers adjustability (3-degrees worth, in this case). The KING Utility we tested can be either a 2-iron, a 3-iron, or something in-between, which means it can be almost anything you need it to be.
BUYING A NEW UTILITY IRON
Q: When should I buy a new utility iron?
A: In most categories, it typically takes 3-5 years for manufacturers to make any significant performance gains. This is especially true in the utility category, where performance breakthroughs are rare. A good bit of what changes comes down to shaping and cosmetics, and while that can alter performance from one iteration to the next, little in the way of revolutionary technology finds its way into the category. Our recommendation is to buy a new utility iron only when it appreciably outperforms what is already in your bag. Of course, if you want new utility iron because you want a new utility iron, that’s fine too.
Q: How do I know which utility iron is right for my game?
A: A proper club fitting with a professional will help determine what utility iron will suit your unique game. However, you can assess your own needs by determining what kind of shots you need to hit with your utility iron. Do you take hit the utility primarily off the tee, or do you find yourself utilizing it off the turf? If you mainly use the utility iron off the tee, a lower launching, lower spinning model might help you get the ball running down the fairway. Conversely, higher-lofted, wide-soled, back-weighed utility irons can help you get the ball launching high and landing softly. Make sure to fully evaluate your game in advance of a professional fitting to help the fitter understand what you’re looking for in a utility iron.
Q: Does the shaft matter?
A: Absolutely. While changes to spin and launch and spin differences are rarely massive, shaft changes frequently lead to improved accuracy, tighter dispersion, and greater overall consistency. We always recommend working with a qualified fitter. If that’s not possible, take the time to understand the different shaft profiles offered and how the performance of each might benefit or adversely affect your game.
Q: What should I look for when testing utility irons?
A: While golfers have been conditioned to consider distance to the exclusion of nearly everything else, we recommended looking at the little numbers and looking for small circles. When comparing metrics like distance and ball speed, be sure to look at your standard deviations (the small numbers usually found under the big ones on the data screen). Smaller numbers mean better consistency, which will usually benefit your score more than an extra yard or two. Similarly, look for tighter dispersion ellipses (small circles). We can’t understate the importance of consistency with utility irons
No Two Utility Irons Are Exactly Alike
Some of us may be hesitant at the thought of putting a 2-iron in your bag. Some of you may not even carry a 5-iron. It's important to understand that not every Utility Iron is designed for high swing speed, low handicap golfers. Yes, there are designs that favor the lower, more workable trajectory, that typically only benefits lower handicap golfers. There are, however, plenty of utility models on the market today designed for golfers that need a little help getting the ball in the air or who are looking for a bit more forgiveness in the long game.
Utility irons like the TaylorMade GAPR Mid, Srixon ZU85, and the new Tour Edge HL4 utility have wider soles and in some cases, higher lofts. That's a combination that can help average golfers find the fairway on a short par-4, or hit the green in two on some par-5s.
Q: What does Most Wanted mean?
A: We define Most Wanted as the best performing club. Based on Strokes Gained, it’s the club that was shown to be in the top-performing group for the highest percentage of our testing pool. For more detailed information, see our How We Test page.
Q: How is the Most Wanted Utility Iron determined?
A: To determine the Most Wanted Utility Iron, we collect performance metrics with Foresight GCQuad Launch Monitors. To determine our overall rankings, we don’t just focus on averages. With a pool of 20+ testers across a broad range of ability levels, we find that raw averages often don’t represent the true performance of a golf club. While we do share the raw data, we use a ranking methodology that considers the statistical reliability of the Strokes Gained metric across the entire pool of testers.
Q: How is the “Longest” Utility Iron determined?
A: To determine the Longest Utility Iron, we again look past the raw averages to consider the average total yards across the test pool along with the statistical reliability of that data.
Q: How is the “Most Forgiving” Utility Iron determined?
A: To determine the Most Forgiving Utility Iron, we focus on a narrower set of metrics that includes: Shot Area (dispersion), Radial Distance, Accuracy, and the average standard deviation for ball speed and carry yards.
Q: How are the utility irons in the test fit to each golfer?
A: We use a fitting process that we call fit from stock. Irons are fitted to each tester using the stock, no up-charge options from each manufacturer. We test utility irons ranging in loft from 17°-19°. While less so in this category, adjustability is growing in popularity. When movable weights or adjustable hosels are available, we make every effort to optimize each club for each tester. Occasionally manufacturers will send multiple sets with different stock shafts that we can utilize to improve launch conditions.
Q: How much does subjective feedback like looks, sound, and feel factor into your rankings?
A: ZERO. Our rankings are based purely on launch monitor data and quantifiable performance metrics.