I’m new here but not new to club making. There is no one answer to if clones are as good as the brand names or not.
Historically when forged irons were the benchmark of quality clubs it was all in the quality of the steel and the makers ability to match the right shaft to achive best swing weight and lie for the individual player. When investment castings for irons and wood heads came in to vogue is when it became practical for cones to compete with major brands.
The reason for this is that almost none of the major brands actually cast their heads. The major brands will design the head then turn the proof over to a foundry to produce the raw casting. This has lead to a lot of copies made by the foundries with lesser grade casting materials and sold to the clone market for a fraction of the price they are paid by the brand name club companies. Typically the major brands will trademark and or paten the major features to prevent copping of proprietary designs. However one single small change in the features of the irons overall design can keep a cone company outside the patens restrictions.
There are very good clones, there are cones that actually better playing clubs for a given section of the market and then there are really bad clones. In this day and age most clones in the ½ off the brand name price range tend to be pretty good clubs over all. The ones that are in the 1/3rd of brand name price range are hit and miss and the ones less than 1/3rd the price tend to be crap. Back in the day when the majority of Golfsmith’s business was cloning clubs they set the standard for quality clones by engineering their clones honestly compete with the major brands. However they saw the ever changing technology revolution coming and got out of the clone market for the most part while the getting was good.
All this said you can take a top quality clone set of irons and with detailed attention to weighting and fitting you can make a set of irons worthy of praise. But that is the real key that most Sunday golfers forget. Even the brand name manufactures build clubs built for a 5’11”, 190lb player with ground to wrist distance of 35”-35 ½” and a swing speed with a driver of 80-90mph. So if you don’t fit very closely in this niche then the clubs regardless if clone of major brand don’t really fit you ideally. One of the biggest issues I see in regards to mid to high handicap players is shaft flex and shaft length. Everyone wants XS printed on the label of a 46 ½” driver shaft. Even when they are 5’8, 135lb and have 75 mph driver club head speed. Macho will always be macho even at their own expense.
So here is my take. If you want to save some money find a top raked clone you like at about 1/2 the price of a top line major brand. Buy just the heads and then go to your local club maker and have them fit the clubs to you and your swing. You will end up paying about ¼ (or more) less than the cost the major brand names and have a set of clubs that you can swing consistently. What I am saying it is just as important to spend a bit of money to get your clubs fitted to your body and swing speed as it is to buy a good club. Regardless if it is a clone or a brand name.
By the way fitting is something that really needs to be done in person. IMO fitting by internet is an oxymoron.