Choosing just what to put in your golf bag can be a difficult task. This is true for beginners but no less so for the more experienced golfer. I have probably been through 40 sets of irons in the last decade. Clearly, I have a problem with golf equipment but there is a serious side to this too. Knowing which golf clubs are right for me isn’t as easy as you would think. With the benefit of my ridiculous equipment buying and using habit, here are some thoughts that should help you make the best choice, whatever your level or situation.
- Try out as much as possible when it comes to equipment
- Your ideal bag will change as you improve
- Fewer clubs is often better
- Don’t believe the marketing hype
- If it works for you, keep it
The Perfect Golf Bag Set Up?
To get this one out of the way before we start, the perfect set doesn’t exist. If it did, then the bags of the best players in the world who lose their livelihood if they fail would all look the same. They don’t. However, they do look quite similar and this is perhaps as good a place as any to look at what might be considered a standard bag.
This fictional pro’s bag might look something a bit like this:
Driver, fairway wood, hybrid or 3-pitching wedge in irons, gap wedge, sand wedge, lob wedge, putter.
This isn’t an exact science, but it covers most of the bases and has the maximum 14 clubs allowed in competition. Of course, you will see plenty of pros who prefer to have a driving iron in there, others who might have a 64 degree wedge, or two fairway woods, but it isn’t going to be miles away from this.
This is a solid bag and more or less what I see in most golfers’ bags on the course. I don’t actually think that it is ideal for many though, whether beginners or more experienced.
Which Golf Clubs for A Beginner?
Let’s start by looking at beginner. Back in the day, most beginners started with a mix and match set of hand-me-down clubs, or maybe an old set that had been cut down. Lots of golfers became very good indeed starting like this and some, like me, simply became quite ordinary but not completely disastrous so who I am to criticise? This is still a fine and fun way to get into the game without worrying if everything is perfect in terms of clubs.
However, there are other options for today’s beginner. In my opinion, starting with a half set is the best way, not necessarily just through a desire for minimalism. Simply put, a beginner needs to learn how to swing the club, how to do the basics and how to get round the course. He or she will have massive variance between two shots with the same club so getting a full set that covers every yardage is pointless, it just makes for extra weight to lug around.
What should be in this half set? Often, beginners’ half sets are sold with a three wood as the longest club. This has never made any sense to me at all because this is clearly the toughest club to hit in the bag. I would put a driver in there, possibly at a slightly shorter than normal length, maybe 44 inches.
After that, something like a seven wood or a hybrid at around 23 degrees would be perfect. It is easy to hit, gets the ball airborne and will also give a fair amount of distance, whether off the tee or the fairway.
For irons, something like 6,8,pitching wedge will cover the gaps, then a sandwedge and putter to finish. If you are looking to buy a boxed set, the putters tend to be the worst part of the set and I would much rather get a ten-year-old Odyssey putter or whatever for very little money. It won’t cost much and will be far better balanced and not encourage a poor putting stroke that can lead to problems later on.
Beginners can play for years (maybe forever?) with these 7 or so clubs. The number of golfers who have gone from absolute beginner to single figures without anything else, are far too many to count and long may it continue.
Getting a Full Set of Golf Clubs
Inevitably, most golfers will feel the desire to move onto a full set of clubs sooner or later. This might not be necessary, but is part of the process and as a fully paid-up member of the club buying (and selling) addicts society I am not in any position to judge!
This can be where problems arise. The choice is huge, from blades to cavity backs in the irons, fairway woods and hybrids, lob wedges and chippers and a million different types of putter.
The key here is to try as much stuff as possible. Don’t think that you have to play one particular type of club because of your handicap, for example. There are many players of bogey and above who love having a set of better knife blades in the bag. This is what gives them pleasure and that is great. In all honesty, the type of irons you have in your bag actually affects the score far less than you might think.
It is also worth seeing how things like shaft weight and flex change the way you hit a ball. If you have always played a traditional heavier steel shaft, you might find a lighter graphite shaft will give you a much better result. Or not. That’s really the point-try as widely as possible and see what happens.
Woods, Hybrids and Driving Irons
When you start to fill in the gaps in your bag, hitting the different options head-to-head can be a real eye-opener. For example, I have always been more of an iron player. For me, a driving iron seemed like an obvious addition to the bag. I have hit some fantastic shots with a long iron too. However, when I look at the average result with a driving iron and compare it to a hybrid or a lofted fairway wood, I am not really as good as I would like to think.
I played in a competition last weekend and played pretty well for someone who gets to the course every 3 months at the moment! I actually had a five iron as my longest iron, and if memory serves, I don’t think I hit it at all. I then had a hybrid and a lofted fairway wood which I hit well 2 or 3 times. If you had told me this a year or two ago, I would have been skeptical at best.
This is also where it pays to be a little bit wary of the marketing hype. The five wood that I had in my bag was an old favourite, a big Bertha five wood from probably 20 years ago. The shaft certainly wasn’t anything fancy and to be honest, I don’t even know what flex it is because the markings have worn off! I do know that it looks good behind the ball, is easy to hit and gives me a fair bit of confidence.
If I put 2-300 pounds/euros/dollars into the latest fairway wood from one of the big manufacturers, would I have better results? I don’t know. It is certainly possible but I don’t think the difference would be massive. I paid 5 euros for this club. It is, to all intents and purposes, without (financial) value and yet I have three of them in various bags! I am not saying that you shouldn’t spend your money on the latest and greatest, simply that it isn’t the only choice and if you are a budget golfer, you can build a solid bag for the price of that new five wood.
Should You Play a Driver?
The driver, yes or no? For me over the last few years, it has been no but this is actually not a great choice. I spent a couple of years really struggling to keep my driver on the planet and it was more of a liability than anything. So I took it out of the bag. Over the last year or two, I have put it back in and worked on learning how to hit it. This is the way forward for almost all golfers I would say.
Modern drivers with their 460 cc heads are perhaps the most forgiving club in the bag. If you keep shaft length reasonable, maybe add a bit of loft and work on your swing, it should be a great club. It will give you more distance than anything else in the bag and this is more important than many people realise.
Here’s an example from my round last weekend. One of the holes on this course (which I have played quite often) is a par four, slightly downhill with a dog-leg left. The shot into the green is over water. I won’t give the exact distance because it is irrelevant really. Suffice to say, over the last few years, every time I have played this hole, I have hit a driving iron or hybrid off the tee to the dogleg. This leaves me with maybe a seven iron in to well-protected green over water. Not the hardest shot in golf certainly, but not a gimme by any means.
I have made birdie here before (rarely) but have made bogey (or worse) far more often. Generally, I will take bogey here on the tee. On Sunday, I hit driver because it has been working well. This let me aim over the dogleg. There was certainly a risk but even if I didn’t hit it great, I would find the ball and be laying up before the water. Five should still be comfortable, so no loss.
I hit a great drive and was left with a 52 degree wedge into the green. I hit it well and sunk the birdie:) Even with a relatively poor 52, I should be putting and have a straightforward two putt. A five from there would be very disappointing compared to something I would happily accept on the tee with my normal approach. This is where my choice of clubs and especially driver, was key.
Which Golf Clubs are Right For Me?
All of which brings us back to the choice of what to actually put in the bag. The clubs that are right for me aren’t necessarily right for you. However, this is what would work for many:
Lofted fairway wood (5 or 7)
Hybrid(s) (20, 23 possibly)
Irons (5-9, or pw)
2/3 (wedges (50/52, 56 maybe 58 or 60)
Playing around with some combination of this basic set up is going to give most golfers a good shot at getting the bag that works for them and gives both pleasure on the course and the right club for any particular shot.