Definition: The Driving Iron in Golf

What is a "driving iron"? It's a golf club ... or, rather, several golf clubs, because "driving iron" can be used to refer to several different things. We'll go over those definitions in this article, but keep this is mind: driving irons, the club, are rarely used today; and "driving iron," the term, is used far less often today, too.

Definition 1: The Colloquial Driving Iron

Our first definition of "driving iron" is the term's colloquial use. It was often used as simply another term for a 1-iron. But 1-irons are virtually extinct in golf. So any traditional iron that a golfer might use in place of a driver might, casually, conversationally, be referred to as a driving iron in the instance of its specific use for that purpose. If a given golfer struggles hitting driver and so routinely hits a 2-iron off the tee, he might also commonly call his 2-iron a driving iron.

Another way to think about this one: Driving iron can just be an alternate term for a long iron (traditionally the 1-iron) used off the tee in place of the driver.

Definition 2: The 20th-Century, Purpose-Built Club

For most of the 20th century, and into the 21st, there was a purpose-built, iron-like golf club designed to be used in place of a driver. This club was known as, and labeled as by the manufacturers, a driving iron. Such driving irons still exist, but they get harder to find with each passing year, having been supplanted by wood-like hybrid clubs beginning in the 2000s.

Such "driving irons" have larger clubheads with more bulk and more heft compared to a standard iron, with a lower loft than standard irons. The clubhead might be a hollow construction.

Compared to the driver, the driving iron would have a slightly shorter shaft, which would make it more easily controlled during the swing. The advantage of a driving iron over a driver was exactly that: control. A golfer who struggled to find the fairway with a driver might try a driving iron. (A higher-lofted fairway wood or hybrid will work better for most golfers today, however.)

Traditional driving irons are not common in use today, but some companies still make iron-like hybrids they label driving irons. You can find some of them on Amazon (affiliate links used in this article).

Definition 3: The Original (1800s-Early 1900s) Driving Irons

Before 1-irons became known as driving irons (definition No. 1), before golf equipment brands started building driver-alternative-irons called driving irons (definition No. 2), there were the original clubs that went by that name beginning in the 1800s. And the original driving irons differed from later ones.

The original driving irons came along in the 1800s and were not intended as driver replacements. In 1890 the golfer and writer Horace Hutchinson described them as "heavier, shorter, stiffer, with faces more laid back, than the cleek, will drive the ball out of worse places, but will not drive it so far." (Today it is sometimes said that cleeks and driving irons were the same thing, but Hutchinson makes clear they were two different clubs.)

So the original driving irons, which were around at least until the 1920s, had shorter shafts and higher lofts compared to woods and long irons, and were used from difficult lies, for approaching greens, for play into the wind. In his 1910 book Advanced Golf, Great Triumvirate member James Braid even recommended driving irons for run-up shots.

More definitions:

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