You are allowed up to 14 clubs in your golf bag. During each round of golf you may only use five or six of those clubs—or, depending on the situation, you may find yourself using almost every one of the fourteen. Every round of golf is different. Different day, different course, different weather, different partners. Trust me, every round of golf, even if it’s played on the same course day after day, is guaranteed to be different from any round of golf you’ve ever played. That’s what makes the game so interesting—and demanding.
With 14 clubs to choose from, how do you know which club is the right one to pull out and use on your next shot? It takes practice and confidence to choose the right club. And the choice is very personal to you. Through practice you learn how far you hit with each club in your bag. And then you put that information into practice on the course. Learn to know your own game and the average distance you hit with each club.
You might find it helpful to use the distance rather than the number to define each club. If you know you usually hit your three wood 160 yards, begin to call it your “160 club” rather than your 3 wood. If your nine iron gets you to the green from 70 yards out, call it your “65-75 club.” As you improve, these distances will change and your understanding of how to use each club will change as well. Just remember it’s your game, your clubs, and your average distance that determines which club to use. Unless they know your game very well, don’t listen to the advice of your golfing partners about which club to use. I’ve missed too many greens when I let someone else dictate my golf club choice. It’s your game, it’s your choice. Have confidence in the club you choose.
Here are a few general guidelines that will help you get started.
Driver – The driver is the longest club in your bag. You use it only once on each hole to drive the ball off the tee box and hopefully into the middle of the fairway. (On short par 3 holes you probably won’t need your driver, but that’s up to you.) The driver is the #1 club. It’s also the most difficult to hit. When you are a beginning golfer you may not even use a driver. Using a three wood off the tee is perfectly acceptable.
Drivers come in a variety of lofts. The higher the number (degrees) the easier it is to hit. The trade off is that the higher degree drivers may cause the ball to pop-up more, sending your ball high in the air, but landing at a shorter distance. When I first began playing golf I went to a local driving range where the pro fitted me for a very expensive driver with a 16 degree loft. I did alright with it at first, but my drives were always flying high into the air and falling far short of my intended target. I learned a lot from that club but eventually sold it and got fitted for another—one with a lesser degree (12) loft that seems to work for me now.
Many golfers use drivers of 10 degrees and the pros often have drivers with a degree of 8. An 8 degree driver is designed to send the ball long and low, but is much harder to hit. Without a lot of practice you’re more likely to be scorching the earth with an 8 degree. Before spending a lot of money on a driver, be sure to test it out at a driving range. A good sports shop will let you borrow a driver for a few rounds of golf until you find the one that really works for you. Manufacturers are always coming out with new models. In fact, if you are using a driver that is more than 5 years old, you probably need to check out what’s new on the market. Improvements in the latest equipment have been remarkable.
Fairway Woods – Fairway woods are numbered by their loft, the lower number indicating a lower loft and longer distance. The 3 wood has less loft than the 5 wood which has less loft than the 7 wood, etc. Most golfers carry at least two woods: the 3 wood for long mid-fairway shots off a clean lie, and the 5 wood for shorter fairway shots. The 7 wood is also a good club to have. With a higher loft it is a good club to use getting out of the short rough that lines the edges of the fairway, especially if your target is elevated. There are more woods to choose from, but these three are the most common.
Long Irons – The long irons in your bag (1,2,3,4) will give you distance, but because they have a face that is nearly perpendicular to the ground, shots will go long and low. Long irons are hard to hit and most beginning golfers don’t even carry them.
Mid Irons – The mid-irons (5,6,7) are the clubs used from the middle of the fairway and the short rough. They are often a golfer’s favorite irons as they are easier to hit and still give good distance. If I end up in the short rough and still have a long way to the pin, I will use a 5 iron. The club has enough loft to get out of short grass and fly a decent way. The 5 iron is my favorite club to use to get out of minor trouble.
One special note: if you find yourself in the rough behind trees with overhanging branches, the 5 iron is the club to use. The face has enough loft to get under the ball but the trajectory is still low enough to get under the branches in front of you. You probably don’t want to use a club with a much higher loft as it will cause the ball to fly higher and possibly hit the leaves, branches, birds, whatever you don’t want to hit.
Short Irons – The short irons (8,9) are used when you are closer to the hole. Depending on the distance you hit each of these clubs, choose the one that works for you. With the highest loft of all the irons, these clubs are designed to get your ball up in the air and to the green. I also use both for short chips within a dozen yards of the hole.
Wedges – The wedges (P,S,A) are the clubs with the highest loft. P for pitching, S for sand, and A (Callaway makes an A club) for approach. There are many other wedges of varying lofts that you can add to your bag as well. Each will have a different loft and is used for different distances and situations. And they are interchangeable depending on where your ball is, – sand, deep rough, fairway. Some players always use their sand wedge for pitch shots, or their pitching wedge for sand. There is no fixed rule. Practice with a variety of clubs for your short game
Hybrids – A few years ago club manufacturers began selling clubs that were neither irons nor woods. They are a mix of the two. Many recreational golfers are beginning to use hybrid clubs as they are easier to hit. Most often used to replace the long irons, they offer more forgiveness and equal distance. If you are thinking of buying a new set of irons you might consider a set of hybrids.
Specialty clubs – Several club manufacturers have come up with some great clubs to be used in special situations. For example, Cleveland has the Niblick Short Iron Hybrid which replaces the 8 and 9 irons and is lofted enough to be used for those deep rough around the greens. It’s a good recovery club for when you are in trouble. You can spend a lot of money adding to your club collection. Be sure to test the club out in real life situations before buying.
Putter – Finally, the most important club in your bag in my opinion, is your putter. You use it on every hole. And your success as a golfer is largely determined by your short game and how well you putt. There are essentially three styles of putter: blade, heel-toe clubhead or a mallet style. They also come in different lengths, standard, belly putters and broomstick. There is no “right” putter except the one that is “right” for you. The style, length—the overall feel of a putter, is a personal preference. Go to your pro shop or golf retailer and try them all out. Ask to use one in a round of golf. And the cost? You can spend upwards of $400 on a new putter or find one that only costs $15 at a used equipment shop. Just choose a putter that fits you, that fits your putting style and brings you success.
Bottom line: Success is the key word in choosing the right club for your next shot. Practice, play and remember. Become familiar with your clubs and what each can do for you.
What’s your favorite club in your bag and why?