Whether you’re a seasoned superstar on the PGA Tour or a first-timer eager to start hacking away at your local public course, the thrill of playing with a good set of golf clubs never fades. In fact, the pleasure you derive from your golf clubs is likely to intensify over time as your game improves with every swing and putt. Buying the right set of golf clubs requires a bit of advanced planning so that your golf clubs will adapt to your changing needs. Pronto’s Golf Club Buying Guide will help you find the golf clubs that will lead to more fun—and lower scores—when you’re out on the links.
Golf clubs with larger heads have bigger sweet spots but are harder to control. Choose steel shafts for greater control or graphite, multimaterial or titanium shafts if you value swing speed and power. Advanced golfers should choose clubs with less flex. Make sure the golf clubs you choose let you maintain a proper stance with your hips and knees slightly bent and your arms hanging down.
Golf club characteristics and classifications vary greatly among manufacturers, and golf club sets help beginners achieve a consistent swing tempo. At a minimum, golf club sets should include a putter, a sand wedge, a pitching wedge and a few woods and irons. Beginners should avoid 1 and 2 irons that are hard to control, and they may prefer woods to long irons.
Woods are used for long shots, with numbers 3 and 5 most commonly used. Forged irons help experienced golfers achieve great spin and control over the ball. Geared to beginners, cast irons distribute weight around the perimeter of the club, resulting in a larger sweet spot. Hybrid golf clubs combine the design of woods and irons and are easier for any golfer to hit than a traditional long iron.
Beginners should avoid custom-fit golf clubs until they know the strengths and weaknesses of their golf game. If you buy custom golf clubs, it’s good to stay in touch with your club fitter in case you need to make adjustments down the road.
Avoid the temptation to buy used golf clubs; wear can give you a false idea of their performance. All golf clubs will wear down over time, so it’s a good idea to thoroughly inspect and replace worn clubs if you notice a part of your golf game changing.
The degree to which a golf club’s shaft will bend during the swinging motion. Golf clubs with high flex are more forgiving; low flex provides greater control.
The part of a golf club that makes contact with the ball. Heads range in size from standard to midsized to oversized, with the sweet spot increasing and ease of control decreasing as size gets larger.
Hybrid golf clubs, also called utility clubs, combine the features of woods and irons and are designed to make it easier to hit. Typically used in place of harder-to-hit, longer irons.
A metal-headed golf club in the 1 to 5 range, designed for long, slow shots.
The part of a golf club that connects the head to the grip. Shafts can be made from flexible steel or graphite, alloys or titanium that provide less flexibility and more predictable performance.
A metal-headed golf club in the 7 to 9 range with an angled head designed for short, high-loft shots.
The area on a golf club head that provides optimal distribution of the energy of your swing to the ball. Hitting the ball with the sweet spot reduces slices and hooks and gets the best possible distance on long shots.
A specialized iron that provides the maximum loft to the ball. Sand wedges and pitching wedges for bunkers and rough are the most common.
A golf club with a deep, broad head used for driving and long-distance shots. Woods can be made from titanium or stainless steel as well as traditional wood.
Not all golf clubs share the same characteristics and quality, so when you’re shopping for golf clubs you’ll want to be sure that the ones you choose don’t just look good, but complement your playing needs, skill level and abilities.
The three variables to consider when choosing golf clubs are head size, shaft material and flex. Golf club heads are differentiated by size. Standard-sized golf club heads are the easiest to control, but offer the smallest “sweet spot” on the striking surface. Mid-sized club heads are larger and heavier than standard golf club heads (so is the sweet spot). Oversized golf club heads are the largest of the three, and while they have the biggest sweet spot, oversized heads can also be the most difficult to control.
Golf clubs that are too long or too short can affect your stance and your game. The length of your clubs should allow you to stand with your hips and knees slightly bent and your hands hanging downward. Look for golf clubs that fit your proper stance. Women, children and left-handed golfers should choose clubs designed for their specialized needs.
The composition of a golf club’s shaft can also have a significant impact on your game. The majority of golf club shafts are made from either steel or graphite. Multimaterial shafts incorporate both steel and graphite, and some high-end golf clubs feature titanium shafts.
Steel shafts are typically strong and durable. They are preferred by golfers striving for more control rather than a faster swing. Graphite shafts, which are usually more expensive, are lighter than steel and allow for a faster swing and the potential for greater power; however, the extra flex in graphite shafts makes them harder to control than steel golf club shafts. Ultra-lightweight titanium golf club shafts are known for their ability to absorb vibrations.
Flex refers to a golf club’s flexibility, or how much it will bend when swung. As a rule of thumb, having additional flex in a golf club is more important for beginners than for experienced golfers.
The average golfer usually carries about a dozen golf clubs in his or her golf bag, but there’s no universal rule dictating how many golf clubs you should own (for sporting purposes, you’ll be limited to carrying a maximum of 14 on the course). Some experienced golfers advise beginners to purchase a full set of golf clubs right off the bat, whereas others suggest buying a handful of individual clubs appropriate for the most basic needs.
Generally speaking, if you’re just starting out it’s a good idea to buy a golf club set as the classifications for club characteristics like grip, flex and lie, for example, vary greatly among manufacturers. By purchasing a golf club set, beginners and amateurs can minimize the potential differences in club feel and have a better chance at achieving more consistent swing tempo.
If you choose to buy your golf clubs separately, at a minimum, your purchase should include a putter, a pitching wedge, a sand wedge and some drivers and irons. The putter is the most-used golf club in any golf bag. Putters have low loft and short shafts and are designed to push or roll the golf ball versus hitting it into the air. Wedges are specialized short irons that put extra loft on the ball. Varieties include pitching wedges, sand wedges, lob wedges and gap wedges.
They’re not made from wood anymore (more likely titanium and stainless steel), but these golf clubs have retained the name. Woods are the longest golf clubs and they’re used for long shots. Woods have large, spherically shaped heads and a slight bulge on the club face. The most common woods used are the 3 and the 5 (2, 4, 7 and 9 are used less often and are sometimes referred to as fairway woods).
Irons, which range in number from 1 to 9, are the golf clubs most often used while playing the final 150 to 200 yards of a hole. Irons in the 1 to 5 range are called long irons for their longer shafts and are designed for long, slow shots. Higher-numbered irons, known as short irons, have shorter shafts and a steeper club head for short shots with more loft. Beginners should avoid 1 and 2 irons that are very difficult to control, and beginners as well as intermediate golfers may find they play better with woods than with long irons.
Irons can be forged irons, cast irons or hybrids. Forged irons, also known as blades, are made of softer metal and sometimes feature chrome plating. Experienced players say forged irons contribute to greater spin and control of the ball.
Cast irons are geared to beginners and high-handicappers. Generally made from harder metals than forged irons, cast irons feature a hollow on the back side of the club that distributes the club weight around the perimeter, thus resulting in larger sweet spot.
Hybrid golf clubs, also called utility clubs, combine the features of woods and irons and are designed to make it easier to hit the ball. Used in place of longer irons that are harder to hit, hybrid golf clubs are available in sets or as individual clubs. Hybrid golf club sets typically feature full-cavity long irons, half- or partial-cavity mid irons and classic blade-style short irons and wedges.
Having your golf clubs custom fitted is more reasonably priced than ever, and an increasing number of golfers are choosing to get custom clubs. It’s best for beginners to get a feel for the game and how they play before purchasing custom golf clubs.
The process usually involves three distinct steps: a static fitting, a dynamic fitting and a ball-flight observation. The static fitting takes detailed measurements of the golfer’s body height, hand size and finger length. This is followed by a dynamic fitting that allows the fitter to observe the golfer hitting balls with a club. The subsequent ball-flight observation takes place on the range and requires the fitter to study the trajectory of the balls being hit in order to assess the performance of the fitted golf clubs.
If you choose custom golf clubs, it’s good to maintain a relationship with your golf club fitter. This lets you follow up with an ongoing observation process where you meet with the fitter from time to time to discuss changes in your game. If necessary, the fitter can then make additional changes to the golf clubs.
It can be tempting to save a few dollars and buy used clubs. It’s best to avoid this, as overly worn golf clubs can give you the wrong impression of performance. A better plan is to ask several friends for permission to take a few swings with their golf clubs. The more golf clubs you try, the easier it will be to find those perfectly suited to your game.
Golf clubs will wear out over time and need to be replaced. If you notice that a part of your game is off, take a good look at your golf clubs, as sometimes it’s wear, not your mechanics, that’s at fault.