Written By: Tony Covey

Stop me if you've heard this often of late; Callaway has announced a new product.

Meet the new Big Bertha Iron. Isn't she something?

You're probably going to want to read on to see what we think about the performance claims Callaway is making on its latest release.

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Admittedly, that intro has the tone of a cynical bastard, and really, for retailers and consumers too, iron release cycles are far less problematic than metalwoods.

Because of the cost we don't replace them nearly as often (nor do most of us have the desire to), and most retailers don't stock much in the way of actual inventory because most everything sold is, at a minimum, fit for length and lie. There are too many permutations to bother trying to stock a full selection.

Point is, nobody, not even Callaway is flooding the channel with irons. Retailers aren't bogged down by excess inventory, but since I figured somebody would have an issue with it, I thought I'd get it out of the way early. Now let's get on with it.

About the Big Bertha Iron

Here's how my introduction to Big Bertha started this morning:

The Big Bertha Irons can make golfers up to two clubs longer with a new 360 Face Cup technology, a technology previously used for big distance gains in the company’s Fairway Woods and Hybrids. Yes, that’s right: a face cup in an iron — it’s real, and so are the benefits!

Oh...and here's one of many videos on the subject.

Fairway Technology in an Iron?

The new Big Bertha iron is what happens when somebody in Callaway's R&D Department says "Hey, what if we glued this fairway wood face to an iron? I bet the ball would go really far".

Obviously the engineering behind actually making that work is a bit more complex than some spare parts and a tube of super glue, but in grossly oversimplified terms, that's more or less what Callaway has done.

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The company has taken two of its legitimate fairway wood technologies (360 Face Cup and Internal Standing Wave) and built them into what, based on Callaway's claims anyway, could reasonably be described as the mother of all distance irons.

Ask any XHot Deep fairway owner if the tech works (it does). Why couldn't it work in an iron?

I could rehash the technology for you, but since the guys at Callaway have put together a couple of brief, yet informative videos on what those particular technologies actually are, and how they've been applied to the new irons, I'll let them tell the story.

360 Face Cup Technology

Internal Standing Wave

Big Bertha Iron Specifications

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Prices for steel shafts start at $999 for 4iron-AW or $875 for 4iron-PW, and will be available at retail on 10/17

Get it out of your system now. Yes...the shafts are long. Yes...lofts are strong. It's a damn distance iron, get over it (preferably permanently).

Callaway's marketing collateral contains some reasonably ambiguous words like "forgiveness" and "playability", and quite frankly I'm not sure why anyone would want an iron in this category if it wasn't both of those things, but that's golf marketing, and so I too shall try and get over it.

Too Hot?

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The big concern from a playability perspective for us is the potential for hot spots on the face. As good as TaylorMade's RocketBladez were, for example, there were definitely issues with parts of the face being too hot. 10 extra yards isn't so awesome when it's an inconsistent 10 more than expected.

Callaway does address the consistency of the face in its tech videos, but of course, we won't really know for sure if that's an accurate performance representation until golfers (ourselves included) get our hands on the irons.

As has been the case of late, Callaway did not provide us with samples ahead of the official announcement, so frankly, we can't give you any indication of what's real, and what isn't.

For now you'll just have to get by with an assortment of buzzwords and phrases that include the likes of "maximum forgiveness", "flexible face", "serious speed", and my personal favorite "advanced progressive looks".

Clearly I need to get over some things as well.

The Fine Print Police

I'll be brutally honest. I find much of what Callaway is saying really intriguing, but is often the case, I can't get myself totally on-board with how they're presenting some of the information.

For example, I absolutely refuse to post the shameless promo video where Patrick Reed hits his 6-iron against the new Big Bertha Iron. Realistically do any of you really care how far the lowest-ranked Top 5 player in the world hits the apparent mother of all distance irons against an X-Forged?

For the sake of comparison, I can hit my TaylorMade SpeedBlade significantly longer than my Miura CB-501. I'm not sure what that proves, but if it helps, I also feel like when I'm on my game, I'm a top 5 player at my club (in my mid-handicap flight).

And given the questionable nature of that comparison, now is probably the time to call in the fine print police.

Actually, there isn't actually any fine print in the video itself, but for legal purposes, Callaway disclosed the basis for the claim (the disclaimer) in YouTube's video description box. Here's what it has to say:

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As you might imagine, there are some things we don't love about this particular claim, but I actually like that Callaway tested at multiple impact locations.

I actually love that Callaway chose to compare Bertha to an iron that's not in their current lineup. Nobody enjoys being told that their current line equipment is inferior to the latest and greatest, and so I'm appreciative that Callaway didn't make that sort of comparison this time around.

We don't love the fact that Callaway used robots instead of real golfers. Everyone the industry we've ever discussed the subject with (including members of the Callaway team) have consistently told us that actual humans are preferable for performance testing.

Callaway handles that bit admirably enough with that part about how actual player gains may vary. You might get two club lengths or you might not. It all depends on basically everything...and yeah, when you want to make a big marketing claim (or a non-claim-claim), legally speaking it's a lot easier just to roll with the robot, which is why nearly everyone in the industry does it this way when they test for marketing purposes.

Callaway has done player testing, and while less official (legally speaking), it is saying its claims hold up with real golfers.

Look, we understand the skepticism; we’re golfers too and when you see the words “up to 2 clubs longer” for the first time it can be hard to believe. But time after time, the data testing and the PLAYER TESTING back it up. - Callaway Golf

Callaway has done the player testing. Presumably they kept that data, and for whatever it's worth, I believe it largely supports what they're saying. Why not show it to us?

As a related aside, I spoke with a source who claims to have seen the Trackman data from some of Callaway's Bertha testing. The actual yardage number he gave me was 17 yards. Obviously that's not a number Callaway is likely going to embrace for a yardage claim, but if you find yourself wondering what the average gain might be (as opposed to up to...), that very well could be the number.

What we really take issue with is the substantial differences in specifications between the Bertha and the RAZR X HL irons. Sincere apologies in advance if Callaway went the extra mile to match their Bertha and RAZR X HL test clubs up spec for spec and didn't mention it, but otherwise we're not exactly talking about an apples to apples comparison.

The Tale of the Tape

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Doesn't exactly have the makings of a fair fight, does it?

Length Matters More than Loft

I've wasted my breath with you guys on this before, but I'll try again. In Callaway's defense, with modern irons it's not simply about distance achieved solely through stronger lofts and longer shafts.

Obviously shaft length plays a huge role in iron distance (or any club for that matter), but the stronger lofts are as much about optimizing trajectory for a lower and rearward CG placement. Short story, if Callaway and others didn't make the lofts stronger, the irons would launch too high and spin too much.

The thing is, we're not arguing iron design we're talking about comparing two things that aren't as alike as they probably should be.

Absolutely, most consumers don't consider things like loft and length when they buy new clubs, the collective WE wants more distance, and how we achieve it is largely inconsequential. I get that, but if Bertha really is the distance breakthrough that Callaway is telling us it is, why not show us how it performs length to length and loft to loft against a previous generation of iron?

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A Philosophical Look at the Big Bertha Iron

Let's step away from the distance claims for a moment to consider an interesting possibility.

What if everything Callaway is saying is absolutely true?

What if Callaway's new Big Bertha irons can actually deliver an extra two club lengths worth of added distance to the average golfer?

I don't love the comparison across different specs, but, based on everything I know about the technology of these irons, I'm inclined to believe Callaway is actually sitting on a major distance breakthrough.

Here's the rub.

Is this something we actually need? Is this something we actually want? (you can't see it, but I'm scratching my chin to look really philosophical, and potentially even brilliant.)

Look, this type of iron isn't my thing, but for the guy who hits a 5-iron 150-160...maybe less; I can't imagine there are many of them out there that wouldn't rather hit a 7 iron from that same distance.

On a well-struck shot, I hit my current distance-enhanced 5 iron over 200 yards. I know that puts me well beyond the average golfer, and yet, if you told me I could maybe hit my 7 that far, why wouldn't I want to do that?

Quite frankly, even if in some cases the actual specs make the argument purely psychological, there isn't a situation where I wouldn't rather hit a 7 than a 5. I don't want to hear about Ben Hogan and how he could hit any club any distance with any trajectory either. I'm no Ben Hogan, and neither are you.

We all need a little help.

In that context, I think Big Bertha (again, assuming everything Callaway is claiming is real) is a tremendously appealing iron (physical bulkiness, not withstanding).

max-forgiveness

The Argument Against Bertha

Most of you are probably thinking some variation of these two things:

  • Hey Jackass, why would I want to hit a 4-iron as far as my 5 (or even 4) wood?
  • So now you're telling me I need to carry two extra wedges? Screw that.

The first is actually pretty simple. Because it's shorter, and easier to hit, and now you don't even need to carry that 5 wood anymore. Fairway woods are notoriously difficult for many golfers to hit, and Callaway just potentially eliminated the need for you to carry one. Be polite. Say thank you.

For lots of guys, I think that's probably a really compelling proposition.

The answer to the second question is less cut and dry.

First and foremost (and again based on everything I know about modern iron design), there's almost zero chance that the Bertha PW is 2 clubs longer than most any other pitching wedge you might have in your bag.

It's not practical, and Callaway certainly knows that. What years and years of collecting data has taught the golf companies is that for most golfers, the average real-world distance gap is shorter in the long irons than it is in the short irons.

In practical terms what that means is that most of us (assuming a conventional iron design) don't hit our 4 iron substantially, or even measurably, longer than our 5 iron. Some don't hit the 6 appreciably longer than the 5.

To adjust for that, and create a practical need to actually bag an entire sequence of irons, what Callaway and others are doing is what you might call progressive gapping.

Distance and loft gaps are greater in the longer irons (to create more total and evenly spaced distance), but by the time we get to the end of the bag, we're hitting what most of us might consider close to normal pitching wedge distances.

The point is that you're not going to be two clubs longer throughout the set (there's a reason why Callaway didn't make a claim using the 9-iron), we're simply talking about wider gaps where we need them, and while you might take issue with that, for many, that's actually an advantageous proposition.

But yes...there's a chance you might need to carry an additional wedge, but that's no big deal given that you just pulled a difficult to hit fairway wood (or hybrid) from the long end of your bag.

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In Summation

I have absolutely no idea if the new Big Bertha irons are any good. I don't have any idea how many actual human golfers will pick up anything close to two club lengths. I have no idea what value you personally see in the possibility of two club lengths.

While the new Bertha isn't in my particular wheelhouse, I see what could be a great iron for the force limited or distance limited golfer out there. Over time we all lose distance, and I've yet to meet anybody who didn't want it back.

For the golfer who wants his distance back, or just wants more distance, Big Bertha (on paper anyway) is as compelling as it gets. In reality (on the golf course)...we don't yet know how close Callaway's robot brings us to reality, and so here's our promise to you:

We're going to put these claims to the test and report back to you to let you know exactly how much distance a real golfer can expect to gain with Callaway's latest addition to the Bertha line.

As always, stay tuned.