Let’s face it, it’s hard enough trying to keep up with the newest equipment releases in golf, let alone trying to figure out what all of these options mean!
There have been dramatic technological advances in golf equipment over the past twenty years, meaning that we now have more options than ever before.
Using this article, I will outline what some of the key aspects of these changes are and where you should possibly look for your next golf investment!
Buying a new driver is undoubtedly the most exciting club to invest in…we all want to hit it further and believe the hype about gaining distance. Having said that, we are faced with new models each and every year and it can be a bit tricky to understand why so many of them look the same but are marketed as different options.
If I was to sum it up, it seems to me that there are three types of driver head which manufacturers have decided are the most in demand.
There is; the standard head, the low-spin head, and the draw bias head.
The low spin head is for players with high ball speed who want to maximize their distance by reducing the spin. The draw bias is more towards the casual golfer because so many players fight against a slice. This helps to straighten out the flight somewhat, and increases the distance because there is less side spin on the ball. The standard option is, well…standard.
Here are some examples of these three options from different manufacturers;
- Cobra LTDx (standard), LTDx LS (low-spin), LTDx Max (draw bias)
- Ping G425 Max, G425 LST, G425 SFT
- Callaway Rogue ST MAX, Rogue ST MAX LS, Rogue ST MAX D
The low spin head is often a smaller size as well, so if the massive modern driver heads are not to your liking, then maybe look towards one of these. On that topic, you can even get “mini” drivers nowadays. TaylorMade brought out a 300 Mini Driver which is for those players who don’t like drivers and wanted a smaller head with slightly more loft.
Truth be told, modern drivers are incredible, too good if you speak to some people. They come with varying technologies; TaylorMade uses their Twist Face technology, Callaway uses a Jailbreak Speed Frame. They all have fancy names and mean slightly different things, but when they all add up to being extremely forgiving and assist in raising your ball speed, then I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about what the differences are.
Woods or irons?
This debate relates to longer irons (4, 5, 6 etc.) and higher lofted woods (5, 7, 9 wood etc.). There has been a trend over the years which has seen players using lofted woods in place of long irons. In my opinion, this would be a good choice for the higher handicap or social golfer.
Long irons are tougher to hit and require plenty of speed to use effectively, whereas woods will give you more assistance, particularly when playing from the rough. One of the best advantages to the lofted wood is that you will find it easier to get the loft on your ball, which allows the ball to land more softly and stop faster. Effectively you will have more control, and that is what we are all striving for in this game!
The downside to the woods is that the ball travels very straight with modern technology, so if you find yourself in a tough spot where you need to curve the ball around trees, then this is a lot more difficult with a lofted wood than it is with a long iron.
Sometimes woods can be a little ‘hot’ which means that you may not get enough spin on the ball. If your home course is one which gets burnt out and dry during the summer months, then this might be an issue when it comes to stopping your ball on the greens.
It will depend on your level somewhat, but if you value control more highly than striking the ball consistently and improving your poor shots, then longer irons would be the play for you.
Hybrid or utility irons
Hybrids have overtaken a 2 or 3 iron as an extra option for tee shots and a more forgiving option for long fairway shots over the years. I think that these are fantastic clubs for the average club golfer because they are so adaptable. Having said that, utility irons have made a comeback over the past five years or so.
An interesting aspect of hybrids is that they are actually supposed to be hit like an iron. What this means is that you are supposed to hit down on the ball more than you think. Fairly enough, most people see the head which looks like a wood, and immediately try and clip it off the ground without taking a divot. Now I’m not suggesting that you need to dig the ball out and take a huge divot, but you can have a more descending blow than many expect.
A notable benefit for a hybrid against a utility iron is that they look much easier to hit and provide more forgiveness on miss hits. They also have a higher flight and will stop more quickly. A utility iron with low loft is a great club if you play on a links style course or often play in windy conditions. This allows you to control your ball under the wind without having to do too much with your swing.
It’s also worth mentioning that utility irons have become considerably easier to hit over the years, so if you want to look into that then don’t be put off by the old-fashioned idea of what a 2-iron might look like!
When I started playing golf, the only options that I recall were ‘cavity’ or ‘blade’ irons. These are still very much prevalent in the golf market, you’ll often see CB (cavity back) or MB (muscle back/blade) irons in a brand’s selection. However, we have also seen the introduction of irons which have an “injection” within the face, TaylorMade introduced their P790 irons a few years back which have a sort of foam injection. This created more forgiveness and distance for players, while not having to add too much metal and making the club look ugly!
What I think is most impressive is that we can now play a set of largely forgiving irons which also look beautiful. That was not the case ten years ago, I remember some chunky pieces of metal that had no allure to them at all…I won’t name names. Anyway, I think that this has given us golfers a far greater myriad of choices when it comes to irons as we are no longer put off by the aesthetic of some of these ‘game-improvement’ irons. So, if the looks are pretty similar, then what determines which irons we should choose?
The distance fallacy
Something which is well worth considering, but is not so widely known, is that the lofts of the clubs will differ greatly depending on the style of club that you choose. Let’s take Cobra for example, the 7 iron of their King Forged TEC irons, which I would consider to be a mid-level iron, is lofted at 29.5 degrees. The 7 iron in their LTDx irons (more of a distance iron with greater forgiveness) is lofted at 26.5 degrees. On the other end of the spectrum would be their King Forged CB/MB set, targeted more towards higher level players, where the 7 iron has a loft of 34 degrees. That is a 7.5 degree difference! To put it into perspective, the 9 iron of the LTDx set is 36 degrees.
All of this is to say that you shouldn’t be totally duped by a company claiming to have a set of irons which makes you hit the ball “15 yards further”, or something to this extent. I hit my 7 iron more than 15 yards further than my 9 iron, so yeah…it’s a bit of a false pretence on occasion. That is not to dismiss the merit of these irons though, because the point is more within the forgiveness than the distance.
In order to simplify things, I would categorise irons in three areas; the muscle back/blades, the cavity backs, and the game improvement irons. Game improvement is a broader term but it means we can include these ‘injected’ faces, as well as just larger heads which also provide greater forgiveness and distance.
Muscle backs, or blades, are going to travel shorter distances, but you have more control of the spin and a greater ‘feel’. The ‘feel’ part speaks to how easy it is to play different shots, which is related to being able to spin the ball more, therefore finding it easier to move it sideways or hit the ball shorter distances if you need to. These irons are absolutely aimed at the advanced golfer because you pay a higher price for miss hits and poor swings. If you catch the ball outside of the centre of the face, it will generally travel a far shorter distance, especially in relation to how a game improvement iron would assist you in this scenario. The advantages that muscle backs give a player (distance and spin control) are important for a better player, but less important for a higher handicap player (because the opportunity to take advantage of this is smaller) which is why I would never suggest to a casual golfer that they buy muscle back irons.
Examples of muscle back irons would be; TaylorMade P7MB, Cobra King RF Forged MB, Callaway Apex MB and Mizuno Pro 221.
Cavity backs are, in my opinion, the best option for any amateur with a handicap of 5 or lower. Maybe you are a brilliant amateur player, but you are not playing regularly, then I would still recommend that you go for these ahead of the blades. I think that the gap in control between blades and cavity backs has tightened greatly over the past twenty years, so that we are able to have that bit more forgiveness for the days when you aren’t quite on it, but when you are playing well you still have all of the control necessary to play your best golf.
Examples of cavity back irons are; Mizuno Pro 223, Srixon ZX5, Titleist 620 CB.
Game improvement irons can cover a slightly broader spectrum as you can find sets which are truly aimed at the beginner, but also sets which target the intermediate golfer who might just need help with ball speed and getting greater height on their shots. For example, the TaylorMade P790s have this ‘foam injection’ in the face, but they are a beautiful club which many single handicap golfers use.
One of the biggest challenges for higher handicap golfers or beginners is the inconsistency with which they strike the ball. This generally relates to where on the club face the ball is making impact. With a bladed iron, if you miss the middle of the club then you will lose a considerable amount of speed and distance, but if you hit the ball out of the toe or heel with a game improvement iron, then the difference is far less damaging. That is where these irons come into their own and why they are so helpful.
Examples of game improvement irons include; Ping G410, Titleist T400, TaylorMade Stealth irons.
Delving into the world of shafts can get mysterious and confusing all too quickly. There are numerous different areas to focus on; flex, kick point, weight, length, material etc. but I think it is important to realise that it is not as if there is only one shaft out there which will work for you. Every shaft will have its benefits to you, but also its limitations. Almost any club will come with a couple of ‘stock’ shaft options if you decide to buy them. The stock shaft is chosen by the manufacturer and will be a shaft which effectively matches the general specifications of the club head, as well as being at a good price point. If you go for more customisable options then you will be paying more.
As these articles are directed more towards the casual golfer looking to improve their game (but perhaps not looking at this as life or death!), I would suggest that the stock shaft will suffice in most situations, you just need to ensure that you test out the flexibility options.
As a general rule we could say that the higher your club head speed is, the stiffer you need the shaft to be. This is due to the fact that a shaft will ‘whip’ as it goes through impact and if you are delivering a lot of speed with a shaft which is too flexible, then it can get stuck behind and the whip is too great and inconsistent. Extra stiffness also allows the club to remain more solid through impact. On the other side of things, if you struggle to create club head speed, then a more flexible shaft can help to get a bit more speed and get your club moving through the ball more effectively.
If I’m being totally honest, in order to truly understand which shaft will be best for you, you need to have a club fitting. Reading about the specifications online will only get you so far, but you need to feel how the club changes when using different shafts, then you can make a more informed decision on which you feel most comfortable with.
When it comes to wedges, the biggest decision surrounds the bounce that is on the club. This determines how the club will interact with the ground and can be greatly helpful to you depending on the ground conditions of your home club. I spoke about the choice of bounce in more detail in the Why you should get a club fitting article which you can find on this website.
The crux of the decision here is that if you often play in soft conditions then you want more bounce in your club, between 8 and 12 degrees, because it helps the ball glide through the ground more than digging in and leading to a fat shot. If you play on a links style golf course with hard, sandy turf, then you do not want this high level of bounce because the club will, quite literally, bounce off of that hard surface and it is easier to hit the ball thin. If you play a course which has a lot of bunkers, then it would be a good idea to have a high degree of bounce on your most lofted wedge as this works best through the sand.
As for the lofts, or the number of wedges that you employ, this is down to personal preference. If you play four wedges (PW, gap wedge, sand wedge, lob wedge) then you have more options around the greens, but you have one less longer club in your bag.
I have to admit, it is easy to get confused along the way when trying to decipher what all of your options are while considering which clubs you want to buy next. I hope that this article can help to simplify matters somewhat and give you an idea of which clubs and bag set-up would best suit your game.
What you will find from this article is that you have options for pretty much whatever you are looking for from your golf clubs, but you need to understand what it is that you want in the first place. If you have been following my previous articles, then you may have developed an idea of where you want to improve your golf game, so that could be a good place to start.
The beauty of all of these options is that we can get clubs which actually work FOR us, rather than having a club which isn’t suited to you and trying to correct that issue. Wedges are a prime example of this and an area where players do not understand how the bounce completely changes the way the club should be used.
One final message that I would like to convey is that you don’t necessarily have to choose the clubs which would give you the most assistance, it depends on what you want from golf. I would be lying if I said that it doesn’t feel better to hit a perfect long iron than a lofted wood, so I would understand if a player values that highly in their club choices! If you want to maximise forgiveness, then you are going to give up some of that ‘feel’ and aesthetic attraction, but if you want to have that ‘feel’, then you need to give up some forgiveness as well. So it comes down to what you value the most from your golf.