The RL Blades are cast 303 stainless steel irons. At address, they have a very rounded, small-headed, traditional look. Technically speaking, the RL’s have a minimal cavity back – a gently sculpted depression that does add extra toe-weighting and a small amount of forgiveness. The long irons have a marginally lower center of gravity and a touch more weight in the toe, but in reality, the RL’s play like true blades. Offsets are very minimal and toplines are relatively thin.
These Reid Lockharts have a look to them that a couple of our crew members think is the most attractive of any iron being made today. While others find the look less appealing, all agree that the RL’s are some of the classiest looking irons that have ever come down the pike. They are distinctive from head to grip. They say, “Money”. The Lamkin Perma Wraps have a gold stripe that winds its way down the black, leather-like grip. All accents – grip, band, ferrule and head are in black and gold. For most: If they see them, they are going to want to pick them up and play them. Those that do not love the look, will probably prefer “cleaner” overall designs with plain grips and fewer graphic embellishments.
The trajectories of the RL Blades are very high and arched. With shorter irons, some testers found that they hit too high. With long irons, this added loft was generally appreciated. Some good-looking ball flights happened with 3 and 4-irons. As to distance: The RL’s were generally a half a club to three-quarters shorter than our stronger-hitting blades. They were roughly equivalent to the distances of Mizuno MP-33′s. Distances varied from tester to tester and for those that hit them well, distance was not a real consideration. For all, balls held very well when they landed, but this was due as much to trajectory height as to backspin. The RL’s trajectories are the opposite of hot. They fly high and land soft.
The RL Blades have a feel different from most blades. It is one that is difficult to describe. They do not have the same sweetness that is found in a number of other modern blades. At impact, they have what some find to be a rewardingly pleasant click, especially with softer balls. However, with two-piece and solid construction balls, many find them to be lacking in solidity – too thin feeling. All agree that the ultra-sweet “aaah” found in blades such as those from Mizuno and Feel does not occur with the RL Blades.
There are three reasons for this difference in feel. First of all, they are cast, not forged. Secondly, they do not have the same muscleback design common to most modern blades. Lastly, they are shafted differently from most. The Reid Lockhart FP-50 steel shaft is a design from Royal Precision. It was designed to offer a blend between the characteristics of stepped and non-stepped shafts (i.e. RP Microtaper vs. RP Rifle). This is a good shaft, but most of the blades that we have hit in comparison have Rifle or True Temper Sensicore shafts. Both of these shafts add a tangible amount of sweetness to the feel at impact. On the other hand, this RL combo has a sense of crispness and feedback that is not found in most of the other blades tested. Preferences will vary greatly from player to player in this regard, but given that the RL’s are cast and not forged, many might prefer a slightly gentler feeling steel shaft.
The RL Blades are designed to be traditional in feel, but do not assume that old blades will provide the same feel and performance. We hit the RL Blades against two sets of twenty-year-old blades – the Wilson FG-17′s and the Hogan Apex II’s. The RL’s felt much more pleasant and modern. Both the Wilsons and the Hogans felt harsh in comparison. Both also hit shorter and lower. All testers preferred the RL’s hands down to the archaic blades. The blades that we have hit that are most comparable to the RL’s in design are the Ram Nickel Tour Grinds. The Ram’s are much sweeter and softer feeling in comparison; but then again, they were shafted with Sensicore’s and were made from soft nickel – a much less durable metal.
Often, we get emails asking why we do not use numerical ratings for the clubs we test. The Reid Lockharts exemplify perfectly why we do not use such a system. If asked to rate these blades, half of our testers would rate the RL’s with a score in the 8 to 10 range. The other half would grade them in the 2 to 4 range. That would give them an overall rating of 6. If a reader were to see a rating score of 6, they would assume that these irons were mediocre at best. Such is not the case. Half of our testers love them; the other half dislikes them. This dichotomy applies to looks, to feel and to performance.
The RL’s have a swingweight of more than D5 – that is too high for some. Those who prefer swingweights of D0 to D2 can react adversely to heavier swingweights. Those testers who did not like the Reid-Lockharts found them to be harsh when it comes to feel and anemic in the way that they hit. They all preferred several of the other blades that we have tested within the last season – such as those from Feel, Mizuno, and Golfsmith. The common denominator that we have seen in the games of the nay sayers is their tendency to hit on the thin side. They prefer muscleback style blades that have a lower weight distribution. The tall-hoseled, thin-soled RL’s do not like to hit thin, especially in the shorter irons that have been designed with a slightly higher COG than that which is found in the longer irons.
The testers who loved the RL’s tend to hit fatter and take deeper divots. They also tend to emphasis accuracy over distance in their iron preferences. The Cleveland TA-1 is another very thin-soled blade. Our TA-1 user played the RL’s on-course and experienced noticeably better consistency when it came to hitting greens. The Clevelands flew lower and hotter, and were regularly a full club longer, however. He is sticking with his Clevelands, but states that he could regularly alternate between the two sets with ease and confidence depending upon the type of course being played.
Another tester regularly plays a mixed set of cavity backs and blades. He uses the RL short irons – 7 thru PW. He likes to finesse his irons with full and partial swings. His favorite shot is a very high cut shot that lands very softly. He likes the fact that he can easily get the small RL heads under the ball – even from Astroturf. In short game shootouts at the range, he generally resorts to the Reid Lockharts when a buck or two is on the line. He finds them to be the most consistently accurate irons that we have.
There is a short, tight, turn-of-the-century course that was remodeled in the 1960′s by Robert Trent Jones. There is water on fourteen holes and all greens are heavily bunkered. There is always trouble left, right and front or back. It is the kind of narrow, tricky course that inspires many players to leave their drivers in the trunks of their cars. Only pinpoint precision matters here. Aggressive players lose a fortune in golf balls and score poorly. The Reid-Lockhart blades are ideal for this kind of course. They encourage whatever inclinations a player may have towards high, soft, precise shotmaking.
You have been invited to play an old-money, snob club with a famous, tight, old Donald Ross or Walter Travis course. Your playing partners all went to Amherst or Dartmouth. You are feeling insecure about the impression you will make. Just buy a set of RL Blades and a red Morgan convertible. Wear your tassel loafers in the clubhouse. They’ll invite you to join. You just might shoot really low, as well.
These RL’s go with wound, balata balls and traditional canvas, carry bags with leather trim. Slammers and bangers who speed around in golf carts will be happier elsewhere. Players who worry about not using irons that benefit from every inch of extra distance that modern golf club design can give to them will not be content with the Reid Lockharts. These blades are intended for those who appreciate “the art of golf”. In fact, Reid Lockhart uses the following phrase in their literature: “The RL Blades represent a return to the artful design of golf clubs, and offer unmatched shotmaking precision.”