by Staff Writer
More than any other piece of golf equipment, golf clubs affect the size of your golf handicap -- and the size of your wallet -- so you want to make sure you find golf clubs that are right for your golf game. Nowadays, it is difficult to figure out which set of golf clubs is the right set. Golf club shafts used to be made from hickory but are now made from steel or carbon fiber (called graphite). Woods are no longer wood and irons are no longer iron; they're made from modern metals and alloys. This golf clubs buying guide will help you understand the characteristics and varieties of modern golf clubs, which will help you know how to buy golf clubs that best meet your needs.
Golf club grips: The grip is the soft material at the top of the shaft. It helps the golfer hold onto the golf club, but, equally important, the grip also determines the golfer's ability to feel how the head impacts the ball. Grips are available in rubber composite and leather; some also feature fiber cords. Test-drive several and go with what feels most comfortable in your hand. New materials and adhesives make replacing a worn-out grip a do-it-yourself project for most people, which wasn't the case just a few years ago.
Golf club shafts: The shaft is a steel tube or graphite cylinder with a standard length of 35 inches to 44 inches. Steel is strong and scratch-resistant; it won't break easily, offers good swing control and generally costs less than graphite, the alternative material. Graphite weighs less than steel and has more "flex," meaning the shaft can whip through, imparting more power to golf balls and adding an advantage of several yards over steel. Unfortunately, added flex means decreased control. High-tech shafts, such as steel-graphite hybrids and titanium, are now available, but golfers are still debating their strengths and weaknesses, although titanium has won accolades for absorbing vibration. Shaft importance cannot be underestimated; it pulls the club head, giving the head the energy to hit the golf balls down range. Some manufacturers now offer semi-custom golf clubs, with several shaft options available for each head. To determine correct golf club shaft length, stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Have someone measure the distance from the tip of your middle finger to the ground. This is your base length, which can be adjusted up or down slightly. A longer shaft gives more distance; a shorter shaft gives more control.
Golf club heads: The head has a face, which hits the ball. It is flat, but not vertical. The face's "loft" is the angle back from vertical, defined by the golf club shaft. Lower numbers (2 wood vs. 6 wood) means lower loft angle and a longer shot. It also means less control over the flight and where the ball lands. The heads of older golf woods or golf irons were denser and smaller than modern heads, giving each golf club a smaller "sweet spot," the part of the face that should contact the golf ball for the best possible shot. Modern materials allow greater variety in a club head's density and size. In tournament golf, the head must be 460 cc or less, although over-the-limit heads can be used in drive contests and sport golf among friends.
Golf woods: Golf woods are the long-range golf clubs, designed to launch the golf ball from the tee down the fairway. The large head and long shaft are designed to put force on the ball, delivering maximum thrust and distance. The 1 woods, often called golf drivers, give the longest shots; higher numbers, sometimes called fairway woods, are better for mid-range shots that get the ball close to the green. The heads were wood until the 1980s, when steel and titanium began to be used. Titanium, being less dense, allows for heads up to one-third larger, with shafts longer by two or three inches for greater distance; however, steel continues to hold advantages in price and control. Aluminum, scandium and other metals are available, but these new alloys represent only a tiny fraction of clubs used.
Golf irons: Once the golf wood places the ball on the fairway, golf irons make the mid- to short-range shots that get the golf ball on the green (at least, that's the plan). The increasing loft of high-numbered golf irons decreases distance by increasing the height of the flight arc -- like a pop-fly in baseball -- and increasing backspin. These give the golfer increased control over the point of landing and reduce the distance a golf ball rolls after landing. A cast-iron golf club head usually features perimeter weighting -- putting a hollow in the back of the head and the weight around the rim. This creates a larger sweet spot and more forgiveness when you make a less-than-perfect shot. Likewise, beginners often choose a larger head, which gives fewer miss-hits. Many advanced players choose forged irons, which distribute the head weight across the entire face. With the center of gravity in the center of the golf club head, players have greater trajectory control.
Golf wedges: The highest loft of modern golf irons is 44 degrees. Clubs with lofts above that are still, technically, golf irons but are more often called golf wedges. These golf clubs are used for short or specialized shots -- shots out of the rough or bunker, for example. Steel shafts are preferred for golf wedges; they are more durable in shots from rough ground, and the added weight provides greater control.
Golf putters: When the golf ball is on the green, you don't want any flight at all, so the loft of golf putters is less than 10 degrees. Putters are used to roll golf balls along the ground and into the pin. A chip wedge was designed to use a slow swing to give the ball a short hop (chip shot) onto the green. Design changes now give this club a putter-like appearance, and new-model chippers are sometimes classed with putters. Choose your putter with care; statistically, you'll use it on more strokes than any other single club.
Golf balls: Golf balls won't affect your golf game quite like a set of golf clubs, but golf balls do make a difference. In particular, high-end golf balls will spin more, resulting in more loft and less bounce. However, while some players may prefer more spin, if your shot hooks, high-spin golf-balls will exaggerate the hook.
Golf bags: A golf bag isn't a piece of equipment that will change your golf game, but they make hiking around the golf course possible by holding your golf clubs, golf balls and golf tees. At the minimum, a good golf bag should have comfortable straps and enough pockets to hold golf tees, golf balls and a few other pieces of golf equipment. Beyond that, you may want to look for a golf bag that has separate slots for each of your clubs, wheels and a variety of pockets to keep all your golf gear neatly organized.
Golf apparel: It isn't just how you play golf; you'll also want to look good on the links. Golf clothing actually does add to your game because you play better when you're comfortable. The same is true of golf shoes. Good golf shoes help your stance and a good stance makes for a better shot. Overstock.com has a wide selection of stylish ladies' golf clothing and shoes as well as men's golf clothing and shoes. Choose among shirts, pants, jackets or vests and other golf apparel and footwear.