August 28th, 2012 by Tyler Pringle
It seems like there is a counterargument for everything in golf. Fade or a draw? Cavity backs or blades? Hybrids or long irons? Carry or layup? Each side of every argument has its pros and cons, which is probably why golfers are notorious tinkerers, always trying to get it just right and never quite attaining what they envision as perfect.
Today we’re here to talk about a debate that didn’t even exist until about 20+ years ago (thanks, Technology). That debate? The golf club shaft. We’ll highlight some of the key differences and benefits of each material, and what you should consider when putting either one into your golf bag.
Early golf club shafts were made of hickory wood, which was chosen because of it’s resiliency and flexibility. However, there were often inconsistencies in the material that made the clubs more difficult to control.
Around 1935, the first steel shafts were introduced, although they did not gain prominence until the latter half of the century. Steel was significantly heavier than hickory, however it was also much stronger and more durable. Steel also had a very repeatable production process, so each shaft was the same. With more consistency in the clubs, golfers were able to develop more control over their swings.
Enter the carbon-fiber composite, otherwise known as graphite. The graphite shaft was first introduced around 1970, and was initially favored among seniors and women for the material’s flexibility and light weight. It wasn’t until the mid 1990′s that that the shafts became popular among PGA Tour players.
Pros & Cons
The biggest benefit of graphite over steel is it is much lighter. A light club can be swung faster than a heavy one (think about swinging a baseball bat… or a telephone pole). A club that is swung fast has more clubhead speed, and more clubhead speed at impact means more distance. However, the steel’s extra weight allows for more control of the club throughout the swing. Because graphite is so light, it’s easy to move the club out of position, which can lead to poor shots.
The two shafts also feel differently in the golfer’s hands when the club impacts the ball. Graphite tends to have a softer, more dampened feel, while steel feels very solid and tends to vibrate more, giving the golfer better feedback as to where the ball struck the clubhead.
Finally, price is often a huge difference between the two materials. Some tour model graphite shafts can cost upwards of $2,000, whereas even the most expensive steel shaft tends to be less than $50. For many, this can be the point that makes or breaks the decision of what to put in the bag.
Which is Right?
The correct answer is, there isn’t a correct answer. Every player has a different swing and different needs. Generally, most drivers and metal woods have graphite shafts because they are much longer clubs. A 45 inch steel-shafted club would be too heavy for most golfers to swing properly. However, if you have a slower swing speed, you might want to consider going graphite throughout your set to help get the ball in the air easier and increase your distance. If you are stronger and have a quicker tempo or faster swing, consider steel to help improve your consistency and accuracy.