Golf is a game of precision and skill.
When the organized game of golf first appeared on the east coast of Scotland in the 15th century, players used homemade golf clubs carved from wood and bound with leather. It wasn't until 1502, when King James of Scotland paid 13 shillings for the first recorded set of custom-made clubs, that the craft of club-making became a professional art performed by skilled workers instead of the players themselves. In fact, prior to this historic turning point in the game's development, the Scottish government had banned both golf and soccer in favor of promoting the development of archery, which was viewed as a more productive pastime.
Despite what their name implies, contemporary drivers and fairway woods are usually constructed out of graphite or steel. Their long shafts help golfers create incredible clubhead speed during their swings, which, when combined with their large low-loft club faces, makes them ideal for hitting long distance shots off of a tee or from the fairway.
The standard set of woods includes a driver and two fairway woods, usually a 3- and a 5-wood. As with the irons, a wood's potential hitting distance decreases as its number increases. Clubs with lower numbers are longer and have more loft (the angle of the club face which greatly affects the trajectory of the ball once it has been hit). Thus, a golfer will normally hit the ball farther with a driver than he would a 3-wood, and farther with a 3-wood than he would a 5-wood. Fairway woods also have higher-lofted club faces than drivers, which makes it easier for a golfer to strike a ball resting directly on the ground rather than perched on a tee.
With prices per club ranging anywhere from $50 to $1,000, drivers and fairway woods also tend to be more expensive than other kinds of clubs. According to Golf Magazine, players looking for a new driver or wood should read online reviews, research its playing characteristics and swing it in person before making the purchase.
In terms of their shot trajectories and distance, irons are more versatile than any other group of clubs. Long irons, like the 2- and 3-irons, are capable of sending the ball well over 200 yards through the air, making them very useful for shorter tee shots or fairway drives on long holes. At the opposite end of the spectrum, short irons, like the 8- or 9-iron, function almost like wedges; they are perfect for short-distance layups and approach shots where control and placement take priority over length and power. Because of their incredible variety, the irons are in many ways the sport's standard club and give players the finer shades of control they need to successfully play technical courses and holes.
Irons tend to be very reasonably priced, especially when purchased as part of a set. Players should expect to spend between $500 and $1,000 on a set of well-made irons.
Also known as utility clubs, hybrid clubs are relatively new to the sport and have only recently gained popularity with players. By combining the rounded clubhead of the fairway woods with the flat clubface of the irons, hybrid clubs give golfers the best playing characteristics of both. This enables them to hit moderate- to long-distance shots from difficult lies with an ideal blend of power and control. Because they are relatively forgiving and easy to swing, golfers often use hybrids as replacement clubs for their 2-, 3- and 4-irons. Many players, however, simply add a set of hybrids to their traditional set of woods and irons, increasing the variety and flexibility of their shots. According to Golfsmith, the shaft flex of a hybrid club greatly affects its carrying distance, and thus its compatibility with a golfer's individual skill level and style of play. They are not as expensive as fairway woods or drivers, but hybrids do cost more than irons and wedges, with prices usually falling somewhere between $50 and $250 per club.
In many ways the spiritual antitheses of drivers and fairway woods, wedges and putters are used to finesse the ball up to the cup or dig it out of sand traps and deep greenside roughs. Putters may cost up to $500, but wedges are usually much cheaper, with prices ranging between $20 and $180 per club.
Much like a short iron, a wedge's most important specification is its loft, or the angle at which club faces naturally rest; an increase in loft means a player's shot will move more of an arc rather than directly away from their position. Following this distinction, there are four different sub-classes of wedge:
Putters, on the other hand, only have very slightly lofted club faces. Since their main purpose is to direct the ball while it is on the green, this low loft gives the player great control over the direction and speed of the shot.