Cobra changes the game with first commercially available 3D-printed irons

Cobra has been 3D printing one-off golf clubs for years. Some of them have been for testing while others have made their way into pro’s bags for big tournaments. But, the 3D-printing process has always been too slow and impractical for any real commercial products that need to exist in large numbers. Now, however, the company has introduced the very first set of commercially available (though very limited edition) 3D-printed irons that it calls LIMIT3D. We got an inside look at how it was developed and a chance to swing a 3D-printed 7 iron.

Why 3D print a golf club?

Cobra 3d printed golf club against green grass background

Reach into a pro golfer’s bag and you’ll likely find a forged blade-style iron. These clubs have a very classic head shape with a mostly solid back and a slim profile. They’re a far cry from the oversized, perimeter-weighted, cavity-backed clubs at the big box store designed to help average players compensate for their relative lack of skills. Without all of those aids in place, blades allow elite players to shape shots by manipulating the clubface at impact. Put a typical blade in a beginner or even an amateur’s hands, and expect to see balls scattered about the range and probably some sore hands the next day. 

By 3D printing the entire head of each LIMIT3D iron, Cobra can place the weight of the club head basically wherever it wants. That allows for a lower center of gravity and perimeter-heavy weighting in order to easily get the ball up in the air and keep it flying relatively straight. 

What are they made of?

Cobra 3d printed golf club lattice closer look

The entire head of the iron is 3D printed from 316L stainless steel. Unlike a forged iron, which is solid or hollow metal, the LIMIT3D irons contain a metal lattice structure based on repeating dodecahedral structures. The lattice is visible on the back of the clubhead, but that’s purely aesthetic and isn’t tied into the actual structure of the club. 

The LIMIT3D irons are nearly the same size as Cobra’s King Tour Iron, but the two feel very different at impact. The 3D-printed irons lattice cuts a full 100 grams of weight out of the middle of the head compared to its forged counterparts. To keep consistent performance, Cobra re-adds that 100 grams in the form of welded-in weights at the toe and the hosel. That weight helps prevent the club from twisting at impact, a common issue for lower-level players that often sends the ball off toward the parking lot instead of the hole. The lowered center of gravity also helps get the ball up into the air to create more distance along a proper flight path. The LIMIT3D is a true blade-style iron that offers many of the same features you’ll find in so-called “game improvement” irons designed to help higher handicap players.

How do you 3D print a golf club?

Cobra 3d printed golf club face

Cobra uses a process called direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)to build the LIMIT3D clubs. This process involves creating roughly 2,600 stacked layers made out of a fine raw material powder. The process doesn’t require supports like a typical plastic 3D printer. The metal printing creates the lattice structure inside each golf club head. Because the lattice touches both the back of the club and the face of the club, that internal structure makes the face almost identically stiff to a solid or hollow forged club. Cobra also claims that this makes the 3D printed clubs just as durable as its forged counterparts.

Cobra has used this process repeatedly over the years for one-offs. In fact, some of the 3D printed clubs have made their way into pro’s tour bags. But, producing them on a large scale can be pricey and time consuming. While the $3,000 price tag on the limited edition sets sounds steep, Cobra suggests a set like this could have cost 10 times as much or more just a decade ago. 

It takes roughly 24 hours to print a tray of iron heads from the bottom up. Then Cobra welds in the tungsten weights, grinds the face, polishes the head, and laser etches the branding. There’s no heat treating involved. 

Cobra claims this DMLS process is the only method capable of creating such a delicate internal lattice. Other common metal 3D printing techniques like Metal Jet or Binder Jet can’t achieve this shape or match the tiny tolerances. 

What does it feel like to hit the LIMIT3D 3D printed clubs?

Cobra 3d printed golf club on the ground for address

Cobra provided a sample 7 iron for me to try out. My skills put me firmly in the game improvement segment of the market, especially after an injury a few years back, which drastically changed my swing. 

Looking down on the club is strange. I’m used to playing more oversized irons with a noticeable offset, which means the face sits back away from the shaft to help encourage a square face at impact. Consumer-oriented clubs have a much chunkier top line and overall shape. The LIMIT3D clubs, however, look like a real blade with a relatively thin top line. There are tons of golfers out there who love the look and even the idea of playing with forged blades, but they (we?) just don’t have the skill. That’s exactly who Cobra is targeting with the LIMIT3D series, and presumably any future clubs that rely on this production process as it becomes more scalable.

I only took a few cuts before my neck started to tell that my time at the range was up. Still, I was surprised by the feel. I’ve hit blades in the past and if I didn’t hook the crap out of the ball, I couldn’t get it up into an optimal trajectory, at least not with any regularity. The LIMIT3D club definitely gave me a better launch angle and tamed my hook into a more manageable draw, just like I’d expect out of a game improvement iron. I still managed to whack a few off the tungsten-weighted toe of the club, but those bad shots didn’t sting my hands quite like they would have with a blade. 

Cobra claims the redesigned head leads to faster ball speed at launch when compared to comparable typical blades. That could mean up to five extra yards of distance, which is a significant jump across an entire set of irons. 

Can you get a set of LIMIT3D irons?

For right now, Cobra is only releasing 500 total sets of these 3D-printed irons worldwide. They’re right-hand-only and the set includes 4-PW for a price of $3,000. That’s obviously a hefty premium of a standard set of high-end blades (which typically hover between $1,000 and $1,500), but they’re a collector’s item. Cobra has not announced any public plans for wider release, but this 3D printing process is clearly making waves across the industry and we’re just starting to see what’s possible.

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