Don’t know your woods from your wedges? Torn between an iron and a hybrid? Relax. Even the pros sometimes struggle when it comes to choosing the right club for the shot. Here’s a one-stop introduction to the various clubs at your disposal - and how best to use them.
They say that golf is a game played on a 5-inch course - the one between your ears. But even if you have the best psychological approach in the game, you’re going to struggle to find time for a refreshing pint back at the clubhouse if you insist on using a 9-iron for every shot. Here’s your low down on how best to use your clubs.
A modern set of golf clubs typically gives you twelve clubs to choose from: three woods, six irons, one wedge, a putter and a hybrid. The rules of golf allow you to carry fourteen clubs. We’re going to discuss each type of club in detail. But first you need to understand a thing called loft. Stay with us.
Loft is a fancy term for the angle of the club face (the bit that strikes the ball). It determines the trajectory and distance of your shot. In general, higher loft means higher trajectory and less roll when the ball lands. Loft decreases with lower clubs, allowing for greater distance. So drivers have the least loft, while a wedge will have the greatest loft.
If that’s all mud-clear for now, everything should make sense by the end of the article.
Used for: teeing off
The driver (or 1 wood) has a very specific function: you use it to tee-off. It will be the longest club in your bag and has the lowest loft of all the clubs (typically between 7 and 12-degrees). Quick tip? Higher lofted drivers are easier to use. So you are more likely to hear that glorious thwack of steel against ball that goes hand-in-hand with a well connected drive. Fore!
Used for: long shots on the fairway
Woods are (typically) used to hit the first shot after your drive. If you are 175 yards or more from the flag, a wood is the way to go. Most golfers carry a 3 wood (15 to 18-degree loft) and a 5 wood (20 to 22-degree loft). If you hear someone harping on about “fairway woods”, these are the clubs they will be referring to.
Used for: approaching the green or playing out of trouble
Irons are flexible old things; your go-to clubs when you are less than 175 yards from the flag. The most common irons are 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. A loose rule is that there’s a ten-yard gap between each one. For example, a ball hit with a 5 iron will travel 10 yards further than a ball hit with a 6 iron - all else being equal. In essence it means the closer you are to the green, the higher the iron you should use. So if you’re 30 yards from the flag and break out the 3 iron, don’t be surprised if your ball ends up on Lundy Island. Simple, right?
Used for: playing onto the green or playing out of (deep) trouble
Wedges are a special type of iron, used when you are tantalisingly close to the green. They are best for high trajectory, low distance shots. The high loft of these clubs also make them essential for playing out of trouble when your ball is buried in the rough or submerged in a bunker. (Not that you ever overcook your shots, of course.) The wedges increase in loft from pitching wedge to approach wedge, lob wedge and high-lob wedge.
Used for: rolling the ball along the green into the hole
Okay, you’re on the green. Perfect. Your putter is another one-purpose club, used for sending that ball home. Over to you!
Used for: long fairway shots
Thought we were done? Sorry, almost. Hybrids are a new type of club, used by pros and amateurs alike. They are essentially a combo of a fairway wood’s head and an iron’s shaft length. You see, the long irons (1, 2 and 3) are notoriously difficult to use and can make for pretty erratic shots. Hybrids increase control without compromising distance or trajectory. Sounds good to us.
Every golfer is different. Knowing which club to use is about knowing how far you hit the ball with each different club. The best way to find out? Head for the driving range. Hit 50 balls with each club and log the distance of each ball. Eliminate the longest and shortest five distances, then average the rest. Hey presto, you have your average yardage.
Are you beginning to see why golf is such a complicated (and addictive) sport? Choosing the right club also requires being a good judge of the conditions. Is the green elevated or slanted? Is there an obstacle you need to stop short of? Is there a headwind or tailwind that’s going to affect the flight of your ball? There can be a fair old onshore wind whipping off the Atlantic at Saunton on some days.
It’s the oldest advice in the book, but the only way to get accustomed to choosing the right club is to practice. With links golf as beautiful as it is here at Saunton, between the rolling dunes of Braunton Burrows, regular practice shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.