As great as the game of golf is, it’s not exactly known for being friendly to beginners. There are countless things to learn just about setting up to the ball, but before you even get the chance to do that you have to figure out what you will be setting up to it with.
The rules allow for fourteen clubs to accompany as you set out for your rounds, and while veterans may wish they could sneak in a few more, for the beginner learning the function of those fourteen feels a lot like homework.
The truth of the matter is that as overwhelming as the contents of your golf bag may feel at first, it’s actually not as complicated as it seems, and we are here to help you learn everything you need to know. Read on for a comprehensive guide to understanding the different types of golf clubs.
The putter should be at the heart of every bag. You are going to be using it for more shots than any of your other clubs, and it is the only club that you will use on every single hole (except for in the event that you hole out from off the green).
There are a million different putters out there, but the majority of their differences are all a matter of personal preference. The weight of the club, as well as the head shape, do make a difference in performance, but you will know the right club for you when you get the opportunity to start rolling a few putts with it.
That said, there are three distinct types of putter that each requires you set up to the ball in a different way. They are the standard length, the belly putter, and the broomstick. For your own edification, we will take a look at what makes them different.
The standard-length putter is definitely what you are going to be seeing the most of, especially in light of the anchored stroke ban that the USGA established a couple of years ago. Generally, the shaft is going to be about thirty-five inches long.
The head itself could be configured any number of ways. The two basic models are blade and mallet, and their names describe them well. The blade is going to be smaller and more compact, while the mallet is bulkier.
Which model you choose is entirely up to you. The blade putter is considered a more classic design, but mallets have served players well for many years and they will certainly continue to.
The belly putter is usually between 43 – 45 inches. The anchor stroke ban that I referenced earlier has produced a degree of confusion regarding this type of club. It is now against the rules of golf to press the butt of the club up against your body as you putt, but the putter itself is still perfectly legal, and you will see it from time to time. I use one myself on occasion.
The reason people like the belly putter is because, by design, it helps you to keep the face of your club on track for the entirety of the stroke. Generally speaking people usually only switch to it when they are struggling on the greens. It’s great for putts within ten feet or so of the hole, but most users report that the farther they get from their target, the harder it becomes to control their speed.
The broomstick is sort of like the older brother of the belly putter. Back when anchoring was still allowed, users would rest the butt of its handle against their chest as they putted, but now they still have the option to use it in a manner that resembles the way you might sweep.
Generally speaking, the chest putter comes in at about fifty inches in length, and it is known to be the last resort of players struggling on the greens. That said, there are a few pros who have found great success using it, most notably Bernhard Langer and Adam Scott, who used his to win the Masters a few years ago.
Oh man. Understanding wedges can be one of the most confusing aspects of the game because there are so many options out there, and people will refer to them in different ways. For example, one person might call a club their pitching wedge, another player may simply refer to it by its loft.
The wedge is probably second in importance only to your putter so don’t let a little bit of terminology freak you out. We’ll go over everything you need to know in a second so that you’ll have nothing to worry about.
The truth is, wedges are one of the few areas of your bag where you really get the chance get creative with your set up. While it is true that the USGA allows us fourteen clubs, most of them find their way in your bag as a product of necessity rather than preference, but thanks to all the loft and bounce options that the wedge market offers, this is one of the few areas of assembling your set that you have the opportunity to get a little choosy.
To illustrate the different types of wedges out there we will examine the loft and bounce specs you can expect to see when you walk into a golf shop.
*Note*: If you go into a golf shop looking for these you aren’t going to find many clubs that actually have “sand wedge” written on them. Instead, they are usually distinguished by their lofts.
Loft determines how high, and how far your shots go. In the case of the wedge, you want your yardages to be as precise as possible which is why there are so many loft options, to suit every player’s needs.
The pitching wedge is used mostly for shots from the fairway between 100 – 135 yards (depending of course on how long you hit yours) but it’s also a good choice to use for chipping around the green.
Virtually all iron sets include this club in the line-up, but some players will swap out the stock model for one in the same line as the rest of their clubs. For example, I play Titleist irons, and Vokey wedges (which are actually a different Titleist product) so I swapped my Titleist pitching wedge out for its Vokey equivalent.
You definitely don’t need to do that if you don’t want to. What you should do, however, is figure out the loft of your pitching wedge so that as you buy more wedges you can maintain a consistent loft gap.
Pitching wedges can have a loft of anywhere from 45 – 50 degrees. The loft gap that you chose to maintain throughout your wedges is going to be up to you, but I go by 4 degrees per club. My pitching wedge is 48 degrees, my gap wedge is 52 degrees, and so on and so forth.
Speaking of gap wedges…..
If you don’t want a gap wedge, it’s not necessarily an essential component of your bag. This is where the element of choice comes into play. You can pick and choose between all of the clubs on this list, in fact.
The purpose of this club, as the name suggests, is to fill the gap between your pitching and sand wedges. Since you don’t want to have to worry about half swings when it comes to finesse shots it can definitely be a useful club to have in the bag, but I also know many players that do just fine without them.
A gap wedge is anything between 50 – 55 degrees of loft.
The sand wedge is used for more than just what its name suggests. It’s good for most shots from within one hundred yards, including those from the bunker (although I almost never use mine from there).
This is one wedge that most players seem to opt for. The loft is strong enough that you can hit it from a ways out (I usually play mine from around 100 – 110 yards), but shots around the green are no problem either. This club is also probably your best chance for putting a lot of spin on the ball.
If you are only going to play one wedge I would have to recommend that it be this one, but of course, that is up to you. It usually has a loft somewhere between 55 – 57 degrees, although 56 degrees seems to be most common.
The lob wedge didn’t use to be a thing at all. It has gained popularity over the past twenty years or so as fans of professional golf watched guys like Tiger and Phil Mickelson hit shots sky high that landed inches from the cup.
Mostly this club is good for shots around the green, particularly when you need to get the ball up high, fast. Mine gets the most action from the bunker because I like the trajectory that I get from it, but the truth is that of all the wedges we’ve looked at on this list, the lob wedge is the least versatile.
If you decide that you would like to add one to your bag, you’ll find it in lofts ranging from 58 – 64 degrees, but I’ll warn you now that the higher you go with the loft the fewer uses you will find you have for this club.
Simply put, the bounce describes the angle at which the leading edge of the club rests against the ground when you address the ball.
It’s still pretty complicated, isn’t it? Without scheduling a wedge fitting with a professional, there’s really no way to know what bounce angle is best for your set up and swing. If you aren’t sure that you are ready to go through all of that yet, just remember that a lower bounce angle is best for clubs with a higher loft while a higher bounce angle is best for clubs with a lower loft.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that irons are going to make up most of the clubs in your bag. The standard used to be that players would carry seven to eight in their bag, ranging from the 3 – 9 iron.
That’s changed quite a bit in the last decade or so, as long irons have started getting replaced by their hybrid or rescue club equivalent. We will talk about those in a little bit but the point is that it isn’t unusual to see bags start with a four or five iron and going up from there.
When shopping for irons you will find that there are two basic types, which we will now go over: the blade, and the cavity back.
The blade iron is going be very small and compact, and generally won’t feature much offset from the hosel (the socket where the shaft fits into the head of the golf club). People will often refer to this type of iron as a “muscle back iron,” because of the lack of indentation on the back of its face.
The blade iron is generally recommended for highly skilled players only. The sleek design might make them look great, but it also comes at the price of a lot of forgiveness. Unless you make solid contact every time, you will find blade irons to be quite punishing.
Players that do choose them usually do so for the club’s shot making versatility. If you have gotten to the point where you can shape your shot trajectory or flight pattern, you may want to pick up a set, but it takes years of practice to get to that point. Beginners are advised to start with cavity backs.
Cavity backs are generally considered to be “game improvement clubs,” which essentially means that they feature a larger sweet spot. That said they aren’t all easy to hit. The Titleist CB (which stands for “cavity back,”) set that I play can at times be a little finicky.
If what you are looking for is a “game improvement club,” you’ll probably find yourself searching through a lot of sets with large indentations behind the face, and a significant amount of hosel offset, both of which are components meant to help you get the ball up in the air.
I play a forged cavity back iron because I like the feel of blades, but I also wanted to benefit from a little bit of extra forgiveness. Still, most people in the market for a cavity back set want a higher trajectory and straighter shot pattern.
If you are just starting out you will want to begin with cavity back irons. There is no shame in it – a lot of really great players take advantage of their forgiveness even long after they’d reached the skill level required to play blades. It’s all a matter of preference.
The hybrid, or rescue club (different words for the same thing) has taken off in popularity quite a lot in the last fifteen years. Fans of professional golf may recall the 2009 PGA championship in which Y. E. Yang performed the unprecedented feat of defeating Tiger Woods’ lead on a Sunday in a major using a bag filled with hybrids.
The hybrid, as the name suggests, is an amalgamation of the iron and the wood. As we mentioned, many golfers are using them to replace their three, four, and even sometimes five and six irons because they are more forgiving, and easier to get the ball up in the air with quickly.
I was able to let mine take the place of my three iron, and five wood, and I’ve never missed either club since. From the fairway, it gets more or less the same carry that I used to get from my three iron, but off the tee I can generally squeeze fifteen extra yards out of it without swinging out of my shoes.
Personally, I would recommend the hybrid to anyone, but especially struggling beginners. If you are having a hard time with your long irons the decision should be a no-brainer, and if you find the way that I did, that the new addition also allows you to pull a wood from the bag, you will get the opportunity to replace it with an extra wedge.
Your woods are clubs that you will hit from either off the tee, or when you are really far from the green. You’ll most often find three, or five woods available at your local golf retail stores, with occasional seven woods offered as well.
The difference between a three wood and a five wood lies explicitly in its loft. You will find that the three has less loft than the five wood (usually the three wood has somewhere around fifteen degrees to the five woods eighteen).
Since these clubs get used less often than any other club in the bag, many players are moving away from keeping a lot of them. I’ve already mentioned that a low lofted hybrid makes a good substitution for the five wood. That said, how you configure your bag is up to you, and if you often find yourself a couple of hundred yards from the green you might need a variety of woods.
It is probably safe to say that the big stick is most players favorite club in the bag. While the experienced veteran knows that the game of golf yields many tee shots where ripping a driver is not advisable, this fact never seems to stop most players from pulling it every chance that they get.
Perhaps it is because of the distance. Of all the clubs in your bag, the driver is going to be the one that you hit the farthest every time. Since you only ever play it with the ball teed up it is also a good opportunity to hit the ball high in the air. Regardless of how long how have been playing, there are truly few things more satisfying than watching the flight of a well-struck drive.
When you start shopping for a driver, you will find that they come in a wide variety of specs that include loft, shaft length, and shaft flexibility. The launch monitors found at most golf retail stores will help the salesperson give you an idea of what specifications are right for your swing but for whatever reason, that isn’t an option, it is worth noting that most beginners will benefit from a higher loft, and a more flexible shaft.
As I said at the beginning it’s a lot to take in at first, but the truth that I am sure you have come to understand is that golf equipment isn’t as complicated as it at first seems. Now that you understand the basics about the different types of golf clubs, you should have no trouble picking a set out for yourself or working your way through the one that you already have.
The only thing left to do now is to stop reading about your golf clubs, and start using them to shoot lower scores!
Good luck on the course!