BEGINNERS BUYING GUIDE
When shopping for golf clubs, the wide range and variety of technologies and price points can be confusing. Should you choose graphite or steel? Fairway woods or hybrid clubs? We cover all that and more in this guide, along with information on club types, loft, shaft flex and conversion between irons or fairway woods and hybrid clubs.
Before we get into all that, there are a few basics you should know when shopping for clubs:
1. More expensive clubs don't necessarily make you a better golfer, though upgrades may certainly help.
2. You'll need a driver, three woods, three-to-nine irons, a pitching and sand wedge, and a putter to get started. Recreational golfers may also want to replace a few irons with hybrid clubs.
3. As your game and skill develops, adding a few specialized clubs can be advantageous.
4. Choose your clubs wisely; you can never carry more than 14 clubs in your bag at any one time.
5. Most golfers can use standard length clubs because they are designed to fit a range of standard heights. Some manufacturers will add an inch (+1) to a shaft for taller-than-average men, and remove an inch (-1 or petite) for shorter-than-average, or petite, women.
LOFT AND FLEX
The loft of a golf club is directly related to how high and how far a golf shot will fly. The lower the angle of loft, the lower the golf ball's trajectory, and the farther the golf ball's flight. In contrast, the higher the loft angle, the higher the golf ball's trajectory and the shorter the golf ball's flight.
Golf clubs with standard loft angles will suit most golfers. The purpose in selecting a different loft for your club(s) would be to help correct a tendency to hit consistently lower trajectory or higher trajectory shots than would be normal. It is not often recommended to adjust the loft on most clubs, with the exception of the driver and wedges.
The chart below illustrates industry standards for golf club loft angle.
|2 Wood||12-15||5 iron||28-32|
|3 Wood||12-17||6 iron||32-36|
|4 Wood||15-19||7 iron||36-40|
|5 Wood||20-23||8 iron||40-44|
|6 Wood||22-25||9 iron||45-48|
How much the shaft of the golf club flexes, or doesn't flex, plays a major role in how well you hit the ball. It's important to have the proper flex for your swing speed so the club face is squared at impact to give you a solid shot. Without the correct shaft flex, there's a good chance you'll have a hard time making good contact on a consistent basis.
Shaft flex is categorized according to swing speeds, from slowest to fastest, in this order:
Ladies = slowest swing speed
Senior = slower swing speed
Regular = average swing speed
Stiff = fast swing speed
Extra Stiff = fastest swing speed
Note: Women will generally want to stick with ladies' flex and most recreational players will do just fine with regular flex clubs. A stiff flex may be too stiff for entry-level, beginner, and even some intermediate golfers. The chart below illustrates industry standard shaft flex selection according to swing speed.
|Carry Distance||Swing Speed||Shaft Flex|
|Under 180 yards||Under 75 mph||Ladies|
|180 - 200 yards||70 - 90 mph||Senior|
|200 - 240 yards||90 - 110 mph||Regular|
|240 - 275 yards||100 - 110 mph||Stiff|
|Over 275 yards||Over 110 mph||X-Stiff|
TYPES AND MATERIALS
The driver has seen more technological advancements in the last 20 years than any other club. Manufacturers spends millions of dollars annually in an attempt to boost sweet spot, size, launch angle, forgiveness, and aerodynamics, all to squeeze an extra 20 yards out of your tee shot, and maybe shed a few strokes.The most significant decision to make concerns material. In essence, today's golfers can choose from steel, titanium, and composite.
Steel: Drivers with a steel head are somewhat more affordable than titanium drivers, but are also heavier and less forgiving, due to the smaller head size. Steel drivers offer a more traditional look and feel, and are extremely durable and solid.
Titanium: The biggest innovation in golf technology in recent years is the development of the titanium driver. The material's high strength-to-weight ratio, combined with a larger head and sweet spot, make this a very playable, forgiving choice if you can afford the price tag.
Composite: Composite drivers combine non-metal materials, such as carbon, with titanium components throughout the club. The intent of the carbon is to further reduce the weight of the club, thus increasing swing speed and, ideally, distance.
With so much emphasis put on selecting the best driver these days, many new golfers are surprised to learn that picking out the right fairway woods can be just as, if not more, important. The type and variety, of woods ideal for you varies based on the kind of player you are, and what you want to get out of the clubs.
2-to-4-woods: Tee shot alternatives to your driver or long irons, and also handy from the fairway, these woods have a smaller head and shaft, allowing for a shorter, more controllable shot.
5-to-11-woods: Either replacing or assisting your longer irons, these woods offer solid contact and greater flight than long irons, ideal for shots that require a lot of arc on the ball's trajectory.
Sets: One advantage of a full set of fairway woods is the consistent feel throughout the range of clubs. A common combination that makes up a manufacturer set includes 3, 4, 5, and 7 woods, and this option is sometimes preferable for players who are new to the game, or seeking maximum value for their dollar.
CLUB HEAD MATERIALS
Steel: Most woods today utilize a steel head. Since these clubs' heads need not be large, steel provides a strong, forgiving shot, with a reasonable weight.
Titanium: Some manufacturers use titanium in fairway woods, as the lighter, thinner face allows for center of gravity to be moved lower, wider, and further back, to boost height on your shots. Not surprisingly, titanium fairway woods are more expensive than steel.
Composite: Though somewhat rare, composite woods are slowly becoming more common, and offer the same benefits as composite drivers--reduced weight at a price that's more affordable than titanium.
Steel: Steel fairway wood shafts offer optimal control via a solid, consistent feel that's similar to an iron.
Graphite: This more expensive option boasts a range of flexes to suit your game, and can add distance to your shot.
Hybrid golf clubs, also known as utility clubs, are fairly new to the golf world. Designed to optimize forgiveness, particularly for recreational golfers, these clubs integrate design elements of woods and irons. The center of gravity has been moved back and to the bottom of the club, to a forgiving position that's simply impossible to achieve in a typical iron, to help launch the ball in the air. A flat face and higher launch angle give the ball a high spin rate for fast, accurate stops.
These clubs are primarily designed for distance control and accuracy, with shorter shafts and stiffer clubfaces than comparable irons. The lack of face bulge or roundness found in fairway woods further simplifies the shots. Hybrid bottoms typically have runners or rails for improved turf interaction. As mentioned above, the majority of hybrid clubs are meant to replace long irons.
The conversion charts below can help you swap out your irons or fairway woods for hybrids.
|Men's Hybrid Loft Conversion Guide||Women's Hybrid Loft Conversion Guide|
|Degrees||Club Replaced||Degrees||Club Replaced|
|14-16||3 Wood or 2 iron||18-20||5 Wood or 2 iron|
|17-19||5 Wood or 2 iron||21-23||7 Wood or 3 iron|
|20-22||7 Wood or 3 iron||24-26||9 Wood or 4 iron|
|23-25||9 Wood or 4 iron||27-28||5 iron|
|26-28||5 iron||29-31||6 iron|
Irons may not be the splashiest, prettiest clubs, but they're without a doubt the most essential part of any golfer's game. Controlled, well-shaped iron shots help you find the green in fewer strokes, and ultimately shave shots off your score. Irons make up more than half of the clubs in your bag, and the perfect set ultimately defines your gameplay.
The first thing you need to know is the difference between forged and cast irons.
Forged Irons: Metal is shaped into a rough approximation of the final product, and then physically hammered until the design is complete. Milling, grinding, and drilling complete the process, resulting in a solid, soft metal iron that's somewhat less forgiving, and ideal for talented players who put feel at a premium.
Cast irons: Are created by pouring liquid metal into a mold, allowing for more complex head designs. Intricate and perimeter-weighted, cast irons are more affordable and easier to hit.
Blade: A small hitting area and thin clubhead, with weight evenly distributed throughout, produce a small sweet spot in the center of the head. The benefit is that center shots produce a long, straight trajectory. The tradeoff is that mis-hits are shorter and unpredictable.
Cavity Back: Also known as perimeter weighted, this type of iron is made from stainless steel, which distributes weight around the edge of the head, for an increased sweet spot and greater forgiveness. The inverse of a blade iron, these clubs offer reduced feel and distance, but more playability.
Hybrid Sets: Designed specifically for players who struggle to hit longer irons, hybrids progress through the range from cavity back short irons to hollow back mid irons and finally to wood-and-iron combination longer clubs. The variety of design allows players to benefit from a combination of the features outlined above.
Steel: Carbon steel or stainless steel material is thick, with consistent flex throughout the entire range of clubs. As with any steel component club, they're also more affordable.
Graphite: Lighter weight material enables faster swing speeds from your irons, which often leads to longer shots. Feel on your shots suffers somewhat, and it's a more expensive option. Players with slower swing speeds, however, can benefit from this option.
Multi-Material: Both steel and graphite are combined in one shaft, typically in a primarily steel shaft with a graphite tip. The solid feel of a steel shaft is accented by the ability to put added power into the ball via the graphite material, which also helps dampen vibrations.
Wedges, which almost exclusively feature steel shafts, are a unique breed of club. They can help turn pars into birdies--or save pars around the green--but can also create problems for less experienced golfers who don't have wedges properly attuned to their style of play. Different types of wedges, and various specifications, allow you to select a club that aids, rather than hinders, your game.
Most golfers need a pitching wedge and sand wedge, with a pitching wedge being used for broad shots into the green and the occasional long chip shot. A sand wedge, as the name implies, helps get you out of trouble when your ball finds its way into the bunker.
Loft: Put simply, loft is the angle at which the club hits the ball off the ground, typically somewhere between 47 and 64 degrees. Higher lofts equate to shots with greater elevation and reduced distance.
Bounce: This has to do with the club's sole, and the amount of energy distributed between ground and club. Finding the best bounce for a wedge allows you to improve your chipping and pitching.
The putter is the club which offers the widest array of design features and options, including putter type, head design, face/insert, and hosel. Personal preference comes into play here--but knowing the differences between different types and options will help you make an educated choice.
The two basic types of putters are face and toe-balanced. Face-balanced putters' face turns upward, with a center of gravity in line with the shaft, and they're well suited to players with a straight stroke. Toe-balanced putters, meanwhile, have a toe that points toward the ground, making them ideal for players with an "in-to-out-to-in" putting stroke.
There are three basic head design options: blade, perimeter weighted, and mallet.
Blade: A favorite of traditionalists, blade putters have a small head, classic design, and are a safe choice for any player.
Perimeter Weighted: A larger head is well suited to players with an "in-to-out" stroke.
Mallet: Heavier than a blade putter due to its larger size, mallet putters have a lower and deeper center of gravity to reduce backspin.
FACES AND INSERTS
The ideal putter face for your game depends largely on your preferred ball, and the speed of the greens you typically play on. The faster the greens, the softer your face and ball should be. Your three basic face options are metal, insert, and grooved:
Metal: Popular for the noise they provide, and traditionally made of steel, a metal face putter is strong and heavy, with responsive feedback and a solid feel.
Insert: Essentially a metal putter whose face has been replaced with a lightweight, non-metal insert, the advantage of these putters is the lighter weight, with more of it distributed to the heel and toe for increased forgiveness. The downside is a lack of sound feedback on your putts.
Grooved: Finally, grooved face putters assist in creating a forward-rolling motion that keeps your ball on-line, as a result of the increased friction on the face of the clubhead.
Most putters have a steel shaft, but where the shafts meets the putter head is called the hosel and is where variety and option come into play:
Heel-shafted: Shaft connects putter at heel, or inside, of the head
Center-shafted: Shaft connects at the center of the putter head
Hosel offset: Hosel bends backward to move the bottom of the shaft ahead of the putter face, drawing your hands ahead of the ball through impact
Hosel options are largely based on player preference, and the best way to determine the right choice for you is through good, old-fashioned trial and error.