Ultimate Buying Guide for Fairway Woods
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Fairway woods are probably the most neglected clubs in any golfer’s bag, so people tend not to overthink when choosing a new one. The question is, how careful should you be when buying one? To answer that, we’ve prepared this extensive ultimate buying guide for fairway woods, making sure to have a little bit of something to pique anyone’s interest, from the fresh initiates to seasoned veterans.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
Granted, we did content that woods aren’t really the most prominent clubs in your bag, and you’ll probably end up using them a lot less than your irons or even your driver. Then again, choosing the best golf wood can be harder than choosing a new driver, especially given the trend of picking up more woods as your handicap lowers (of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone).
The sheer amount of choices with regard to head sizes, loft angles, and shaft lengths (and combos thereof) for woods is surprisingly rich, which is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, you can choose the club to fit your stroke to a tee (no pun intended), but on the other hand, it also makes the process of finding one tiresome and almost not worth your while (the operating word here being “almost”).
If you want to narrow down your options before visiting your local retailer, you’ll need to ask yourself three questions regarding its purpose. First, do I need more loft for playing from the tee than my driver has? Second, am I replacing my 3-iron and using my woods for approach shots? And third, will I be playing it more from the rough or from the fairway? Once you’ve decided on these, you’re good to go.
Now, in case you’re an absolute novice, golf woods are long distance clubs that come with larger and rounder heads, as well as longer shafts (to be able to carry the distance). Technically speaking, there are three distinct subsets of golf woods, though for all intents and purposes, most golfers consider these to be separate and entirely discrete categories.
These are: drivers, fairways woods, and hybrids (aka rescue clubs). We’ll be looking into all of these briefly, but you should keep in mind that when people are discussing wood clubs, they’re more likely than not talking about fairway woods.
Before getting into the fairway woods, there’s one issue we need to resolve. Yes, the driver is technically a wood club – specifically, it’s the 1-wood, and it comes with the lowest loft. The idea behind this is, obviously, to make the longest distance. However, picking the driver is a story in and of itself, so we’ll leave the explaining to our driver buying guide.
Hybrids, aka rescue clubs, are yet another type of clubs that are technically woods – a blend between woods and irons, to be precise. These clubs are designed to cover all distances beyond 150 yards and can stand in place of all the woods barring the 3-wood. They pack a somewhat shallower head than woods, though similar in every other respect, and the weight, length, and lie of irons. As a rule, hybrids can launch the ball at slightly shorter distances than woods, but are superior to them when it comes to precision.
As you may well be aware, hybrids are becoming increasingly popular, especially for situations that call for long irons (but the player feel uncomfortable using one). If you do feel uncomfortable, check out our article on hybrid hitting tips.
As we mentioned above, fairway woods are some of the most underappreciated golf clubs in any golfer’s bag (think of them as the middle child of golf clubs), though most bags, from high-cappers’, through mid to low, will include one or a couple of woods (exceptionally three). Traditionally, it’ll be the 3-wood, though the 5-wood is also often seen.
However, you should bear in mind that fairway wood lofts are available up to number 9, which might appeal to senior golfers and/or beginners, thanks to the fact it’s easier to get a clean hit with it than with a matching iron. That said, you might also see an occasional 11-wood on the course, played by someone who really can’t hit irons worth a plugged nickel.
Much like the name would suggest, fairway woods used to be made of wood (as pretty much all the rest of the clubs), but today clubs like these would be nothing but oddities to gawk at. The two most common materials you’ll see in a fairway wood’s head are steel or titanium, though composite heads are also making an appearance.
Steel heads make up the majority of the fairway woods on the market today, seeing as the head doesn’t need to be as large as that of a driver, so using something as heavy as steel shouldn’t be an issue. What’s more, steel is rather durable and plenty malleable, so it’s easier to mass-produce it. Plus, the material itself is inexpensive (especially when compared to titanium), so steel fairway woods come with much more approachable price tags.
Titanium is known to have an excellent sturdiness-to-weight ratio, making it a popular choice for fairways with large head profiles (keeps the overall weight down). That said, it’s not nearly as common as steel, mostly on account of being pricier, though plenty of OEMs are using it in their lines more and more by the day.
On a similar note, thanks to being lightweight, titanium allows manufacturers to create thinner club faces, which in turn shifts the Centre of Gravity (CG) slightly lower and more to the back. The result is more lift at impact, as well as increased forgiveness, which is sure to appeal to anyone looking for Game-Improvement woods (if you’re ready to pay the price).
Composite fairways are exactly what it reads on the tin – a combo of steel and titanium. These heads are rather few and far apart, but they are slowly carving out a niche for themselves. Typically, you’ll see a normal steel head with some sort of lighter material, usually carbon, in the back of the club head or on the crown. This increases the club’s forgiveness and lift much like a titanium head, but with a smaller price tag attached to it.
On that note, you might see materials other and heavier than carbon used to shift the weight around and help with forgiveness. The most common choice here is tungsten.
Shaft Materials and Length
As far as shafts go, it’s still a matter of steel versus graphite, like with any other club. It’s a matter of control and feedback over having a lightweight shaft, respectively. Also, steel shafts are a bit less expensive.
As for the fairway woods, most of the clubs in this category these days will have graphite shafts, purely for the fact that graphite is lighter and allows you to swing with greater speeds. The thing about woods is that they have some of the longest shafts in your bag, so graphite is the logical choice if you want to keep the weight down.
As opposed to fairways, hybrids have shorter shafts, more akin to irons, so that you get more control on your strokes (again, more like irons than woods). Granted, this will cost you some carry distance, so it’s a trade-off no matter which way you approach it.
Are adjustable woods a good or bad idea? Well, if you like the adjustability in your driver, you’ll like it in your wood, too. It pretty much boils down to personal preferences. As far as legality goes, they are indeed legal on tour, but you have to refrain from adjusting them during a round (that part is indeed illegal).
Obviously, the one big advantage of adjustable fairways over their traditional, non-adjustable counterparts is that you can change their loft (the upward angle of the club’s face), face angle (the club’s face relative to the target line), and head weight (exactly what it sounds like), allowing you to customize it to your exact needs.
If you do opt for an adjustable wood, you can, for lack of a better word, adjust its loft angle by tinkering with the hosel. To make it happen, all you need to do is remove a heel screw that connects the head and the shaft, and then simply replace it to whatever predetermined setting you require. This will allow you to either decrease or increase the loft by 5 degrees max, typically.
Of course, it should go without saying that changing the loft also changes the lie of the club (for those of you not in the know, this would be the angle between the centre of the shaft and the ground). Adjusting the lie will (to an extent) affect the horizontal flight of the ball, though it’s more pertinent to irons than woods.
Some adjustable woods will let you adjust the loft angle without changing the lie angle, though these will invariably be the more expensive ones. Then again, if you’re already going for an adjustable stick, why not go the extra mile?
As we mentioned above, this is the angle of the club face relative to the target line, or its face angle at address. To make it clearer – if the face is at a right angle to the target line, it’s considered to be a square face angle. If it’s facing away from you, it’s considered open, and if facing towards you, it’s closed, thereby decreasing and increasing the loft, respectively.
Obviously, it’s more a matter of personal preferences than anything else, but it does have palpable effects on the ball flight. If you find yourself having troubles with hooks, you might want to play with the clubface open, while a closed clubface will help if you’re struggling with slices.
Yet another feature that is much more common in drivers than fairways, adjustable weight allows you to change not so much the overall weight of the club, but more the way it’s distributed. It’s not as common as adjustable loft or face angle, but some OEMs do offer this option. Typically, you’ll have to visit a custom fitter to make this alteration, which somewhat negates the convenience of having an adjustable fairway wood.
Optimal Bag Configurations: Fairways or Hybrids?
If you’re a high handicapper, it would be a good idea to forego the use of a driver and pack the 3-wood for teeing off (more on that presently). Mid cappers might use both the driver and the 3-wood, complementing the setup with a 4 and 5 hybrid or 5 and 7 fairway.
As for low cappers, they might consider going 3, 5, and 7-wood, or even shelf the 3-wood for a 2-hybrid, while scratch golfers might even want to forget about woods entirely in favour of a 4-wedge configuration. Then again, it’s your bag, and you should play whichever way feels comfortable.
Teeing Off With Fairway Woods
As noted earlier, drivers are technically woods with the lowest loft (anywhere from 7 to 20, but typically 8–11).
The next would be the very obsolete 2-wood (though some golfers prefer it to drivers), with 12–15 degrees of loft as standard and weighing in at 200cc (less than half what the driver weighs these days). You won’t see it all too often, but some golfers can make it work on long par-fives.
The buck pretty much stops with the 3-wood (12–17 degrees) for those of you swinging over 85mph. Conversely, you might find the 4-wood (15–19 degrees) just as good or even better from the tee if your swing is under 85mph. In any case, the extra loft should give you a bit more forgiveness and better accuracy than if you were teeing with a driver.
As generic as it may seem, the best way to see if the club fits you is to give it a whirl and see if you can hit anything. In any case, we hope that our little Ultimate Buying Guide for Fairway Woods will help you to at least narrow down your choices and go to your closest retailer with a clear idea of what you want. Fairways and greens!