Without beating the drum yet again about my preference for fewer clubs, I don’t hide the fact that I rarely have a full set in the bag. If we consider a full set to be the maximum number of clubs allowable in competition which is of course 14. I think there is plenty of evidence for saying that a full set doesn’t have to be this many, but let’s leave that aside for the time being. Plenty of golfers, especially those starting out, are encouraged to play with a half set of golf clubs. That’s all well and good, but what exactly does this mean and should you buy the ‘off the rack’ beginner set from your local golf shop?
The Problem with the Traditional Beginner Half Set
Today, I would guess the first golf purchase that many make is the boxed half set. Depending on where you buy this, you will find small differences, but essentially you get the same thing. It is a market that Wilson Golf tends to dominate in many places. I have absolutely nothing against Wilson and I think these sets are good. They get people into the game with their own equipment for a reasonable price. My own image of Wilson golf is more of their classic blades so it always seems at least a little bit strange to me when people associate them with budget boxed sets, but it is what it is.
These sets certainly do a job and you get everything you need to play golf, from a bag to range of clubs. Generally, these type of sets see a golfer through a year or two and are also used as loan or hire sets when you haven’t got your own clubs with you. Rarely do you see anyone keeping them for a longer period though. Most golfers will ‘trade up’ to a full set if they are truly bitten by the golfing bug.
The problem as I see it with this set isn’t a quality issue for the most part. There really isn’t a lot that is hugely different compared to any other off the rack club. They will be made in the same factories in Asia almost certainly and feature the now standard wide-soled cavity back irons.
MY issue is more with the choice of clubs. For example, I see a lot of beginner’s boxed sets with no driver and using a three wood as the longest club. Makes sense, you might say. Instead of driver and fairway wood, just combine them into the longest fairway available. Fine, except that this is a terrible club for most golfers, not just beginners. I am a single figure golfer and honestly, I never feel over-confident pulling a 3 wood out of the bag!
an average beginner is going to struggle massively. Driver, on the other hand will always be hit off the tee, has a shaft that doesn’t need to be much longer than a three odd and nowadays has a huge 460cc head. This is, loft aside, the easiest club to actually make contact with. Of course, the flat face will accentuate swing and strike issues, but really, not many golfers are going to fail to make some sort of contact with a clubhead this size.
What about giving all these half sets a driver with more loft (13-14 degrees) and a shorter shaft (no more than 44 inches)? I know that some boxed sets do this, at least to some degree, but why not all?
The other problems for me would be the next longest clubs. Often, you get a hybrid which is good, but why not get two? And not too close in loft either. For people starting out, distances tend to bleed into one another, and this means that traditional gapping doesn’t make sense.
Finally, I do have an issue with the putters that you often find in a ready-made half set. As someone who can struggle on the greens myself, I find it borderline cruel to give someone a putter that is badly made, too light and doesn’t encourage a good stroke. I use a Wilson Staff putter myself, so I am not saying that this is the case with their sets, but if you look around, it is the one club I really wouldn’t want to use from a half set.
The Build Your Own Half Set
My solution is the build your own half set. Obviously, this lacks the convenience of the box of clubs that is all ready to go. To be honest, it might well cost a little more too. There are two huge differences however. Firstly, you can have a set of clubs that will work for you, cover all the gaps and isn’t just for a high-handicapper. Secondly, you might well find that there is no need at all to trade up to a full set in a year or two. Many golfers (myself included) find that scoring is certainly no harder and sometimes even easier with fewer clubs in the bag, sometimes far fewer.
- This is what I might put in a half set.
- strong hybrid
- weaker hybrid
- 2-4 irons
- 1-2 wedges
This gives somewhere around 7 to 10 clubs, although most people will settle on 7-8 I would think, so pretty much bang on a half set. Let’s look at the thought process behind this and how to build the bag.
Driver is important. As someone who struggled with driver for a number of years after hitting it well previously, I can’t tell you what a difference it has made to have rediscovered my driver over the last year or two. Distance really does matter, at least if you want to potentially score as well as possible. I think this driver can come in a lot of different specs. For a beginner, something short (44 inches) higher lofted (13/14 degrees) and with a standard, non-exotic regular shaft from pretty much any manufacturer or model over the last ten years (or more) will be fine.
If you are building a half set as a better player, getting fit for a driver might be a smart move. If not, you should have at least a rough idea of what you want/need and scouring the used market will probably bear fruit.
Hybrids, Irons and Wedges in a Half Set
The next bit of the set goes together and will be player dependent. A beginner might look at this a little differently than a five handicapper looking to go minimalist. The same basic logic applies though. You want to cover all the gaps and shot situations possible with as few clubs as possible.
Taking the bogey golfer or worse, I think something like this looks good.
hybrid 1: Around 20 degrees (safe tee shot, long par three, long par four, second shot on par five)
hybrid 2: around 25 degrees (par three, second shot on par four)
6 iron: it could be a five or a seven, depending on set, but probably around 30 degrees)
8 iron: As above, but around 37/38 degrees
wedge 1: either a set pitching wedge or, as I use, a specialist wedge in 46 degrees
wedge 2: a sand wedge, 54-58 degrees
This gives us everything we need to play the course and takes a lot of mental wear and tear in terms of decision-making out of the game. Tee shot? Driver unless you need to be shorter/straighter, in which case fairway. Pitch? wedge one unless you are in the rough/sand/need to get over something.
This leaves between 5 and 8 degrees of loft between clubs. Although some people will say that this creates distance gaps, I would strongly disagree for almost all golfers. There are very few golfers who are so consistent on their ball-striking that even 8 degrees of loft will cause problems. It will also teach everyone to hit a club slightly harder or softer, which is a good thing.
Of course, the final club is the putter and this is really going to be a matter of testing and finding a personal preference. The beauty is that you are no longer confined to a cheap, lower-quality model from an off the shelf half set.
How to Buy a Half Set
Someone out there is probably already moaning that you can’t buy this sort of set. Well, no, you can’t. You have to get it bit by bit. In fact, you can of course buy this new, but it perhaps isn’t the best way to go about it.
I actually had a look through the second-hand section of my local shop recently and this bag set up would be far easier than you might think and that is just from one place. If I took the time to shop around, look at eBay and other online sites and maybe even did a garage sale or two, I could find everything I need without an issue.
For example, putters. I could go down the road of buying a new putter, getting it fitted and so on. This is fine. But if budget is a little bit tighter, you can find great putters for far less. My current back up is an odyssey from about ten years ago that cost me forty euros. In the pro shop, there was something similar with a super stroke grip in solid condition for about the same.
Wedges are easy to find second hand. People can get very precious about their wedges and feel like they need to upgrade regularly in order to get back those vital 200 revs of spin! Don’t be scared to look at a model from a few years ago. It is easy to clean and sharpen the grooves and you will have something that will be every bit as good as a new wedge.
You could also buy the model that has just been changed. For example, when Cleveland launches the new version of their wedges, you can find the previous model heavily discounted all over the place. Hybrids are also readily available second hand. I saw everything from a virtually new Ping g 425 hybrid in 19 degrees (200 euros) all the way to an older Taylormade in the same loft for 20 euros. I am confident I could find two Mizuno jpx fli hi hybrids which I currently use in the right lofts for 100 dollars/euros/pounds for the pair.
You light think that irons are more complicated, but not really. You are going to be getting two irons. Don’t think that they have to be the same. Two cavity backs from any manufacturer with the same shaft will really be fine. Six irons are demo clubs and are very easy to get. I found an ex-demo Wilson di 11 (great irons) for 5 pounds a few years ago in American golf. You could even buy a full set of something like these for 100 dollars and get you money back selling what you don’t need.
A half Set Doesn’t Have Rules
I am obviously biased here, but I feel like building your perfect half set, whether as a back up bag, a starter set or your main bag is a lot of fun. You are not tuck in the confines of what a brand wants to sell you. Love hitting hybrids? Get four of the and a couple of wedges. Maybe buy that bladed 8 iron and a chunky sgi 6 to go with it. Get cheap clubs and then go wild on the Scotty Cameron putter of your dreams! It really is all good and will not penalise your golf at all. In fact, you might even find that you are having more fun and playing better than ever.