Beginners are advised to tread shallow waters before venturing into the deep end of the pool. And in golf these days, they stay away from the longer clubs: the drivers, fairway woods and even the long irons. The shorter irons and the newer hybrids are what most beginners carry these days in their bags. And with the arrival of the hybrid, the popularity of fairway woods have decidedly taken a nosedive.
But the same technology that led to the creation of hybrids is also at work on fairway woods now, making them a still viable option for players looking at effective and approachable long distance clubs. As we head into 2017, the fairway woods market is beginning to kick back into gear with at least half a dozen clubs with capabilities beyond anything we have ever seen in woods in the past.
We have already touched upon the essential characteristics and uses of fairway woods in our buying guides for beginners and more experienced players with lower handicaps . In this article, we will look more closely at the pros and cons of fairway woods when compared to hybrids. We will also look at the newer technologies that are making fairway woods a more attractive proposition for beginner/less experienced golfers.
At the end of the day, golf is a sport, a very unforgiving one at that, but still a sport nonetheless. And a vast majority of golfers indulge in this sport sheer pleasure, friendly socialization and for the invigorating physical exertion in the sun. Of the millions who play golf, only a fraction are focused on breaking into the pro or semi-pro circuit. According to USGA statistics, players with double digit handicaps account for nearly 70% of the golfing population. (source) That is the key demographic for all golf club manufacturers. And the “game improvement” category is the best selling range of clubs for good reason.
So manufacturers have been focusing a lot on improving overall forgiveness and ease of use of golf clubs in general by developing newer models of “game improvement” range of clubs. Beginners and high handicappers usually find the long shafted clubs like the bladed long irons and fairway woods particularly hard to wield effectively. Hybrids were designed to combine the best of both classes while offering more accuracy, launch altitude and forgiveness.
And they can be used in a multitude of situation, on the rough, the fairway and even from the tee. A vast majority of casual golfers now carry hybrids instead of woods and long irons.
Hybrids offer a vastly improved performance over long irons. Better forgiveness, better accessibility and even better distance and launch height. There is no reason not to go for a hybrid over a 2-4 iron right now, unless you are a pro golfer/single digit handicapper who can live and prosper with their quirks. But woods are a different proposition to long irons. Fairway woods are integral to the long distance game. The first one/two shots on any hole usually require some kind of fairway wood (since a driver is actually a 1-wood). Sure, hybrids can be effectively used even from the tee, but they offer much less in yardage when compared to woods. So, the hybrids may eclipse the longer irons in out and out play, but woods still have one or two aces in their favor against the hybrids.
Golf club selection is not just about mere statistics and performance figures, it is also down to individual preference. So let us say from the outset that before you make any decisions as a beginner golfer regarding choice between woods and hybrids, you ought to try them both out. Some golfers prefer shorter clubs like hybrids, while others excel more with longer clubs. So basically, try before you buy.
Past that issue of individual preference, the debate between hybrids and woods can be based on the following considerations:
Ease of use: hybrids are the clear winners with their shorter shafts and higher lofts.
Accessibility for beginners: a continuation of the above theme, hybrids are better than fairway woods if you are a beginner, or high handicapper struggling with your swing.
Distance: Woods are the clear winners in this aspect. Once you gain a certain level of consistency in your swing, you will be able to get more distance with a fairway wood any day over a hybrid.
Rough: hybrids are better in thicker roughs while a 3 wood can make get the job done in lighter roughs.
Affordability: another area where woods score handsomely over hybrids. Hybrids are usually more expensive and if you are on a budget, a fairway wood or two can be a more sensible option over a set of hybrids.
Versatility: hybrids are jack of all trades, while woods are masters of distance. Woods will serve you better from the tee and on the fairway in longer holes.
Skill progression: hybrids are shorter clubs. To become a better golfer, you need to improve your game and become proficient in the use of both short and long clubs. Fairway woods will help you with that.
In conclusions hybrids are usually preferable for beginners and high handicappers for an easier outing on a golf course. The less familiar you are with golf, the better hybrids are for you. But once you gain some consistency in your golf swing, you really ought to consider getting a 3 wood or a 5 wood. They will offer tremendous versatility on longer par 5 or above holes, to get you near the green in two shots. 3 woods are obviously much much better than hybrids from the tee.
If you have been using a hybrid from the tee and require an upgrade with more distance, get a 3 wood. This is also the preferred option if you have a driver and are struggling badly with getting consistent shots into the fairway.
On the fairway, when you gain an adequate command over hybrids, you can look at both a 3 wood as well as a 5 wood. 5 woods are easier to hit high in the air thanks to their higher loft angle. 3 woods on the other hand go further.
If you are in a pinch and don’t have much room in your club set for both woods, choose according to the type of course you are playing on. 3 woods can carry more distance, but 5 woods will still gain you plenty yards as well as more height on the fairway. But if that is not an issue, you can still carry a 3 and 5 wood along with a couple of hybrids, your short iron-wedges set, and comfortably leave your shiny driver at home!
Unlike several other club classes, there is not much stratification in fairway wood ranges. You get the game improvement fairway woods, the better player fairway woods and a fair few that straddle the gray area between both. Our shortlist reflects these ranges with a cross selection of the best fairway woods on offer for both high handicappers as well as low-mid handicappers.
In the game improvement categories, we have:
The manufactures have tried to address one of the long standing issues that most high handicappers face with fairway woods: gaining good launch height on their shots consistently.
With an appropriately named “easy launch tech”, Adams Golf has tried to improve the CG and spin as well as swing speed to help players launch the ball into the air more consistently. It is available in 3, 5 and 7 wood options.
With a massive sole that is contoured and lightweight, Callaway has set its sight firmly on the game improvement market with the XR 16. The sole design evokes the classic “Warbird” design and offers a high CG and backwards MOI, helping the XR 16 scoredecent shots into the fairway even with big misses.
There are 3, 5 and 7 woods available in the range.
True to form, the F6 from Cobra carries the brand’s trademark bold looks and styling.
Though it is often marketed as a game improvement club, the F6 is a more than capable driver suitable for players of all skills. We get the option of adjustable weights with a 20g tungsten piece that can be placed in either of the two slots on the sole to tinker with the CG and MOI.
The wood also has an adjustable hosel, which means that lofts can be tinkered a few angles in either direction. There are 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 adjustable woods, offering an extra layer of versatility when compared to other woods in our offering.
Not to be confused with the M2 which is a game improvement derivative, the M1 is a proper player oriented fairway wood from the Adidas marquee.
With two 15 gram sliding weights, and a wide gamut of adjustable loft options, this wood brings serious performance options to the table for players looking for a versatile fairway wood with oodles of finesse on offer.
There are 3,5,7 wood options as well as multiple shaft flexes to choose from. The Lamkin Performance 360 grip is an added bonus.
Along with the 915F the 915Fd is a better player wood aimed at players with handicaps in or near the single digits mark. The Fd has a smaller head and lower spin than the F version from Titleist. They have been around for a while, but these are still some of the best woods in the market in their range.
They have an Active Recoil Design (ARC) to optimize speed and reduce spin at the clubface. Though no adjustable weight options are provided, there is an adjustable hosel with 16 different loft and lie combinations to keep even the most demanding player happy.
Furthermore, the shaft options include high performance Mitsu. Diamana and Aldila Rogue choices.
The diversity in features and capabilities shown in our shortlist of the best fairway woods indicate that manufacturers are finally starting to give fairway woods some long overdue attention. There is still a viable market for these clubs even when hybrids are seemingly taking over. With some more exciting tech upgrades in 2017, fairway woods could well be on the revival trail. The coming year should be very exciting indeed.