If you want an honest indicator of where your game is at any given point in time, take a few swings with a utility iron: it’s golf’s ultimate canary in a coal mine. If you’re swinging well, the utility iron can be an awesome weapon – precise, long and deadly. They’re more controllable than a hybrid and excessively fun to hit.
If you’re swinging well.
If you’re not swinging well, hitting a utility iron is like juggling chainsaws. Someone – most likely you, is going to get hurt badly.
Utility irons go by many names – there’s the HI, the Fli Hi, the Iron-Wood, the Crossover and the L.I.F.T. (Long Iron For Tour – TaylorMade can’t help itself). Hell, Bagger Vance gave Rannulph Junuh a Jigger for the big match against Walter and Bobby.
Today’s utility irons are a hell of a lot more versatile and forgiving than your old man’s driving iron or Junnah’s Jigger. Oh, you still need some game to bag one, but hollow body construction, wider soles, and lower CGs make modern utility irons more forgiving, higher launching and a hell of a lot easier for us regular people to hit than long irons.
As a category, utility irons are kind of like blades. Most of us find blades dead-sexy, but most of us also believe we don't have the game for them. Utility irons have a certain eye-appeal and are more user-friendly than a decade ago, but most of us still gravitate towards hybrids because they're easier to hit still.
Demand (or lack thereof) limits the market, and so there’s no particular reason for any manufacturer to come out with a new one every year. Take, for example, Callaway's new X-Forged UT. It's the first upgrade to the company's X utility iron in nearly 3½ years.
Long Iron Replacement
You may remember Callaway’s X Utility Prototype. It came out in 2012 and featured a shallow face, a tuning port for swing weight and a deep center of gravity, and while it wasn’t the first modern utility iron, you can make a case it helped re-popularize the concept despite its somewhat funky look.
The slightly more traditional looking Apex Utility replaced the Prototype in September of 2014. Despite the Apex name, appearance-wise it didn’t fit as an extension of the Apex CG 16/Pro 16 iron line. We'd classify it as more of a non-hybrid long iron replacement for the Apex MB.
There's no incongruity this time around. The new X-Forged UT, in looks and name, is a perfect complement to Callaway’s new X-Forged Irons.
Take notice of a couple of changes to the X-Forged UT that might actually matter. First, the removable weight found in both the X Utility Prototype and the Apex Utility is gone; replaced by the industry's go-to tungsten insert. Callaway says the change not only keeps the center of gravity low but makes it possible to position that CG in the center of the club face. As tungsten usually does, it also helps raise MOI (forgiveness) while still retaining the lower, more penetrating, ball flight golfers expect from their long irons.
The second change is the addition of one of Callaway’s core technologies; 360 Face Cup. It's the same tech you’d find in Callaway’s Fairway Woods, Steelhead irons, and several other popular Callaway products. As a refresher - 360 Face Cup is Callaway’s method for maximizing deflection across a wider portion of the club face. It's your requisite minimize distance loss on off-center hits story, and its inclusion in a long iron replacement club will likely bring real benefit.
An expanded set of loft offerings suggests Callaway will seek to position the X-Forged UT as more versatile than its previous utility irons. Where the Apex Utility was only available in 2 through 4 irons (18°, 21° and 24° degree lofts), the X-Forged UT, with its 27° 5-iron and a 30° 6-iron may creep into the middle of some bags in much the same way that Mizuno's MP18 MMC Fli-HIs and Titleist's T-MBs have.
The lofts on each of the X-Forged UTs is 1° weaker than the corresponding club in the new X-Forged iron set. That's almost certainly an adjustment for the inherent design differences between the X-Forged Utility and the standard X-Forged set. That bit of added loft should make for closer-to-seamless gapping.
Not that options for lefties, #2 and #3 only, are limited.
A Stealth Launch
Okay, so utility irons aren’t sexy, and even Callaway isn't making a particularly big deal out of the X-Forged UT. Sufficed to say the press material is a good bit lighter than what we've seen recently. Sometimes straightforward and simple is better, and in this case, that's likely a nod to the reality that, while important to tour staff (the word is Sergio is bagging one), and potentially useful to the better players among us, utility irons aren't huge retail needle-movers.
The three-year product cycle makes sense.
That said, utility irons do offer a non-hybrid, long iron alternative. If you tend to hook hybrids off the planet, if you can’t reconcile swinging something that looks like a mini-fairway wood the way you’d swing an iron, or if you simply want fewer head covers in your bag, a utility iron can be a useful alternative.
If you’re swinging well.
If you’re not, watch out for those chainsaws.
Callaway’s X-Forged UT will sell for $249.99, and will be available at retail January 19th.