It should be stated at the beginning that the Strata Oversized Irons may be difficult to locate. When we began testing these irons in April, they were available in Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retail outlets. Since then, the parent company of Strata, Top-Flite Golf, has declared bankruptcy. On July 1st, 2003 the company was purchased by Callaway Golf. It is very doubtful that these irons will continue to be produced or marketed. They are no longer mentioned on Dick’s, Strata’s or Top-Flite’s web site. Remaining stock should be available at various outlets, but it is doubtful that these irons will be at all plentiful. Those who rely upon Internet shopping may not be able to locate these irons.
What initially attracted us to the Strata irons was the fact that for just $350, a consumer could buy a set of well-made, name-brand irons that included two additional wedges – a gap wedge and a sand wedge. The Stratas presented themselves as a fine, low-priced alternative to the pricey, game-improvement irons from Top-Flite’s arch rival, and cross-state nemesis, Titleist.
The appearance of the Strata Oversized irons has elicited varied responses from our testers. Some have found them to be sophisticated and substantial looking while others have thought that they seemed large and clunky. Their appearance at address has also been found wanting by some. All have agreed, however, that the fit and finish of these Stratas is quite good. Their looks belie their modest price tag.
Feel at impact is generally quite sweet with the Strata Oversized Irons, though as typically happens with oversized, game improvement irons it can be more than a little muted. The Stratas have a plastic insert centered within their deep, wide cavities. This allows more steel to be spread out toward the perimeter of these heads thus providing for more forgiveness. The insert also provides for some additional vibration absorption. Consequently, sweetspot hits can be very mellow.
Some of the oversized, game-improvement irons that we have tested in the past have been liked by players of all levels. The Top-Flite XL 2000 irons we reviewed a couple of years back were such an iron. Though the Strata Oversized Irons, are from the same company as the XL 2000 irons, tester reactions have been exceedingly diverse with these irons. A couple of our crewmembers have very much disliked the Stratas. They were displeased by the size of the heads and the way the irons aligned at address. The results they achieved with the Stratas were not to their liking either. From the start, they were disoriented by these jumbo irons. Eventually, each managed to produce some satisfactory results, but it was a struggle.
Some other testers, however, have picked up the Stratas and experienced top-notch results from the first hits on. One experienced, senior tester recorded what he felt was the most accurate 8-iron pattern he had ever produced. Though he normally plays irons with smaller heads and less offsets, he related intuitively to the Stratas. Balls flew with great consistency. Precise accuracy was automatic. On the course, the Stratas worked just fine. The long irons were easy to hit and the wedges, though somewhat clunky, managed to get the job done more than adequately.
When the Stratas did work for testers, they produced high, arched trajectories of medium to good length. The Stratas are not for those who want to hit low, penetrating trajectories. Balls fly and land softly. Accuracy for our testers varied greatly – from first-rate to poor. Forgiveness was good in the sense that balls flew strongly on mishits. However, when a tester was misaligning the heads, the strong hits just meant that the ball went farther off line.
The wedges that come with this set drive home the fact that the Strata Oversized are aimed at higher handicapped players. The wedges work well enough, but they are decidedly large and unresponsive for those who like to work their wedge shots in any way. These wedges are straight ahead ploppers. Standard chips and pitches work fine, but those who want to finesse shots around the green will find the Strata wedges to be relatively insensitive, especially through thicker grasses.
With testing results as varied as those we have seen, all we can advise on these irons is that if a player picks up a Strata iron and relates to intuitively, it is probably going to work for him. If he has misgivings, it probably will not. In comparison, the friendly and forgiving irons we have tested in recent years from Titleist, Top-Flite, Golfsmith, Alpha and Liquid Metal have all had much more universal appeal.
Most players will probably find Top-Flite’s Tour Irons and their older XL 2000 irons more to their liking. The Top-Flite irons bear considerable similarity to the Stratas in the structure of their cavities. They are also very forgiving, but they have the benefit of wider appeal. They will perform better for most mid- to mid-high handicap players. For beginning players, they will provide more growth potential.
The Strata Oversized Irons are irons that will appeal to some players considerably, and to others, not at all. They are well made golf clubs that have a high level of fit and finish. They play reasonably well and have considerable forgiveness. Most higher-handicapped players should find that they perform well. The primary virtue of these Stratas, however, is their price. The Stratas come with two additional wedges – a GW and an SW. Finding the Strata Oversized Irons may be a considerable problem though. If a high-handicapper sees these irons in a store, he should give them a try. We would not recommend that spends too much time looking around for them, however. Top-Flite’s other irons are a safer bet in either new or used form.