Golf is one of the world’s most popular individual sports, with 24 million golfers in the United States alone. With significant advancements in the manufacturing of golf clubs, there are now more choices available to suit any player’s game. While the plentitude of options may certainly elevate many players’ golf games, it does make selecting golf clubs a more complicated and challenging process.
What are the pros and cons of heavy and light golf clubs? Whereas heavier golf clubs may provide more power upon impact and result in greater distance, they can affect swing mechanics and make it more difficult to control the ball flight. On the flip side, lighter golf clubs are easier to manage and may result in fewer errant shots, but distance may be sacrificed.
Elite golf players such as those playing on professional tours have swing coaches who can help determine the best golf club weights to suit their body type and golf swing. But what about the rest of us? We have your key questions answered below so that the next time you are shopping for a new driver or set of irons, you will know whether heavier or lighter golf clubs are the right choice for you.
Why Does the Weight of Golf Clubs Even Matter?
In simple terms, the impact that occurs when the head of a golf club strikes a golf ball results in the golf ball propelling forward, hopefully in the manner intended by the golfer. Since golf is a game where every stroke counts, and the fewer the strokes, the better the score, the distance that the golf ball travels from tee to green does matter. Longer tee shots mean shorter approaches, easier putts, and lower scores.
However, the game of golf is not only about distance. Shot accuracy is just as important, perhaps more so, to shooting a low round. Bombing a 300-yard drive will not do you very much good if the ball lands in the next fairway over, or worse, out of bounds. The ability to shape your shot, or at least hit it straight, will more likely result in a lower score than the occasional monster drive that stays inbounds.
In both respects, distance and control, club weight is a factor in developing these two elements of the game. Lengthy articles have been written about the physics of a golf swing, so we will spare you the complex formulas and scientific jargon.
Suffice it to say that the weight of your clubs is vital in two ways:
- It affects swing speed.
- It represents the mass and energy that will impact the golf ball.
Actual Weight vs. Swing Weight
There are two measurements of weight that are important in the game of golf. The first is the actual weight, and it is the actual weight of the entire club in your hand – the grip, shaft, and clubhead. The heaviest clubs in the bag are usually the wedges, which typically weigh around one pound. The lightest club in the bag is usually the driver, which is also the longest and weighs around ¾ of a pound (340 grams).
A golf club’s swing weight refers to the ratio of weight between the head and the rest of the golf club. In real-life terms, it is how heavy the club feels in your hand when held by the grip. If you were to hold something weighing a few grams in your hand, it would feel negligible; however, a few extra grams added to the head of your favorite driver would probably throw off your swing completely.
Of these two measurements, the swing weight is considered the more significant concerning the feel of golf clubs. Serious golfers will know their preferred swing weight (usually expressed as a letter followed by a number, for example, “D2”) when they get fitted for new clubs or need to adjust their current set.
Are Heavy Golf Clubs Better? Are Light Golf Clubs Better?
The answers to these questions are as complicated and elusive as the perfect golf swing. Ultimately, the one question that needs to be answered is whether your golf game is lacking in distance or ball control. Recognizing your main weakness is the first step toward choosing the right path toward the type of golf clubs that best suit your body type and swing mechanics.
Because golfers encompass all age groups, sizes, statures, and athletic abilities, there is no magic formula for determining the proper golf club weight that can apply to all individuals, just as body type does not dictate distance. PGA golfer Jhonattan Vegas is five inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Rory McIlroy, and both are considered long hitters, but McIlroy outdrove Vegas by five yards per drive in 2019.
Not every player will hit longer by choosing heavier clubs, nor will every golfer control their ball flight better by switching to lighter golf clubs. However, understanding the science behind golf and golf equipment can point you in the right direction.
Benefits of Heavier Golf Clubs
Switching to golf clubs with more weight may benefit your golf game if you have difficulty maintaining an even tempo throughout your swing. One crucial but difficult to define aspect of golf is the element of “feel.” The value of feeling comfortable with your golf equipment cannot be understated. A heavier club in your hands can slow down your tempo so that the various movements fall into place.
Another benefit of playing with heavier clubs is if your swing speed has maxed out for reasons physical or otherwise. If your endurance is good enough that swinging heavier clubs for a full round of 18 holes will not be too difficult, then the increase of 20 to 30 grams per club may generate more force at impact and produce longer shots from tee to green (and maybe even straighten out that hook or slice).
Benefits of Lighter Golf Clubs
With tremendous advancements in golf equipment technology, there are lighter materials available to manufacture golf club shafts and heads. Graphite and other composites are much lighter than steel and are also more flexible and forgiving. Lighter golf clubs allow people to swing freely and naturally, which is helpful for older players for whom swinging heavy clubs may be challenging,
Because they are lighter, graphite shafts are often longer (by an inch or so) than steel-shafted clubs and can, therefore, generate higher swing speeds. We have already seen the significance of clubhead speed with distance, so for many players, lighter clubs can result in increased length, particularly for those of slight build.
How the Weight of Your Golf Clubs Affects Your Swing Speed
There is a very apparent correlation between how fast the golf club head is moving at the moment of impact and how far the golf ball travels as a result. For some perspective, the following chart lists notable PGA tour golfers, their swing speed, ball speed, and driving distance for the 2019 season.
|PLAYER NAME||Avg. Club Head Speed||Avg. Ball Speed||Avg. Driving Distance||2019 Avg. Driving Distance Rank|
|Cameron Champ||128.01 mph||190.70 mph||317.9 yards||#1|
|Jhonattan Vegas||124.70 mph||181.69 mph||308.3 yards||#12|
|Seth Reeves||122.73 mph||183.52 mph||311.4 yards||#7|
|Gary Woodland||122.20 mph||180.47 mph||308.2 yards||#13|
|Tony Finau||121.80 mph||180.76 mph||309.5 yards||#9|
|Rory McIlroy||121.50 mph||179.45 mph||313.5 yards||#2|
To appreciate how golf club weight factors into clubhead speed, imagine the following scenario:
- You are at a birthday party, and it is your turn to take a swing at the piñata.
- You have a choice between a sledgehammer and a plastic baseball bat.
- You can certainly swing the toy bat much faster with minimal effort, but it would likely take many whacks to break open the piñata.
- The sledgehammer would be very difficult to swing freely and would require a considerable amount of effort just to make contact; however, you would only need to hit the piñata once before smashing it wide open.
In the same way, a lighter golf club would be easier to swing, and you would be able to generate a faster clubhead speed than if you were to swing a heavier club. Before rushing out to get the lightest set of golf clubs available, however, it is crucial to understand that faster clubhead speed is only part of the equation, for it is not only how fast the clubhead is moving that matters but also how much energy it is carrying.
Newton’s Second Law of Motion and the Golf Swing
A fundamental principle of physics tells us that the acceleration of an object is determined by its size and weight and the amount of force that is applied to that object. In this case, the object is the golf ball, which is small and weighs no more than 1.62 ounces. The force is the face of the golf club striking the stationary ball as the golfer swings the club.
To put this concept another way, the particular manner in which the golf ball is launched into the air and how far it goes is determined by how much force the golf clubhead is carrying at the point of impact. As we have already established, the clubhead speed is a factor, and the golf club’s mass is the other. Together, the speed and mass determine the magnitude of the force that is applied to the golf ball.
It stands to reason that given the same swing speed, a heavier golf club will apply more force to a golf ball than a lighter one and will, therefore, result in greater distance. However, a heavier club will be more challenging to swing at higher speeds because there is more weight involved. Further complicating things is the fact that the golf swing is one of the most complicated biomechanical movements in all of sports.
The Complexity of the Golf Swing
Although the objective of golf is straightforward – to put the golf ball in the hole – the golf swing is not. Some have referred to the golf swing as a double pendulum, with one attached to the end of the other. The first pendulum is comprised of the golfer’s shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, and the second pendulum is the golf club itself.
The perfect golf swing appears smooth, elegant, and simple. However, as millions of golfers can attest, it is a complicated series of movements to master and control. The challenge is that there are different moving parts to a golf swing, and they need to be performed in harmony with each other.
To break it down, there are two essential parts to the golf swing: (1) the backswing and (2) the downswing.
Golfers are taught to think of the arms, wrists, and hands as a single unit attached to the golf club. The main point of the backswing is to prepare the golfer’s body and golf club to generate the energy needed to launch the golf ball into the air.
Here is the sequence of steps that the golfer takes during the backswing:
- The golfer sets up his or her stance and addresses the ball (positions the golf club face behind the ball).
- As the golfer begins the takeaway, backing the clubface away from the ball, the legs start to pivot away, and the torso rotates, followed by the shoulders.
- The arms follow the shoulder rotation so that the club creates a sweeping arc like a second hand on a stopwatch moving from the six to the twelve.
- As the club is brought back behind the golfer’s head, the wrists are cocked so that the golf club is nearly parallel to the ground at the top of the backswing.
At this point, the golfer’s body is coiled like a spring, ready to release and generate the energy which will be transferred to the golf club and then to the golf ball at impact. The backswing sets up the downswing; if it is not performed correctly, the downswing will be flawed, and an errant shot will result.
During the downswing, the golfer’s body uncoils in the opposite order as the backswing, and the club accelerates as the head reaches the bottom of the swing. It is during the downswing that the swing speed is generated, and the golf club’s weight (mass) is put to use, combining to create force.
- The downswing begins as the golfer’s legs start to pivot toward the target, and the clubhead begins its downward motion.
- The torso and shoulders begin to unwind, bringing the arms, wrists, and hands (and, of course, the golf club) back down in a large, downward arc.
- Contrary to popular belief, the speed and power of the downswing is not generated by the shoulders or arms, but rather, the legs and torso. As the legs and torso unwind and rotate in the direction of the target, they generate a tremendous amount of torque, and the arms and golf club are just coming along for the ride.
- Throughout the downswing, the golfer generates club speed, which peaks as the swing bottoms out where the clubhead meets the ball.
- For most of the downswing, the golfer’s wrists remain cocked, holding the golf club in the same relative position as it was at the top of the backswing. It is just before the impact that the wrists uncock and rotate through the ball strike and into the follow-through.
The goal of every golf swing is to have the clubface nice and square at the moment of impact with the ball. To achieve this, the golfer’s wrists need to uncock at the moment of striking the golf ball. It is also this unhinging action that efficiently transfers the energy from the golfer’s body (the uncoiling of torso, shoulders, and arms) to the golf club and ultimately to the golf ball.
The key to a good golf swing is combining the backswing and downswing into a single fluid motion with a smooth, even tempo. With so many movements occurring at the same time and in a particular sequence, a seemingly minuscule difference in club weight of about an ounce or so, can make a huge difference in a golfer’s swing and ultimately shooting a low score or a high one.
Make an Informed Decision
If you have ever played a round of golf or hit a bucket of balls at the driving range, then you may be familiar with the frustration that only the game of golf can create, and the exhilaration that comes with hitting that one perfect shot. Thankfully, buying the right golf clubs need not be nearly as frustrating.
The game of golf has evolved to the point that even the recreational weekend player can make an informed decision by doing the research and heading down to the local golf shop and trying out golf clubs before purchasing them. Many golf shops have virtual hitting mats that simulate your distance and ball flight to take all the guesswork out of your purchase so that you can save it for the putting green.