Fairway Wood Buying Guide
Like your putter, your relationship with your fairway wood(s) is very personal. Looks and feel are very important for establishing confidence at address but it is only once you've been through a few tough spots with your wood that you will know if this is the right one for you. I've known many a golfer to change every club in their bag every other year -- except for his beat-up old fairway wood bought second-hand ten years ago. Let's face it, you are asking way more of your fairway wood than you are of your driver. More often than not, you will be hitting your fairway wood off the deck, from an unfavorable lie. You would also more likely need to hit a smaller target up to 200m away, in the shape of a green or a tight fairway. So here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your selection.
Most players have 1-2 fairway woods in their bag. That said, how many you should carry is completely up to you. A good starting point is to look at the course(s) you play and determine how many short holes or tight fairways you will need to hit that might require a fairway wood off the tee. Also look at how many greens you will need to reach in two that are out of range of your long irons. One more thing to think about is the number of wedges you decide to carry. Carrying four wedges may mean you are limited to just one fairway wood to stay on the right side of the 14 club rule.
Woods or Hybrids?
Again, this is a very personal choice. Just remember that fairway woods, with their larger club heads, will be more forgiving than most hybrids. Also, the additional weight in the clubhead will make it easier to make contact with the ball in the rough, give the ball a higher trajectory and impart more backspin for a softer landing. On the flipside, hybrids do tend to offer more precision, feel and workability than a fairway wood. In the end, this choice is not going to be either-or, but a choice of which fairway woods and hybrids best complement each other to suit your game.
Most fairway woods on the market today have a steel club head. The smaller club head and the desire to maintain weight in the clubhead makes steel the most cost-effective choice.
Although steel is the current material of choice for fairway woods, more and more club manufacturers are using titanium in their fairway metals. As with drivers, the lighter metal allows for a larger clubhead and more forgiveness for the same weight. A lighter titanium head also opens up the possibility of using movable weights to manipulate the center of gravity (CG) to better suit players. You will pay for this forgiveness though. Titanium is a more expensive material so expect your average titanium fairway wood to be more expensive than its steel-headed counterpart.
Along the same trend line of titanium, some club manufacturers are using composite club heads in their fairway woods. As with titanium, the objective is to improve launch conditions by moving the weight within the clubhead to where it is most advantageous to the player. Expect to pay more for this advantage.
Although there is some variation in the market, the lofts for fairway woods are fairly standard: ~14 degrees for a 3 Wood, 16 degrees for a 4 Wood, 18 degrees for a 5 Wood, 22 degrees for a 7 Wood and 26 degrees for a 9 Wood. There is some overlap between fairway wood lofts, hybrid lofts and long iron lofts. So as a general rule a 4 Wood will replace a 2 Iron, a 5 Wood will replace a 3 Iron, etc. Just remember that an 18 degree 5 Wood will travel farther than an 18 degree 3 Hybrid or 3 Iron. This is because the shaft of a 5 Wood will be slightly longer and the added weight in the 5 Wood club head will impart more energy to the ball.
Graphite is the material of choice for fairway woods as their primary objective is distance. Graphite shafts are lighter than steel shafts and promote more clubhead speed at impact, and distance. As a rule of thumb, you will want to match the stiffness (L, A, R, S, XS) of your fairway wood shaft to that of your driver.