The Ping Karsten irons are the first combo iron and hybrid set Ping has launched in more than three years. They are billed as one of the longest, most forgiving, fun sets of irons Ping has ever created.
Named after the company's founder, Karsten Solheim, the set blends large, wide-soled irons with easy to hit, forgiving hybrids to not only get the ball up in the air, but keep it there!
Seeing the irons for the first time, I was taken by how simple they look. The design, shape and colours of the clubs are understated and subtle. I have become used to companies creating all sorts of innovation and making it the first thing you see. With the Karsten irons, the technology is mostly hidden.
As a range, the Karsten irons will replace the game-improvement Ping K15 irons. They will also be higher launching and 8% more forgiving than the recent G25 irons. As you can see, the Karsten irons feature a deeper, larger cavity back design than either the K15 (middle) or G25 irons (bottom).
At address, the Karsten maintain a very Ping-look with a soft yet noticeable offset and thick topline. Marty Jertson and his R&D team at Ping have chosen to alter the colour of the Karsten irons slightly, giving them a darker face and lighter tone body than before.
Whilst the irons are certainly very large and long, they looked good behind the ball and will give high handicappers or older golfers the look they need to have a little more confidence.
Compared to the K15 irons they replace, the Karsten set has slightly more offset and also sit a little flatter at address. All that being said, the real muscle behind these irons lies in the sole.
I'm not sure I've ever seen or tested an iron with a wider sole than the Karsten irons. Relatively uniform in shape across the base of the club Ping say the wide sole improves turf interaction, limiting heavy contact, whilst also drawing the centre of gravity away from the face.
Whilst the turf interaction was great and gave me confidence to really strike through the ball from any lie, it was the Centre of Gravity (CG) change that made the difference.
Most people think a back CG position just increases launch height. Whilst that is true, it also increases the angle of descent, meaning the ball will stop quicker on the greens. Ping say that whilst there are a lot of distance irons on the market, each claiming to hit the ball "x yards", they don't necessarily help stop the ball on the green.
With a sole shape like this, golfers of all abilities will find it remarkably easy to get the ball in the air, keep it in the air, and then stop it on the green.
Having used the Karsten set on the range several times and on the course, I had to try and remember why mid to low handicap golfers don't use sets like these. The height and flight of the ball off the face was so impressive, many of my swings were paired with a small chuckle as I watched the ball soar, straight, towards the pin.
The most impressive flight came from the 7-iron. I can honestly say I have never hit a 7-iron higher or further than with the Karsten model. The longer irons, perhaps naturally, didn't fly as high as I expected and the shorter irons launched extremely high. Hitting the SW for the first time, I thought it might catch my left ear on the way up.
I would expect most players using these irons for the first time will see an increase in distances throughout the set. The lofts throughout the irons are stronger that the G25, especially the 5 and 6 irons which are 2° stronger.
Whilst the cavity is visible on the 5 and 6 iron, it wasn't an issue for me and just reminded me of the help I would receive at impact. The short irons were large and rounded, and especially good from the rough. Here's an address look at the 5-iron, 8-iron and SW.
The face on the Karsten irons is the thinnest face Ping have ever used in an iron, as thin as 0.07 inches in places. Whilst the ball speeds I was getting were impressive, the feel was still quite soft and subtle. That, Ping would tell me, is down to the redesigned CTP, or Custom Tuning Port, in the cavity behind the face.
Without this elastomer material behind the clubface the Karsten irons would still go far, but the face would be less stable and sound loud and hard. Instead, the feel and sound were great. Really great. Pure strikes would barely register in my hands and the deep, powerful sound gave me a confidence-inspiring indication I had swung the club well.
It is hard to fault the forgiveness of the Karsten irons. Across the face, heel to toe, the strike is consistent and soft. Like all irons, forgiveness is less with strikes low on the face. However, players using these irons should not be afraid of swinging aggressively into the ball and catching it heavy. The sole does the work for you and keeps the club from digging or cutting into the turf behind the ball.
Whilst this is an iron review, I do need to mention hybrids. The Karsten set comes with a 3 and 4 hybrid included and the option of a 5-hybrid to replace the 5-iron
Whilst they may look like kids hybrids, I think Ping have set about designing simple, easy-to-hit, no-nonsense hybrids. Even though there is a noticeable difference in shape and size in the hybrids, the performance and distance-gapping blends in really well with the irons.
Unlike individual hybrids you may buy, the Karsten hybrids feature very few features. They are not adjustable, or packed with removable weights, or fitted with rails and shapes on the sole designed to dig through the turf.
On the surface they are remarkably simple, but inside Ping have placed additional weight in the heel and the toe designed to keep the clubhead squarer through impact and improve accuracy and forgiveness.
I have to say, I really liked the look of the hybrids. The look like small fairway woods and look great and very easy to hit behind the ball.
The simple look at address and contrasting topline made them easy to align whilst the flat, subtly-cambered sole design allowed them to sit neatly and low behind the ball.
Interestingly I didn't notice as much height in the ball flight from the hybrids as I expected. The 5-iron and 5-hybrid flew very similar heights, with the hybrid being a little more forgiving and consistent. The hybrid went a touch further, but there wasn't as much of a difference as I expected, especially considering the hybrid is 1.5° stronger and an inch longer than the 5-iron.
If you are choosing between the two, I would definitely suggest the hybrid would be more consistent and slightly easier to hit.
Overall, I was left very impressed. Ping have always made very good, game-improvement irons and the Karsten irons continue that tradition. With a noticeable increase in height and forgiveness, they will be perfect for the novice golfers or players who have lost a little swing speed.
A full set with cost you over £800, which is certainly top dollar in the game-improvement market. However, the performance of the Karsten set will be hard to beat in that category.