|Is there such a thing as a ‘standard’ set of golf clubs in terms of length and loft?
The answer is yes and no.
In the days of drivers with steel shafts and persimmon heads, the standard length for a driver was 43 inches. With the introduction of graphite shafts and titanium heads the new standard for drivers is 45+ inches.
In terms of irons, in the 1970’s most golf manufacturers adhered to what was known at the 24/38 rule when it came to iron loft and length. That rule says that the average male golfer could be expected to hit a golf club with 24 degrees of loft and an overall length of 38 inches approximately 170 yards. Irons with a lower loft or a longer shaft was reserved for the very accomplished or elite players. In the 1970’s on average a 3 iron had 24 degrees of loft and was 38 inches long.
Fast forward to today and despite the improvements in club heads, shafts and grips the 24/38 rule still applies. The average male golfer still hits a club with 24 degrees of loft and an overall length of 38 inches, 170 yards. What has changed is that the number assigned to the club has changed from a ‘3’ to a ‘5’. In terms of specifications, today it’s the 5 iron and not the 3 iron that has around 24 degrees of loft and an overall length of 38 inches.
What caused this loft and length creep? In a word, marketing. The large golf club manufacturers found themselves in a very competitive situation and in an attempt to set themselves apart, manufacturers would produce clubs with claims of greater distance. Remember those ads that claim ‘our clubs are one club longer”, or “two clubs longer” than the competition? Well, they were not really one club longer. When you take a 7 iron and substantially decrease the loft and extend the shaft by up to an inch you have effectively turned it into a 6 iron and yes, 6 irons will go further than 7 irons. Between 1970 and the present most if not all club manufactures have strengthen the lofts, and extended the shafts on off the counter iron sets, effectively creating a new ‘standard’ in terms of iron loft and length.
The table below shows how the loft and length of clubs has changed from 1970 to the present. The data in this table represents industry averages. There are some variations that fall outside the averages; for example the new Titleist AP1 irons start with a 19 degree 3 iron, as do the new Taylormade PSi irons, with more aggressive lofts throughout the set.
The next time you hear a commercial about irons that go further, check the lofts and lengths before you buy them. It might be much more economical to simply take a sharpie and write a different number on the bottom of your iron and perhaps lengthen the shaft by a half an inch, than buying into the hype and spending money on a new set.