The fairway woods are difficult clubs to master, but if you want to improve your game, they are an essential part of your golf toolbox. The fairway woods are very versatile clubs, and they can be the real workhorses of your game. Because of this, choosing the best fairway wood for high handicappers is not easy.
The fairway woods in your golf bag can include your 3, 5 and 7 woods. (the highest number has the most loft, that is the angle on the clubhead). You may not need all three clubs in the beginning. What is more important are the features of the club when you are still a high handicapper. If your handicap is still high, then there are specific features you need; especially forgiveness in your clubs so mis-hits are not necessarily a disaster. Because the fairway woods do many jobs, it is difficult to make a choice. There is a lot to consider and a lot of opportunities as well. Different golf club manufacturers have gone for improvement in one area, say accuracy, but this can sometimes be at the expense of something else, such as distance. You do not need to panic though. It can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. We are here to help with our definitive guide to the best fairway woods for high handicappers.
Are you a high handicapper?
If you are starting out playing golf, you may be wondering what the term ‘high handicapper’ means. We have explained how handicaps are worked out in detail elsewhere, but here is a quick refresher. The golf handicap system was introduced by the United States Golf Association (USGA) all the way back in 1911 to enable players of different abilities to play against each other. This rule is one of the things which makes golf so much fun. There are not many other games where you can play against people who are so much better than you. Can you imagine playing basketball against LeBron James? No, me neither. Golf is different, because of the handicap system, you could play a round of golf with Jordan Spieth.
In golf, low handicaps are good, and beginners start with a high handicap. The best golfers have the lowest handicap.
How do I get a handicap?
To get a handicap, you need to attend a golf club which is affiliated to a golf union as they will verify your handicap. You then need to play at least three full (that is 18- hole) rounds with a partner who already holds a handicap. You must complete a scorecard in the approved way. (This means you must count the number of strokes you have taken on each hole, once you have completed play on that hole. Write the number down in the correct box. Add up at the end, with any deductions for rule violations, and make sure the card is signed). Your scores in these three rounds will be used to determine your handicap.
The United States Golf Association allows handicaps of up to 36 for men and 40 for women. You are a high handicapper if your handicap is above 20.
Most of us start out as high handicappers, and we all want to get that handicap down. The right equipment will help you do this quicker. We will now talk about this in detail, but the headline news is that if you are a high handicapper, you will play better if you choose a fairway wood which has a large sweet spot and a lighter weight.
Can I use a fairway wood instead of a driver?
If you are still relatively new to the game, you may have heard you have to buy a driver. And we can see why people might believe this, after all the driver is the club with which the professionals tee off. When you look at those professionals you so admire using a driver to tee off and get the game started; it is natural to think, “I want one of those.” That feeling may explain why people who start the game buy a driver first.
There is a problem if you do rush out and buy a driver though. The driver (also called a number 1 wood) can be a problematic club for a high handicapper to use well.
Sure, it has a large head, and you may have been told all about new engineering and bigger sweet spots which make modern drivers easier to use. All this is true, but the driver still has a low loft. Because of this, you may find it difficult to get the ball into the air in that soaring arc which you need to get the ball flying down the fairway towards the green.
I regard the decision about whether to use a driver or a wood as one of the most important any player can make early in their golfing life. The choice matters partly because of expense. A good driver can cost a lot of money. We all want to spend our money wisely, but the cost of a driver is not, in my view, the primary factor in getting your choice right. It is much more about your mindset. I want you to enjoy your game, to always come to the course with a smile on your face. To achieve that happy outcome, you need to get your game off to a good start.
An enjoyable game of golf starts in the tee box. I want you to tee off well. I know that sounds obvious, we all want to play the best shots all the time. I think it is more than that, though. It is about enjoying the game, rather than feeling worried and tense. An excellent first shot can set you up for a great day. Conversely, nothing, absolutely nothing, feels worse than teeing off with a lousy shot. This ‘first bad shot’ syndrome is much more likely if you are using a driver than if you are using, say a 3 wood. We would recommend that while your handicap is still high, you try a wood to start your game.
This way you have more chances of hitting the ball off the ground from the tee. A carefully chosen fairway wood for beginners will give enough oomph to enable you to hit the ball a long way, and the extra loft will help you get the ball in the air. While you are still building up your skills, and lowering that high handicap, a wood can help you achieve both accuracy and distance.
Fairway woods or hybrids, which is the best choice?
Trends change in golf, and recently it has been fashionable to replace fairway woods with hybrids. This decision can be a matter of personal choice, and hybrids do have a lot going for them. I would still advise high handicap players to go for a good beginners’ fairway wood. It combines more of those things you need as you develop your game.
What to look for in a fairway wood for beginners Shaft
Make sure that you have enough flex in the shaft of your fairway woods and that they are the right height for you.
At this point, it is worth explaining what shaft flex is and what it does. I could write a whole article just on shaft flexes, it is one of the areas where the manufacturers of golf equipment pour in money, expertise, technology and engineering. Here, however, I will stick to the main points.
Most importantly, the flex in the shaft has a crucial effect on both the power and the accuracy of the fairway woods. There is a considerable variety of flex from which to choose, from very ‘whippy’ or ‘snappy’ to very stiff. Which flex you want depends on your game, your strength and your skill level. If you have a low swing speed then a flexible, or whippy shaft will suit you best, for a faster swing a stiffer flex will be better for you.
If you are still learning, your swing will probably be quite slow so a flexible shaft should probably be best for you.
Golf club manufacturers now make shafts out of a variety of materials, and graphite is a leader here. Graphite is one of the new wonder materials, which have transformed the technology behind golf clubs. It is excellent for the shafts of fairway woods.
The flex in your golf club shaft is all about energy and how you transfer that energy from you to the golf ball.
Physics comes into this, so let’s look at how this works in a bit of detail. It’s all about storing energy. As your downswing follows through energy is transferred from your body to the shaft of the club and then to the ball. If all is going well, that energy sends the ball flying down the fairway towards the pin.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, there is another physical force operating when you swing the club. Any flex in the club is related to something else, and that something else is torque. Torque in a club means the ability to twist around its axis. This flex and torque stuff can get complicated, and other factors come into the equation, but usually, lots of flex means extra torque and a shaft which torques are less forgiving of poor shots. You’ve probably already guessed that this means you win a bit on flex but lose a bit on torque when it comes to your golf club shafts. There is an extra physical thing to consider as well, the torque transfers to the clubhead and if that twists you can mis-hit.
Those smart guys at the golf club manufacturers are on the case. As so often in modern golf, technology is helping us all out. Golf engineers have developed low torque shafts. They have a flexible shaft but a stiff tip, this gives the ‘whippiness’ of a flexible shaft but reduces the twisting.
Some modern fairway woods have an adjustable hosel. The hosel is where the shaft of the club connects with the club head. Traditionally it has been a fixed part of the club, fitted in the factory and never changed. Unless you were a golf club designer you probably never thought about it. Now it has all changed. Many golf club manufacturers’ have made the hosel adjustable. This feature enables you to adjust the loft (the angle) of the clubhead. This advance is a handy feature if you know what you are doing, but if you do not, it can be a case of too much technology holding your game back. If you are missing your shots as you start out, then the truth is, your game is at fault rather than the clubs. Harsh, but true.
A good lesson, but it does not mean you can never adjust your fairway wood.
I would say that, as you get more experienced you can adjust your club to suit your game or to suit different conditions out there on the course. The danger for newer, less experienced players is that they try to adjust the club to improve their game when what they need first is to up their skill level with more practice.
The best advice is to use hosel adjustment sparingly and wisely.
One thing which is worth mentioning, however, is that adjustability can cut down on the number of clubs you need. With some fairway woods, you can change the loft angle so that the one club can do the job of a 4, or 5 wood. This innovation can save you money and also give you the freedom and flexibility to find out when and where each loft does the job which you want. We all have our style and traits as we develop our game and the choice of clubs we use will reflect that. Many of us out there are finding that adjustable hosels which allow you to change the loft of the club can help you find out what is best for you by trial and error.
Forgiveness and distance
We often use the term ‘forgiveness’ in golf. It means that even if you mis-hit a shot, your ball still travels with some speed and accuracy. For high handicappers, a fairway wood needs to be carefully chosen to make sure it offers a decent amount of forgiveness. A good beginners’ wood should also help you to get the distance (I don’t need to explain that one, but I think it is so important when you are starting out. You need to be able to get that ball moving down the fairway to build up your confidence).
A beginner’s fairway wood will have a more massive head than standard wood, as this will increase forgiveness. There are other engineering miracles which the club manufacturers use to help you, high handicappers. One is enlarging the sweet spot by changing the position of the centre of gravity on the club. Another is to keep the weight down. A lighter club means you can hit the ball further.
Weighting and the fairway woods
Another recent innovation in fairway woods which can be very useful to the high handicapper is the introduction of moveable weights in some clubs. These weights are in the sole (bottom of the clubhead) of the club. Their purpose is to alter the weight distribution to suit your golf stroke and thereby to increase the speed and the distance of the ball at the point of impact.
Woods used to have wooden clubheads, that is where the name comes from, but now they are made of metal. For the high handicapper, the introduction of metal clubs has been an enormous advantage. It has enabled the sort of precise engineering we see in golf clubs today. The club head is the centre of these technological innovations. Together, they are all designed to help the ball go to where you want it.
The precise engineering has meant that the manufacturers can now build something called perimeter weighting into clubheads. This precision gives a much larger sweet spot. The sweet spot is that naturally tiny area, on the clubhead which needs to contact with the ball if you are to hit the ball true.
The other way in which engineering and moulding the metal on the clubhead has helped the high handicapper is the low centre of gravity (LCG – you may see this term on advertisements for fairway woods, incidentally). The low center of gravity in the clubhead increases the height at which the ball will leave the club. If you can hit the ball higher, it makes it much less likely that your ball will dig into the ground and much more likely that it will travel in a beautiful arc a long way.
Clubheads on modern fairway woods are of titanium or steel or a composite of metals. A steel club head has the advantages of being less expensive and durable, titanium and composite clubs come with more bells and whistles and technological gizmos.
Titanium is also lighter than steel, and this can be an advantage where your strength is an issue. Many of the most popular clubheads for seniors and women are titanium or composites. Also, most clubs which have a low centre of gravity will be titanium.
Clubheads made of complex composite materials are becoming more popular year on year. For the less experienced golfer, these clubheads can have a significant advantage in they are designed to cut down the torque if you are using a flexible shaft. That way you get the advantage of ‘whippiness’ in the shaft without the disadvantage of twisting in the clubhead.
What fairway wood to use and when to use it?
I always advise high handicappers to limit the number of clubs they take out on the course. A lot of new golfers think that their game will improve if they take out a different club for any eventuality. Of course, the manufacturers of golf clubs have an interest in getting us to buy as many clubs as possible, so a lot is written and said about the all the different clubs. I am not too critical of the manufacturers, the constant innovation of the golf club makes the game more pleasurable to play. But don’t rush things, you do not need every club immediately. Remember, when you start out practice is more important than equipment. (Many would argue that that is true at every level of the game, right up to the pros, but I will leave you to find that out for yourself).
In my experience, having too many clubs causes paralysis when you are out on the golf course, you can spend so much time concerned about which club to use, then you do not focus on how your body feels when you are making the shots. All this worrying can mean you will not enjoy your game and you will not be in the relaxed and focused mindset which you need to improve and reduce your handicap.
So, let’s keep it simple. We will start with just two fairway woods.
To hit the ball from the tee, you need a 3 wood which will also serve you well for your other long-distance shots.
Once you are near the green, you will want to make shorter approach shots, and for that, you need a higher lofted club. A 5 or a 7 wood should help you do this job very well. Try them both, your strength and flexibility are important factors in deciding whether a 5 or a 7 wood is best for you.
Get these things right before you choose your fairway wood
Once you get the fairway wood which is right for you, then you will enjoy your practice and improve fast. We tread a fine line here, however. Before you select which is the best fairway wood for you, it is vital that some basics of your technique are in place.
You do not have to be perfect, that comes later. It will help, though if you can get these few things under your belt.
Keep your spine angle constant when you swing. This skill takes time to learn, and if you get it right improvements in your accuracy will follow, and you will hit the ball better. If you would like more advice on how to hit fairway woods, then try this video.
In your address position (how you are standing before you hit the ball) place the shaft of your fairway wood on your chest. Lean gently with your right shoulder (if you are right-handed) until the bottom of the club head touches the inside of your lead thigh. That ensures the angle of your body is correct.
As you swing, make sure that your head does not come forward too far, it should be behind the ball, this will stop the ball lifting too high and losing distance.
Summing up: what you need to look for in a fairway wood
Because the fairway wood has so many jobs to do, it can be hard to select the best one for you. Try to focus on two things, distance and accuracy. Don’t overload yourself with clubs. Then
Consider choosing just two fairway woods to start with. Get your basic stance right.
Practice with different flexes on the shaft to find which is right for you. Choose clubs which are right for your strength.
The Top 5 Fairway Woods for High handicappers
- Carbon composite crown - Shifts weight low for optimal launch and spin conditions
- Shallow head design for ultimate playability from a variety of lies
- Comes with real 65 and arrow 620 ribbed grip
This club is excellent if you want maximum forgiveness and to hit distances which will make your golfing buddies gasp as well. It has a large sweet spot which means the ball will travel fast and go a reasonable distance and this makes it a good substitute for a driver (number 1 wood) while you develop your game. The shallow face and carbon composite crown will help you get a good spin on the ball and get the ball into the air. It has a graphite shaft and comes in a variety of flexes, including a senior flex.
Pros: the innovation of a carbon composite crown will help you get the ball off the ground with ease. This technology makes it a great club for all lies. Lots of forgiveness and will help you gain distance. A good club if you do not want to invest in a driver until you have built up your skills.
Cons: No adjustable weights.
If you are looking for both forgiveness and accuracy, this club delivers well. It has lots of new technology built in such as a forged hyper speed face cup and an aerodynamic head shape. Its graphite shaft makes it feel responsive and easy to control and comes in stiff, senior and regular flexes. It looks good too, with a lovely matte finish.
Pros: Callaway has put a bigger head on this than on its previous designs, and this makes it an ideal choice for high handicappers and beginners. The head shape will help the less experienced golfer add speed off the tee if they decide to use this club in place of a driver when they are starting out. It also comes in a variety of colour combinations.
Cons: perhaps slightly heavy and hard to manipulate for some tastes. Contoured lines on the side of the clubhead could be sharper.
Buying this club is not a budget option, but it is great investment. Brand new this year Callaway’s range is famous and respected for delivering great clubs. Perhaps better known for the drivers in this range, Callaway has now produced a fantastic fairway wood.
The technological experience of Callaway is easy to see here. This club has forgiveness, power and accuracy. It is also easy to use, with a swing which senior golfers especially will appreciate. The latest thinking on increasing the moment of inertia has gone into this club design and, with its large head, this is a club which can inspire confidence in less experienced golfers. Even off-center hits will still travel a reasonable distance down the fairway.
This fairway wood also has the advantage of adjustability on some of the range (but not the 9 or the 7 wood). Callaway’s established Optifit hosel allows you to adjust the club. You can increase or decrease the loft using this feature and also get the most out of your swing by changing the lie angle.
It has the well-known warbird sole as well. This innovative feature is a sculpted soleplate with an internal weighting system for extra forgiveness.
Pros: excellent control, forgiveness and easy to use adjustability features. Sturdy and will get the ball a great distance
Cons: It’s brand new so it’s untested technology, although with a high-quality brand name behind it.
Another brand new club to the market this year. If you have been having a problem with slicing the ball, then this may be the choice for you. The Taylormade Sim2 has adjustable 2 degree loft sleeve giving you the ability to optimize the trajectory of the ball. It is a comfortable club for the high handicapper to use as it is lightweight. Its good balance gives confidence while you are building up your skills and you will achieve an excellent swing with this club. The speed pocket will help you get speed when you hit the ball lower on the face. A newly designed hosel fin reduces drag to give you faster speeds off your swing. The matte white finish, combined with a black face is a great visual aid to alignment.
The shaft feels very stable when you hit the ball, although it is a bit longer than many fairway woods so might not be the best choice if you are shorter than average.
Its most noticeable feature is its lightness, which makes it an excellent choice for seniors or very young golfers where lack of strength may be an issue.
Pros: the relatively high loft makes it easy to get great length on most shots. Colour design of the clubhead is excellent for confidence with alignment
Cons: It’s brand new so untested techmology
This fairway wood had become deservedly well-known for its accuracy. If you feel that this is your main block to getting that handicap down, then this may well be the club for you.
Modern sole technology on the club head of this fairway wood will help you get the ball into the air move it well. The innovative technology creates an efficient transfer of energy to ensure excellent ball speed. The rails help the ball to stay straighter when in longer grass and maintain speed along the shorter grass, thereby keeping more distance. Cobra’s standard hosel technology is used to full effect in this club. It has five settings, which enable you to vary the loft through 5 settings. Moveable weights in the sole will give you extra control over your level of spin. Its weighting system adds to the forgiveness on the club and the grooves on the clubhead helps to control the spin on the ball.
Pros: Wonderful accuracy, the sole structure provides a large sweet spot, and the distributed weight makes it easier to control the ball.
Cons: The shaft can feel a bit stiff and although the technology means excellent accuracy it loses out a bit on distance.
The best fairway woods for high handicappers – Conclusion
The TaylorMade Men's M2 Fairway Wood (Men's, Right, Stiff, #3) just gets the edge here. All the woods above do an excellent job, and we feel confident in recommending all of them. The TaylorMade M2 receives our final vote because it makes such good substitute for a driver for the high handicapper and the beginner. And it is an excellent fairway wood in its own right, so you will still get plenty of use out of it, even when you buy a driver as you get more skilled.