Golf Club Types Explained: Names And How To Use Them

Recently started playing golf? Still a little unsure about what all the different clubs are called and how best to use them? This comprehensive guide should answer your questions.

Each club is designed to hit the ball different distances or to perform a specific job. Let’s run through them from the longest hitting to the shortest.

golf club types explained

Driver

This is usually the longest club in the bag and has the largest head. It is designed this way to hit the ball as far as possible from the tee. 

If you inherited some old clubs then the clubhead might be made from wood but if you are buying something from the last 30 years or so it’s likely to be made from metal (titanium possibly). You can even find a few drivers made from carbon fiber (TaylorMade Stealth, Callaway C4).

Unless you are a proficient player you would always use your driver when your ball is teed up. The sheer size of modern drivers makes it difficult to use if your ball is on the ground.

Other than a putter the driver has the least loft (usually 8 to 12°). The lack of loft along with the length of its shaft makes it the most difficult to hit straight! As a beginner, you might be better off building your swing with some of the easier-to-hit clubs before trying to master a driver.

Also known as the “Big Dog”, “Chief”, “Lumber” or 1-wood, modern drivers are best hit with an ascending blow in order to maximize distance. The use of launch monitors has helped show how to best achieve decent distance with this club. Common wisdom suggests you should address the ball opposite the instep of your lead foot.

Fairway Woods

As the name suggests these used to be made from wood but apart from a few niche manufacturers you will struggle to find anything other than metal “woods” these days.

The heads usually have a similar shape to the driver but are much more compact because fairway woods are meant to be hit from the ground. More lofted than a driver but less so than irons these clubs are designed to hit longer shots. The shafts will be slightly shorter than you would find in your driver.

You will often find a 3-wood and a 5-wood in many golf bags. Indeed, woods are often sold as a set of 3 – a driver (1-wood), 3-wood and 5-wood. Traditionally seniors and ladies might have carried more lofted woods such as numbers 7, 9 and even an 11! These would have been used instead of medium/long irons which are harder for players with slower swings to launch correctly.

It’s probably fair to say that higher lofted fairway woods (7, 9, 11) carried somewhat of a stigma. These days, however, you can see even tour professionals may carry a 7-wood because of the versatility of the club. Players on the LPGA often carry several higher-lofted woods.

The bigger the number the more lofted the club but usually, the shaft would also be shorter. Here is a list of some typical lofts and shaft lengths for different fairway woods. Note that different manufacturers will vary the lofts and lengths. Ladies’ clubs would typically be an inch or so shorter but again that can vary somewhat with different manufacturers.

ClubLoftLength
1-wood (driver)8 to 12°45 to 46 inches
2-wood (brassie)12°44 inches
3-wood (spoon)15°43 inches
4-wood (wooden cleek)17°42 inches
5 wood (gentleman’s persuader)19°42 inches
7-wood (baffy)21°41 inches
9-wood 23°41 inches
11-wood25°40 inches

These clubs are designed more for distance than accuracy so they have longer shafts to help generate more speed and lower loft to launch the ball greater distances. 

Fairways are used for approaches on long par-4s and par-5s and off the tee on longer par-3s. You might also choose to use a fairway wood from the tee when there are a lot of hazards at your normal driving distance or if you are struggling to keep your driver straight. 

The added loft and slightly shorter shaft make fairway woods easier to keep straight than a driver, however, most people would find them more difficult than short irons.

Deciding whether to use a fairway wood is also dependent on the lie. If your ball is sitting down in the rough then you may be better off using a wedge to get the ball out and back onto the fairway. 

Some fairway woods feature rails on the sole of the club in an effort to make playing from poor lies easier. Certain players may find such a club makes it possible to play fairway woods even from quite bad lies.

Historically teachers would have suggested more of a sweeping motion to hit a fairway wood but modern high-speed photography and launch monitors have shown the best results are achieved with a descending blow just like with irons. 

You need to address the ball slightly further back in your stance in order to achieve a descending blow. Try to work out where your swing brushes the ground and place the ball just behind that point.

Hybrids

Hybrids are a halfway house between irons and fairway woods. They tend to fall into one of two styles either iron-like or wood-like. The different sizes and shapes tend to suit the eye of different players.

They are a modern take on an old-fashioned club and have become tremendously popular with all standards of players from high handicappers to professionals. They are great replacements for long irons as they offer much greater forgiveness on poor strikes and are easier to get airborne than the equivalent long iron.

Many, if not most, amateur golfers would probably fare better with a 3 or 4-hybrid rather than the equivalent iron. Even tour players have started to migrate towards these clubs.

Hybrids and irons would be addressed a little further back than woods although few instructors would advocate for a position beyond the middle of your stance for a normal shot. Some instructors favor moving the ball farther back in the stance as the loft of the club increases while others favor positions for driver, woods and irons in order to simplify things.

Irons

Irons are more an accuracy club rather than an out and out distance club. Each one is designed to hit a specific distance with the lower numbered irons hitting the ball the farthest. Having shorter shafts and more loft means irons are usually easier to use when compared with woods.

Long Irons

Traditionally the 1, 2 and 3-iron were considered long irons, although many iron sets only started from a 3-iron as amateur golfers would really struggle to effectively use a 1 or 2-iron. As Trevino quipped “not even God can hit a one iron!”.

An “average” amateur golfer might hit a 3-iron around 180 yards compared with a tour player who might hit it more like 240 yards.

Mid or Medium Irons

Moving down to the 4, 5 and 6-iron. These each have increasing amounts of loft and shorter shafts. This means they carry shorter distances but should be easier to strike well. A typical “average” golfer might carry their 5-iron around 150-160 yards. On the PGA Tour players would probably be looking in the region of 220-yards for their 5-iron.

Short Irons

The third group of irons are the 7, 8 and 9. Again the lofts will be increasing with a 9-iron having a loft of around 44°. Over the last few years there has been a trend among manufacturers to decrease the loft on their irons in an effort to make players think they are hitting the ball further with a given club.

Wedges

Traditionally sets of irons would be rounded out with two different wedges: the pitching wedge and sand wedge. 

The sand wedge is designed to help you play the ball from a bunker as its wide sole acts as a cushion helping you explode the ball out of the sand. There is nothing to stop you using your sand wedge from anywhere around the green or even for full shots. Its loft has remained around 56°. 

As other clubs including the pitching wedge have been strengthened this has left a large gap of 8 or even more between the pitching and sand wedge. In order to fill this gap manufacturers have started producing “gap” wedges with the most obvious loft of 52°. Some companies might refer to these clubs as approach wedges.

Recent years have also seen the rise of the lob wedge with 60° of loft or possibly even more. Used for tricky greenside shots where you need extra height such as chipping over a bunker.

Consistency of distance and directional accuracy are more important than the distance you actually achieve.

expensive putter
Expensive putter!

Putter

Usually, the shortest and least lofted club in the bag. Becoming a solid putter is definitely going to help your game as you will use this club the most during your round.

Used on and around the green to roll the ball along the ground and eventually into the hole!

Before attempting to putt you would normally “read” the green to try and determine any slopes between your ball and the hole. The line you choose to putt on is determined by the speed you intend to use for your putt and the speed of the greens. 

An aggressive putter will need to allow for less break than someone who likes to see the ball just reach the hole before dropping in.

Putting offers the greatest opportunity for deviation from the norm in terms of grips with all manner of weird and wonderful grips making an appearance on professional tours down the years.

Might be the most expensive club in your bag with putters from big-name manufacturers now costing $400 or even more. Read this more detailed overview of putters.

Chipper

Not a club used by many people although it’s probably fair to say that it would be helpful to a lot of players. A chipper is designed to allow you to use a putting-like grip and stroke on chip shots around the green reducing the likelihood of thins and fats that can add lots of strokes and frustration to your game.

Golf Club Types Explained: Conclusion

You should now know your wedges from your driver and your hybrids from your fairway woods!

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