A golf club is a club used to hit a golf ball in a game of golf. Each club is composed of a shaft with a grip and a club head. Woods are mainly used for long-distance fairway or tee shots; irons, the most versatile class, are used for a variety of shots; hybrids that combine design elements of woods and irons are becoming increasingly popular; putters are used mainly on the green to roll the ball into the hole. A standard set consists of 14 golf clubs, and while there are traditional combinations sold at retail as matched sets, players are free to use any combination of 14 or fewer legal clubs.
An important variation in different clubs is loft, or the angle between the club's face and the vertical plane. It is loft that is the primary determinant of the ascending trajectory of the golf ball, with the tangential angle of the club head's swing arc at impact being a secondary and relatively minor consideration (though these small changes in swing angle can nevertheless have a significant influence on launch angle when using low-lofted clubs). The impact of the club compresses the ball, while grooves on the club face give the ball backspin. Together, the compression and backspin create lift. The majority of woods and irons are labeled with a number; higher numbers indicate shorter shafts and higher lofts, which give the ball a higher and shorter trajectory.
The shafts of the woods were made of different types of wood before being replaced by hickory in the middle of the 19th century. The varieties of woods included ash, purpleheart, orangewood, and blue-mahoo. Despite the strength of hickory, the long-nose club of the mid nineteenth century was still prone to breaking at the top of the back swing. The club heads were often made from woods including apple, pear, dogwood, and beech in the early times until persimmon became the main material. Golf clubs have been improved and the shafts are now made of steel, titanium, other types of metals or carbon fiber. The shaft is a tapered steel tube or a series of stepped steel tubes in telescopic fashion. This has improved the accuracy of golfers. The grips of the clubs are made from leather or rubber.
Woods are long-distance clubs, meant to drive the ball a great distance down the fairway towards the hole. They generally have a large head and a long shaft for maximum club speed. Historically woods were made from persimmon wood although some manufacturers—notably Ping—developed laminated woods. In 1979, TaylorMade Golf introduced the first metal wood made of steel. Even more recently manufacturers have started using materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, or scandium. Even though most ‘woods’ are made from different metals, they are still called ‘woods’ to denote the general shape and their intended use on the golf course. Most woods made today have a graphite shaft and a mostly-hollow titanium, composite, or steel head, of relatively light weight allowing faster club-head speeds. Woods are the longest clubs and the most powerful of all the golf clubs. There are typically three to four woods in a set which are used from the tee box and, if on a long hole, possibly for the second or even third shot. The biggest wood, known as the driver or one wood, is often made of hollowed out titanium with feather-light shafts. The length of the woods has been increasing in recent decades, and a typical driver with a graphite shaft is now 45.5 inches (1,160 mm) long. The woods may also have very large heads, up to 460 cm3 (28 cu in) in volume (the maximum allowed by the USGA in sanctioned events; drivers with even larger club-head volumes are available for long-drive competitions and informal games). The shafts range from senior to extra-stiff depending upon each player’s preference.
Irons are clubs with a solid, all-metal head featuring a flat angled face, and a shorter shaft and more upright lie angle than a wood, for ease of access. Irons are designed for a variety of shots from all over the course, from the tee box on short or dog-legged holes, to the fairway or rough on approach to the green, to tricky situations like punching through or lobbing over trees, getting out of hazards, or hitting from tight lies requiring a compact swing. Most of the irons have a number from 1 to 9 (the numbers in most common use are from 3 to 9), corresponding to their relative loft angle within a matched set. Irons are typically grouped according to their intended distance (which also roughly corresponds to their shaft length and thus their difficulty to hit the ball); in the numbered irons, there are long irons (2–4), medium irons (5–7), and short irons (8–9), with progressively higher loft angles, shorter shafts, and heavier club heads.
As with woods, ’irons’ get their name because they were originally made from forged iron. Modern irons are investment-cast out of steel alloys, which allows for better-engineered ‘cavity-back’ designs that have lower centers of mass and higher moments of inertia, making the club easier to hit and giving better distance than older forged ’muscle-back’ designs. Forged irons with less perimeter weighting are still seen, especially in sets targeting low-handicap and scratch golfers, because this less forgiving design allows a skilled golfer to intentionally hit a curved shot (a ’fade’ or ’draw’), to follow the contour of the fairway or ’bend’ a shot around an obstacle.
Wedges are a subclass of irons with greater loft than the numbered irons (generally starting at 47°–48° of loft, above the 9-iron's 44°–45°), and other features such as high-mass club heads and wide soles that allow for easier use in tricky lies. Wedges are used for a variety of short-distance, high-altitude, high-accuracy ’utility’ shots, such as hitting the ball onto the green (’approach’ shots), placing the ball accurately on the fairway for a better shot at the green (’lay-up’ shots), or hitting the ball out of hazards or rough onto the green (chipping). There are five types of wedges, with lofts ranging from 45° to 64°: pitching wedge (PW, 48–50°), gap wedge (GW, also ‘approach’, ’attack’, ’utility’, or ’dual’ wedge, typically 52–54°), sand wedge (SW, 55–56°), lob wedge (LW, 58°–60°), and ultra lob wedge (sometimes called the ’flop wedge’ or FW, 64°–68°).
Hybrids are a cross between a wood and an iron, giving these clubs the wood's long distance and higher launch, with the iron's familiar swing. The club head of a hybrid has a wood-inspired, slightly convex face, and is typically hollow like modern metal woods to allow for high impulse on impact and faster swing speeds. The head is usually smaller than true woods, however, not extending as far back from the face, and the lie and shaft length are similar to an iron giving similar swing mechanics. These clubs generally replace low-numbered irons in a men's set (between 2 and 5, most commonly 3–4), which are typically the hardest clubs in a player's bag to hit well. By doing so they also generally make higher-lofted woods redundant as well. However, some manufacturers produce ’iron replacement’ sets that use hybrid designs to replace an entire set of traditional irons, from 3 to pitching wedge. Ladies' and seniors' sets commonly feature a combination of high-lofted woods (up to 7-wood) and hybrids to replace the 5, 6 and 7-irons, allowing these players to get greater carry distances with slower swings.
Putters are a special class of clubs with a loft not exceeding ten degrees, designed primarily to roll the ball along the grass, generally from a point on the putting green toward the hole. Contrary to popular belief, putters do have a loft (often 5° from truly perpendicular at impact) that helps to lift the ball from any indentation it has made. Newer putters also include grooves on the face to promote roll rather than a skid off the impact. This increases rolling distance and reduces bouncing over the turf. Putters are the only class of club allowed to have certain features, such as two striking faces, non-circular grip cross-sections, bent shafts or hosels, and appendages designed primarily to aid players' aim.
Present in some golfers' bags is the chipper, a club designed to feel like a putter but with a more lofted face, used with a putting motion to lift the ball out of the higher grass of the rough and fringe and drop it on the green, where it will then roll like a putt. This club replaces the use of a high-lofted iron to make the same shot, and allows the player to make the shot from a stance and with a motion nearly identical to a putt, which is more difficult with a lofted iron due to a difference in lie angle.
Most chippers have a loft greater than 10 degrees, which is the maximum loft permitted by the Rules of Golf for a club to be classed as a putter, so these clubs are actually classed as irons. To be legal for sanctioned play, a chipper cannot have any feature that is defined in the rules as allowable only on putters, e.g. two striking faces or a flat-topped ’putter grip’. This disqualifies many chipper designs, but there are some USGA-conforming chippers, and non-conforming designs can still be used in non-sanctioned ’informal’ play.
The rules of golf limit each player to a maximum of 14 clubs in their bag. Strict rules prohibit sharing of clubs between players that each have their own set (if two players share clubs, they may not have more than 14 clubs combined), and while occasional lending of a club to a player is generally overlooked, habitual borrowing of other players' clubs or the sharing of a single bag of clubs slows play considerably when both players need the same club.
The most common set of men's clubs is:
- A driver, usually numbered a 1-wood regardless of actual loft, which varies from 8° up to 13°
- A fairway wood, typically numbered a 3-wood and lofted about 15° (though 2- and 4-woods are sometimes seen)
- A matched set of 7 numbered irons from 3 through 9, plus a pitching wedge or "10-iron"
- A sand wedge
- A putter
The above set is only 12 clubs; these (or equivalent hybrid substitutes) are found in virtually every golf bag. To this, players typically add two of the following:
- Another fairway wood, often a 5-wood lofted around 18°, to allow other options besides long irons in the 180–250 yard range,
- A hybrid, typically lofted for similar distance as a 3- or 4-iron and usually replacing instead of supplementing those clubs in the bag, and/or
- An additional wedge, usually either:
- A gap wedge lofted near 52° to fit between the modern pitching and sand wedges in loft, or
- A lob wedge, typically lofted around 60°, used for tight approach shots from the rough or sand.
- A chipper.
Women's club sets are similar in overall makeup, but typically have higher lofts and shorter, more flexible shafts in retail sets to accommodate the average female player's height and swing speed.
Variations on this basic set abound; several club options usually exist for almost any shot depending on the player's skill level and playing style, and the only club universally considered to be indispensable is the putter. Some consider the modern deep-faced driver to be equally irreplaceable; this is cause for some debate, as professional players including Tiger Woods have played and won tournaments without using a driver, instead using a 3-wood for tee shots and making up the difference on the approach using a lower-lofted iron.
The most common omissions are the "long irons", numbered from 2 to 5, which are notoriously difficult to hit well. The player can supplement the gaps in distance with either higher-numbered woods such as the 5 and even the 7-wood, or may replace the long irons with equivalently-numbered hybrid clubs. If hybrids are used, higher-lofted woods are often omitted as redundant, but ladies' and seniors' sets commonly feature both hybrids and high-lofted woods, omitting the long irons entirely in favor of the lofted woods, and replacing the mid-irons (5–7) with hybrids. The combination allows for higher launch angles on the long-distance clubs, which gives better distance with slower swing speeds. Where a club is omitted and not replaced with a club of similar function, players may add additional clubs of a different function such as additional wedges.
While 14 clubs is a maximum, it is not a minimum; players are free to use any lesser number of clubs they think will be useful, so substitutions for the common omissions above are not always made; a player may simply choose to play without a 5-wood or 2–4 irons, instead using a 4-wood and moving directly to their 5-iron as desired distance decreases (a 4-wood in a skilled golfer's hands averages 200 yards; a 5-iron in the same player's hands would be about 160, which is a large gap but not unplayable). Other clubs may be omitted as well. On courses where bags must be carried by the player, the player may take only the odd-numbered irons; without the 4, 6 or 8 irons (the 3 is sometimes removed instead of the 4) the bag's weight is considerably reduced. Carrying only a driver, 3-wood, 4-hybrid, 5-7-9 irons, pitching and sand wedges, and a putter reduces the number of clubs in the bag to 9; this is a common load-out for a "Sunday bag" taken to the driving range or to an informal game. A skilled player can usually overcome the lesser selection of club lofts by reducing their swing speed on a lower-loft iron and/or placing the ball further forward in their stance to get the same carry distance and/or launch angle as the next higher loft number.