Golf can be an incredibly frustrating game, for anybody. Which is why having the right clubs and equipment can be all the more helpful in making the sport more enjoyable. (A cute outfit doesn’t hurt, either). Town’s End has caught up with golf professional Sean Thompson to help new golfers navigate the many questions that may arise when selecting your first set of clubs.
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A SET OF GOLF CLUBS?
The first thing I would recommend for beginner golfers is that you don't need to buy a full set of clubs. If you haven't even figured out if you like golf yet, why would you spend thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest clubs? Start off with a putter, a lofted wedge (PW or SW) and 7 iron or hybrid. Also, you don't have to go straight to the golf course or driving range and swinging the club at 110% - this is a really quick way to get frustrated and end your golfing career before its even started. You will have much more fun by learning the short shots like putting and chipping and this will also develop some transferable skills for your full swing.
One thing that is really important with your first golf clubs is to ensure that they are appropriate for your build and natural athleticism. Your height, arm length, hand/eye coordination and the natural club head speed you can produce would greatly influence the best club design and specifications for you. Buying a club "off the shelf" might be convenient but will make the game more difficult for most beginners. Consult any Club Golf Professional and they will be happy to offer you some advice on this.
WHAT IS DOES SHAFT FLEX EVEN MEAN?
A basic explanation of shaft flex would be how much the shaft bends with a given amount of force exerted upon it. Even though a graphite or steel shaft might seem very rigid when you hold it still, when that shaft is swung faster than you drive your car - it bends a lot! Some golfers are able to exert more force when they swing than others and the idea is to match the ability to move a club at a certain speed with a certain flexibility of shaft. When you next go into a golf store, you will likely see 5 different flex shafts - Ladies, Senior, Regular, Stiff and Extra Stiff. These 5 shaft flexes are just names that the club makers came up with in an attempt to put golfers in a certain category. Not all ladies need ladies flex shafts but the average female golfer tends to swing slower than the average male golfer so often benefits from a more flexible shaft. Senior golfers tend to lose some of their club head speed as they age, so might benefit from a more flexible shaft than they played earlier in their life. On the other side of the spectrum long drive competitors can swing 30 miles an hour faster than the farthest hitters on the PGA Tour so these players need a much stiffer shaft to support their speed. Imagine a golfer with a very fast swing trying to swing something with very little rigidity like a rope? One end of the rope would be doing something totally different from the other end and it would be incredibly difficult to control both ends of the rope at such high speeds.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRAPHITE AND STEEL SHAFTS?
The main difference between steel and graphite is the weight of the club. Club makers can build golf clubs that are much lighter with graphite and it is easier to swing lighter things faster than heavy things, this is a primary reason that ladies and seniors often benefit from having graphite shafted clubs. As female and older golfers typically don't swing as quickly as other demographics of golfers, they can't hit the ball as far. By giving them lighter golf clubs, it helps bridge that gap in swing speed and allows them to hit the ball a bit further.
Graphite shafts also "dampen" the vibrations that go up the shaft when you hit the ball and then the ground. Beginner golfers and golfers with injuries (especially shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries) might prefer this as the golf club vibrates more when you miss the middle of the club face (a common mistake for inexperienced players) and it doesn't feel very nice on your hands and arms!
WHAT IS A CLUB FITTING?
As described elsewhere in this article, every golfer is built differently and swings differently. One golfers bad shot goes to the right, another players bad shot goes to the left. Some golfers hit it high and others low. The purpose of a club fitting is to offset a golfer's tendencies allowing them to have more desirable results and make "their" common mistake less often. Common things that are taken into account during a club fitting are; club head design, shaft material, shaft flex, shaft length, lie angle of the club (the angle that the club head connects with the shaft), actual weight of the club, swing weight of the club (how heavy is one end of the club compared to the other end) grip design, grip thickness and set composition (how many woods, hybrids, irons and wedges make up the allowed 14 clubs). This might sound complicated but the golfer doesn't need to know any of this information, just go and see a Golf Professional or Club Fitter at your local facility and they can usually tell all of this within 20 swings. I would highly recommend getting a club fitting if you are going to invest in a new set of clubs, it will make the game much more enjoyable and the service is often included when you buy a full set. I often hear beginners say that they are not good enough to benefit from a club fitting but I would say that less experienced golfers benefit the most from the service!
WHAT IS A “GAME IMPROVEMENT CLUB” AND WHERE DO I GET ONE?
You will often hear phrases like "game improvement" or how "forgiving" a club is and they are pretty much the same thing. To summarize, game improvement clubs try to address most of the common tendencies that beginner or less proficient golfers have. Most beginner golfers do not hit the ball in the center of the face consistently. Game improvement and forgiving clubs allow beginner golfers to hit it off center and still have the ball go relatively straight and maintain the distance that a well stuck hit would go. Club Manufacturers can achieve this by having bigger club heads which results in a larger club face for the ball to hit and increased margin for error. There is also less twisting of the club head (which results in lost energy transfer between the club head and the ball) on heel or toe strikes because they can move the weight of the head towards the perimeter (specifically the heel and toe) of the structure. Not only do they put extra weight in the heel and toe of the club, they also put it at the trailing edge of the club head to launch the ball higher. They also create forgiveness in the club head by having variable thickness in the face. Having a thinner part in the face in the toe and heel allow the face to flex more on off center hits allowing the ball to fly longer even on strikes hit on the toe and/or heel! When the balls doesn't go straight, more golfers miss their target to the right than the left - so game improvement clubs often have more weight in the heel which promotes the ball to curve to the left. All these features in forgiving, game improvement irons make for more enjoyable experiences for beginners and every brand of golf club has a model geared towards these attributes, so you can get them at all golf retail stores.
SHOULD I FOCUS ON WHAT THE PROS ARE PLAYING WITH, OR AM I BETTER OFF TO START WITH AN AMATEUR SET?
I wouldn't pay any attention to what the Professionals are playing, unless you play like a Professional! I see way to many members that are playing golf clubs that are making the game more difficult than it has to be for them. The most common reasons I see for this are; playing the same clubs as their favorite golfer on TV, they like the look of a certain golf club or their egos are too big and they think they are better than they actually are! I hate to say it but it always seems to be the men rather than the women in all three of those instances!
WHAT DEFINES A “SET” AND DO I NEED ALL OF THOSE CLUBS IMMEDIATELY?
In golf, the maximum number of clubs that you are allowed to play with during a round is 14. Having said that, no beginner golfer needs all 14 clubs. I often see beginner golfers with a full set of clubs but only use the Driver, 7 iron, PW and putter because all of their clubs "go the same length". If all of your clubs go the same length, you are not hitting the ball in the center of your club face and I would hazard a guess that you are hitting the middle of the ball with the bottom edge of the golf club (often called hitting the ball "thin") and you should go and see a Golf Professional for a quick lesson. I know this isn't a golf instruction article but I think this swing fault is often due to the common misconception that you have to hit up on the ball to make it go high into the air. In actual fact, you will have much more success by making contact with the ball first and the ground after that (a descending blow). A good way to test this is to take a divot (piece of turf comes out of the ground when you hit a shot) when you hit the ball but make sure the divot is closer to the target than where the ball originally was.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CLUBS THAT YOU RECOMMEND?
Every year, club makers come out with new models of golf clubs and the best clubs could be made by different brands every year. This year I think Taylormade are the best clubs in pretty much all areas. They have some really innovative new technology and a lot of the PGA Tour players are having a lot of success with them. At the recreational golfer level, Taylormade seem to be out performing the other brands in terms of sales so far this year and foresee this trend to continue into the summer.