A conventional golf wisdom exists that the best performance wedges are forged. While this may have been true at one time, it is not anymore. We are here to give you the skinny on cast vs. forged, and shed some light on why most of the industry has learned to stop worrying and embrace the casting process.
When it comes to irons and wedges, there are two ways to make a club head: casting and forging.
Forging, the original iron-making method, involves a hammer, an anvil, and a very hot fire.
Modern hot forging has come a long way from classic artisanal blacksmithing, but the idea is the same. A billet of steel is heated to a red hot temperature, and repeated impact forces it into the desired shape. Working the metal with heat and hammer has been known for thousands of years to produce strong, durable steel, but it tends to only be possible to produce simple forms with fairly loose dimensional tolerances.
If you are interested, instead, in making precise, complex forms out of metal in a repeatable and cost effective manner, you will undoubtedly be casting your parts. Casting involves melting the steel and pouring it into a mold to solidify in the desired shape.
While forging deals with brute force to refine a solid billet into shape, casting is a delicate and precise process. So delicate, in fact, that it was prone to commonly produce defects in the bad old days. Without careful control of the temperature inside the casting mold, the final part can have trapped air bubbles and porosity, as well as other defects relating to the metal solidifying haphazardly. Thanks to advances in technology, process control, and metallurgy, those problems are largely consigned to the dustbin of history.
The upshot: modern iron and wedge heads can be made with impeccable quality by both forging and casting.
So, why then, is anyone concerned about the tired debate of forged vs. cast irons? Most of the debate stems from the bad old days when casting technology was crude and prone to defects. Back then, a good forged iron may indeed have been better, because inconsistent casting quality meant inconsistent feel and durability.
Another major influence was the shape of the heads themselves. As noted above, forging is incompatible with producing complex shapes, so all of the advances in iron technology of the past few decades, like big hollow cavities, slots, and overhangs, as well as perimeter weighting to control stability at impact were not available in a forged head. But, those advances were initially developed to make irons more forgiving with longer distance, and were thus geared toward the game improvement market. As a side effect, cast heads were associated unfairly with higher handicap players. “Serious” golfers stuck with traditionally made irons and wedges, and thus the forging process was conflated with better feel and control.
There is also an economic reason forged has been preferred – they cost more. Forging is increasingly automated every year, but it is still a more expensive way to make a part than casting. For those of you well versed in behavioral economics, you will recognize the biasing effect of price on perceived quality among consumers. Like certain red wine and fashion trends, the sticker price and the actual performance of the product are not always (ever?) closely related.
The funny thing is advanced iron features have been creeping into forged head design with increasing popularity, and better performance of cast irons to the point where it may be hard to tell which irons and wedges are made with which process. Not to mention the steady erasure of the line between forged and cast when it comes to performance, feel, and durability. (Some of us have even been privy to blind testing with the best tour pros who can’t tell the difference between forged and cast clubs.) So, don’t let anyone tell you what you should be playing with. If an iron or wedge feels and spins great, and makes it more fun to play golf, put it in your bag.
Which brings us to this point in the history of club making. If you are starting up a new golf brand in 2017, you are casting your irons and wedges. You sacrifice nothing in terms of performance, feel and durability, and you gain freedom to design the perfect shape, make it exactly the same every time, and spend a lot less money ramping up. Also, casting allows for even more precise post-process machining to get extremely consistent performance that was not available to golf club designers even a decade ago. We, at Indi Golf, have put the best techniques to bear on our maiden product, StingRay.