Golf is a game built on eye-hand coordination to propel a small ball to a relatively small hole.
Between the hands and the ball, though, are the golf clubs which actually strike and propel the ball.
Changes in golf club design have made them easier to hit for many people, but they also opened up a wider variety of choices that may be confusing for people trying to find clubs appropriate to their playing level.
For the beginner, casual player or higher-handicap golfer (about 15 and up), the best choice is probably going to be a game-improvement set, according to Brian Enman, head professional at Bangor Municipal Golf Course.
The term game-improvement “means there’s a lot of weight in the bottom of the head (the flange),” said Enman. “That helps lift the ball into the air.”
These types of clubs — which include the Ping K15, G15, G10 for men and Faith for women, the Callaway Razr X and Diablo Edge, the Cleveland Launcher and TaylorMade Burner SuperLaunch — get the ball airborne easier and on a higher trajectory than the mid-level types and the forged or “tour” types.
“The sweet spot (the best area of the clubface to hit a ball) is bigger,” said Enman, “and that allows people to hit the ball better, so in turn they can enjoy it a little bit more.”
Game-improvement clubs also have their heads offset a bit from the shaft, which reduces slicing, the bane of most golfers. They also have an open cavity at the back of the club which pushes the weight mostly to the sides and bottom, called perimeter weighting.
The clubs will not correct a bad swing, but they may soften the effects.
“Even good players mishit a ball once in a while,” said Enman. “Perimeter weighting will lessen a mishit, but it won’t eliminate them.”
Before the wider use of cast clubheads, irons were forged, as they had been for hundreds of years. They were good for better players, but could be difficult for average players and beginners to hit.
“If you mishit a forged iron, they wouldn’t go too far,” said Enman, chuckling. And they could have a wide spread pattern. “Oh yeah, you could spray them.”
Forged irons are still preferred by most PGA Tour pros and low handicappers (5 or lower). They have a narrow flange with a thinner top edge on the hitting surface.
The Ping S56, Titleist AP2, TaylorMade Tour Preferred, Cleveland CG16 Tour and Callaway Razr X Muscleback are examples of forged irons.
“They have very little, if not any, offset, a smaller head and a smaller sweet spot,” said Enman. But “they do feel a lot better.”
That better feel gives more feedback to the player about how well the ball was struck. The problem for most players would be how to deal with that information.
“The 0-5 handicappers are probably playing a lot, and they have a good, repetitive swing,” said Enman.
Between the game-improvement and forged clubs is the mid-level setup, which has some game-improvement characteristics but may also include forged cavity-back sets.
“People that benefit from these clubs are 5 or 6 handicappers up to 15 or so,” said Enman.
“There’s not so much flange. You’re taking weight out of the bottom and moving it to the back of the club. Even at this stage, there is some offset,” Enman said.
The ball flight is lower and more boring than with game-improvement clubs but higher than most forged sets.
The Titleist AP1, TaylorMade Burner 2.0, Callaway Razr X Tour and Razr X Forged, Ping i15 and Anser and Cleveland CG16 are mid-level examples.
“Well-weighted clubs can make a difference in how people play,” noted Enman.
He also pointed out that some sets are becoming mixed to take advantage of particular characteristics.
“Some clubs have cast long irons (2-iron down as far as the 7-iron) and forged short irons (the 8, 9 and wedges),” Enman said. The advantage is better feel in the scoring clubs.
Also, especially in the game-improvement lines, manufacturers are replacing the hard-to-hit long irons with hybrid clubs, which look like small-headed fairway woods.
“There’s more meat on a hybrid and you hit better shots with it,” said Enman. “And long irons get tangled up in the rough whereas hybrids seem to get through it better.”
When it comes to drivers, Enman prefers the bigger clubheads.
“No question a big-headed driver is more enjoyable to hit, and the mishits are a lot better,” he said.
As important as the clubheads are, there is another factor to weigh.
“It’s important to talk shafts, too,” he said. “Without the proper shaft, even of you hit the ball well, you’re not going to get everything out of it.
“I recommend ladies (and senior) go with graphite shafts because they generate more clubhead speed and they’re lighter.”
He is exactly the opposite for men.
“I would never recommend graphite shafts (in irons) for young men at all,” he stated.
And Enman doesn’t recommend 3-woods for beginners.
“People starting out should stick with more forgiving clubs, like the 4-wood, 5-wood and 7-wood,” he said.
Enman does recommend taking 15-20 minutes for a fitting.
“Most people will be able to go with the standard set, but it never hurts to check,” he said.
One thing he will check for is the lie angle, the angle between the shaft and the clubhead which allows the sole to make even contact with the ground.
“If the toe is up, you’ll catch the heel (and pull hook the ball),” said Enman. If the toe is down, the ball will squirt away from the player.
Enman thinks most golfers are more educated about the clubs they’re looking at when they come into the pro shop, usually from checking websites. He believes there is no substitute for test driving.
“You’ve gotta hit clubs before you buy them,” said Enman. “You don’t buy a car without trying it out.
“When you spend all that money on clubs (a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000), you should try them out.”
Enman knows the advances in club design won’t make everyone PGA Tour candidates, but that’s OK.
“You can’t buy a game, but you can make it more fun,” he said.