Study: Handicap and Your Iron Buying Considerations

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Last week we used our 2016 Irons Study data to take a closer look at what clubs are in the bag of players of differing ability levels. Today we’re taking another look at the data to see what it can tell us about what those same players looked for, and the considerations they made, during the process of purchasing their most recent set of irons.

Before we dig into the data, allow me to take a moment to clarify exactly what this data represents.

The question we asked was simple:

Why did you buy your irons?

Study participants were given the opportunity to select from 17 different options (18 if you count other) and were allowed choose as many of the answers as they liked. The numbers referenced in the charts and observations below refer to the percentage of golfers within each handicap range that selected the specified option.

With the details out of the way, let’s look at a breakdown of what we learned from the just less than 4400 responses we received.


We can debate performance implications later, but it’s clear that looks, sound, and feel factor significantly in the purchasing decision for a majority of golfers.

  • The relative importance of aesthetic considerations declines as handicap increases.
  • Though the two are closely related, if not the same, golfers give significantly greater consideration to feel than sound.


The following charts provide a breakdown the various aspects of performance. The relative weighting of these performance categories across handicap ranges is particularly interesting as it reveals what players of different ability levels are looking for from strictly a performance perspective.



  • While manufacturers heavily market distance in GI designs, it’s interesting that less than 40% of golfers across all ability levels listed it as among the reasons why they purchased their last set of irons.
  • Distance was a higher motivating factor among golfers with handicaps between 11 to 20.
  • Not surprisingly, only 27.0 percent of handicaps of 3 and below report that distance was a factor in their decision.
  • More surprisingly, our highest handicap golfer group (30+) reports being the least motivated by distance.

Accuracy and Control



  • Accuracy matters to all golfers, but our data suggests that better players are more motivated by accuracy, while higher handicap golfers are less concerned with precision.
  • 49.7 percent of respondents with handicaps of 3 and below report that accuracy factored into their purchasing decision, compared to only 32.10% of 21 to 29 handicap golfers and 20% of 30+.


  • The best players in our survey listed control and workability as a more significant contributing factor in their buying decision than accuracy.
  • For 4 to 10 handicap golfers, Accuracy and Control/Workability factored identically (both 44.8%) in the buying decision.
  • The above helps to explain why manufacturers frequently list workability among the features of their player’s irons.
  • As handicaps increase above 10, interest in control and workability diminishes significantly, falling to a low point of 17% among 21-29 handicap golfers.
  • Perhaps of some interest, 20% of the highest handicap golfers surveyed listed workability as a factor in their purchasing decision. This is a higher percentage than both the 21 to 29 handicap group (17%) and the 16 to 20 group (18.8%).

Forgiveness and Easy to Hit

While these two elements are closely related, we think it’s important to distinguish between the two. In our minds, forgiveness speaks to what happens when you don’t make perfect (or even close to perfect) contact.

Easy to Hit speaks isn’t about correcting mishits, it’s about making solid contact and getting the ball in the air.



  • The data suggests exactly what most would expect.
  • As handicap increases, so too does the relative importance of forgiveness in the buying decision.
  • For golfers with handicaps above 11, Forgiveness was either the most important factor or the second most important factor in the buying decision.
  • 68% of 30+ handicap golfers listed forgiveness as a motivating factor, compared to only 39% of golfers with handicaps below 3.

Easy to Hit

  • Similarly, Easy to Hit, factors more significantly in the buying decisions of higher handicap golfers.
  • For golfers with handicaps between 21 and 20, Easy to Hit was listed as the most significant factor in the buying decisions.
  • For handicaps from 16 to 20 and 30+, Easy to Hit was listed only slightly less often than forgiveness.
  • For lower handicap golfers (15 and below), the data suggests Accuracy (previous chart) factors more heavily in the buying decision.

Other Considerations

Our final chart shows how other non-performance and non-aesthetic considerations factored into the iron buying decision.


Brand/Model – Across all handicaps, the data suggests that the brand itself plays a significant role in the buying decision (42.25% average across all groups).

Shaft Options – Having a multitude of no charge shaft upgrades is practically a business requirement these days. While having options is more important to lower handicap golfers, we suspect the weighted importance will continue to grow across all handicaps.

Loft/Lie Bendability – Frankly, I can’t say this is anything I’ve ever personally considered, but we’re not surprised to find that it’s a more significant consideration among better golfers. What’s interesting is that 30+ handicaps are nearly as concerned about we’d categorize as a fitting consideration as golfers in the 11 to 15 range.

Sales Person/Local Pro Recommendation – The one speaks to the changing nature of the pyramid of influence. The bottom line: it ain’t what it used to be.

With the emergence of modern media, launch monitors, online communities, and an increasingly informed consumer, recommendations from local pros and retailers carry less weight. We suspect that brands that remain heavily invested in the old model will see their sales decline as a more educated consumer emerges.

Price – We know that price matters to everyone. We hear about it in nearly every equipment story we post. That said, our data suggests that price concerns increase with handicap and spike once handicaps reach 30.

What our data doesn’t tell is whether price is less of a consideration because better players tend to keep their equipment longer.

It also makes us wonder how this information factors into retail pricing strategies. Do player’s irons really cost significantly more to make (often $400 or more than game-improvement models) or are manufacturers keenly aware that better players are less concerned about cost, and price accordingly?

Stay Tuned

Next week will take a final look at the data from the Iron Buying Study and reveal which brands are most popular among our various handicap groups.

About Tony Covey

Tony is the editor of mygolfspy. His coverage of golf equipment extends far beyond the facts as dictated by the companies that created them.

He believes in performance over hype. #PowerToThePlayer

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Blencowe December 17, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Particularly in the 30+ category, I would be interested in the age and gender distribution. Would make sense the shaft options if older gentlemen and ladies were overrepresented in this group, at least at my golf club.

The workability factor makes sense with what they tell me too… They’re going to slice it (it just their swing now they’re not so flexible, with their age and tubbiness), so that’s what they like, so its consistent. Doesn’t make sense to me, but there you are…


Jeff December 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm

So which brand of irons give the most forgiveness?


ole gray December 13, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Pretty much what drives the market is based on these charts. Interesting survey and looking forward to next week’s info concerning which brands are most popular among our various handicap groups. This should be very interesting to say the least…. :o)


Ryebread December 13, 2016 at 9:14 am

Good read. Great data themat the OEMs clearly have based on how they market and price clubs.

Some things don’t surprise me about the high handicap group:
– They believe they should be able to work the ball and that pros do. The yellow and grey groups have figured out that just hitting the thing straight is challenge enough and in doing so, the score will be decent.
– Bendability: People who responded have already self selected into a group of consumers who are either more educated about golf equipment or trying to educate themselves on golf equipment. They’ve had every review here and elsewhere beat into their head’s the importance of getting fit. It is also probably paired with a hope that a magical fit will fix what ills with their golf swing. All responses in this category are probably 10x what the average consumer thinks about bendability (same goes for shaft options).


Carolina Golfer 2 December 12, 2016 at 9:28 am

Some good but yet not surprising data there.–well other than the 30+ handicap wanting work ability. Makes me wonder what variable in the data if any could be there to account for that.

But the forgiveness and price considerations increasing with the handicap was probably the least surprising.


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