So you're interested in taking up golf? Good for you; there's no better game to teach you that all-important life skill: handling disappointment with grace. If you walk, add in the benefit of exercise, and regardless of how well you play you will get to spend time in a lovely garden-like setting.
To start golfing, any old set of clubs will do, as long as they match your handedness, left or right. If you find you like it, you might want to start assembling a full set of clubs that maximize your chance for success. Here are some things to consider when choosing perhaps the most important clubs in your bag.
Of all the transitory joys found in golf, probably none is more satisfying that hitting a drive off the tee that goes screaming down the fairway and settles to the ground a long, long way away and on a beeline to your target. It's also a rare pleasure for amateur duffers, who find the low loft of the club (loft is the angle between the shaft held perfectly vertical and the face that hits the ball; the lower the loft, the lower the trajectory of the ball when struck) and the long shaft make for a club almost impossible to control every time.
Consider instead going without a driver and using a 3-wood instead (wood is a traditional term, but this club could be made of metal). The 3-wood has greater loft and a shorter shaft, giving you a better likelihood that you'll hit the ball flush instead of squirting it off the end of the club head into the woods.
If you do hang with a driver, you'll find them in a variety of lofts. If you tend to hit pop-ups, look for a low-loft club, perhaps 8 or 9 degrees. If you hit worm-burners, look for one with a high loft, perhaps 12 or 13 degrees.
Most drivers now come with heads the size of coffee cans, but made of different materials. The key here is light weight combined with solidity when striking the ball, along with a forgivingly large club face.
Titanium is the most widely available club head material. The titanium metal club is light enough to allow you maximum club head speed at contact and large enough to allow subtle mis-hits to land somewhere approximate to your target. The Ping K15, which will run you around $300, is a good example of a titanium driver.
Composite drivers combine titanium with materials such as carbon fiber, to make even lighter drivers. The Callaway RAZR Hawk Driver, which runs around $399, is an example of this cutting-edge technology.
You'll find that you only have one real choice in club shaft materials; graphite. Titanium shafts are available, but pricey and haven't been widely adopted.
Graphite is lighter than the old steel shafts, yet adequately strong. The lighter weight translates into faster club head speed, which drives a ball further. Older drivers with graphite shafts flexed a great deal, but more modern (and expensive) graphite shafts compare favorably with steel in stiffness, to the point that PGA players opt for them.
You'll find that graphite shafts come in a bewildering variety; Extra Stiff, Stiff, Regular, Senior and Ladies. The rule of thumb is the faster your swing speed, the stiffer your shaft should be. Most duffers wouldn't benefit from anything stiffer than a regular shaft. Try hitting some balls with different drivers to get a feel for what works for you.
Shafts can be found in different lengths, too; commonly, driver shafts are 44" to 47". Long shafts will develop greater club head speed, but require greater coordination to strike the ball squarely. Novice golfers should probably opt for shorter, easier to control shafts. Shaft length is also an argument in favor of using a 3 wood, with a shaft length of around 42". (Yes, size matters in golf, but how you wield a club matters more.)
Having learned about drivers, though, you might want to take into consideration the opinion of Golfsmith Chief Marketing Officer Matt Corey, who believes that novices shouldn't worry about club specifications. He recommends starting by having a professional fit you for clubs. This process will measure you, your swing and your capabilities and define the club specs that will fit your game. He did so recently, and he says he's hitting the ball further and straighter than ever.
And when it comes to drivers, those are the magic words; far, and straight.
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- Callaway FT-9 Driver for $100 + free shipping
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Photo Credit: Chispita_666 via Flickr