Single Length Irons – Their Past and Their Future

Wishon Sterling Single-Length Irons
Wishon Sterling Single-Length Irons
Wishon Sterling Single-Length Irons

Over the past few weeks, I have received many inquiries about single length irons. So I thought I would delve into this topic and examine both the pros and cons of this system.

First I will provide a bit of history. The concept of having all your irons the same length has been around for about 30 years.  In 1986, a man by the name of Eric Cook introduced the concept to the public. Eric was a club maker with a business in Ottawa. He had an engineering background. Many of you may remember Eric as a pioneer in single frequency shaft matching, where each and every club has the same frequency. I still use this method to fit many of my customers. Eric felt that having shafts that were all the same frequency or flex yielded a set of irons that felt more consistent throughout the set. Whether you were swinging a 3 iron or a Pitching Wedge, the feel would be the same. He then began to think that having all the clubs the same length would also yield a higher degree of consistency throughout the set. 

The logic was sound, but the problem was that in order to build a set of single length clubs, you need a set of heads that all weigh the same. These were unavailable at that time. In 1986, head weights varied by about 7 grams per club, so, for example, the 5 iron might weigh 255 grams, the 6 iron 262 grams, and the 7 iron 269 grams and so on. If you built a sent of clubs to a 7 iron weight all the heads would weigh 269 grams. In order to do this, a lot of lead tape had to be added to the longer irons and a lot of weight in the shorter irons had to be ground off. This not only upset the design balance of the club heads but it was also very time consuming. So, it never really became viable, as the cost of producing a set of single weight heads was very prohibitive. It was a great idea, but it was not cost effective.

In 1989, the Tommy Armour Company, which had deeper pockets, introduced sets of woods and irons both in single length. They were known as the EQL models. The woods were all built to a 5 wood length of 42” and the irons were built to a 7 iron length. Golfers at the time found that they lost distance on their driver at the length of 42”. They may have been more accurate, but nobody wanted to hit shorter drives and that was the end of the single length technology for woods. 

In terms of the irons, the idea of all the irons being the same length was just too radical a concept for most people. To my knowledge, no touring pros embraced the concept and without that support SLT (Single Length Technology) faded from the public eye. The cost of production coupled with the cost of marketing was just too much for the Tommy Armour Company to withstand.

Fast forward to 2015 when Bryson Dechambeau won both the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur Tournament using SLT irons. Interesting, maybe there is something to this technology. So far, he is about the only touring pro embracing SLT but perhaps others will follow.  Time will tell. There are now several companies producing heads for this purpose and certainly the concept is intriguing. So let’s have a look at the pros and cons of SLT irons as I see them.  First of all let me start by stating that one of the most difficult aspects of golf is consistency. If we look at a set of SLT irons, each iron will have the same length, the same lie, the same total weight, the same bend point, the same shaft frequency, the same moment of inertia and the same grip. In fact, the only difference from one iron to another is loft. Talk about consistency! I think one of the biggest benefits of SLT irons is this consistency. With these irons, your set up at address is exactly the same for every iron, your ball position is exactly the same with every iron, and your swing is exactly the same. Talk about introducing consistency into the game of golf!  I think that this consistency could benefit all golfers but especially the mid to high handicappers, who have trouble hitting the longer irons or who struggle with consistent impact throughout the set.

On the flip side, I can see a few pitfalls with the SLT irons. I believe that the golfer may experience a bit of a loss of distance with the “longer” irons because there may be a loss of clubhead speed with the shorter shaft in these irons. I believe there is the potential for this to occur, but given that shaft length has a 15-20% influence on distance, whereas loft has an 80-85% influence, it may not be an issue. I think the biggest adjustment a golfer would have to make would be in the short irons. They may find that they hit their “short” irons too far relative to the “mid or longer” irons. It may then be a little more difficult to maintain consistent distance gaps between the irons.

Whether or not SLT become viable and popular is any one’s guess. If we start seeing more tour players embracing this technology, then you may see the major equipment manufacturers getting on board. The golf industry has a lot of tradition and things are slow to change and if the OEM’s do not embrace it, it may be 1989 all over again. 

From a personal perspective, I am definitely going to build a set of these irons and give them a try and have them available for interested customers to try. I think that before you go out and spend your cash on a set it would be a good idea to play a round or two before taking the plunge. My feeling about SLT irons is, as it is for many other things, they will be very beneficial to some golfers and not for others. I am looking forward to trying out these irons this month and will be happy to then give you my “hands-on” experience.

/ Don Irving, Artisan Golf