Long Iron vs. Utility vs. Hybrid- What Should a Beginner Use?

If you are like most beginning golfers, things get a little confusing the further down you go in your bag. With options like hybrids, utility irons, fairway woods, long irons, I can see how someone might want to pull their hair out from the confusion! But fear not…

The Answer

Most beginning golfers improve their chances of making square contact with the golf ball when they use hybrids. This is because of the larger clubface, lighter club shaft and larger sole (bottom) of the head.

Who Should Use a Hybrid?

In my experience when teaching beginning golfers, the problem most people have is that they come “steep” at the golf ball. Meaning that they are coming down at the ball at a sharp angle. The issue with coming down too steep is that when you put a longer iron in their hand, it becomes harder to find the low point of the swing and the golfer’s hand-eye coordination gets thrown off. And, well you know the rest… chunk, thump, dirt.

Only recently, over the last 10-15 years, has the popularity of hybrids and driving irons (more on this below)  increased. This is mostly due to the increased forgiveness and versatility that some golfers are searching for.

Who wouldn’t want that! 

This is why hybrids are great additions to your bag when you are learning the game and trying to get the timing of your swing down. Most beginning golf sets do come with a set of hybrids if you are interested you can read about my favorite beginning golf set using this link here. 

Stop Coming So Steep – Drills

If you are confused by what I mean by a steep downswing or just what some drills to practice, here a great video I really like about how to stop coming so steep at the golf ball:

Technology of Hybrids

wide sole of hybrid for forgiveness

Hybrid golf clubs are the combination of irons and woods. Without getting “too” nerdy, they are more forgiving than long irons because they have hollow, metal clubheads to disperse the weight of the clubface and improve miss-hits.

Along with their more forgiving clubface, they are generally lighter than long irons because of their graphite shafts.  They may not seem like a big deal but:

The lighter the club, the more likely clubhead speed increases. The faster the clubhead speed, the more likely the distance increases. (assuming you hit the center of the clubface)

So hybrids are more forgiving and can give you potentially more distance? Yea. hybrids are pretty awesome! However, I do have some recommendations before you just grab one off the shelf and put it in your bag.

  1. Make sure you know what type of stiffness of club shaft you need for your hybrid. (extra stiff, stiff, regular, senior, lady, junior) If you don’t know, I recommend googling to find your nearest Dicks Sporting Goods store or local golf course and asking the golf staff. Their jobs are to point golfers in the right direction when purchasing clubs, so don’t feel weird asking
  2. Know which hybrids you need to put in your bag. In today’s golf world, you can get an entire set made of hybrids now so make sure you know which clubs you want to turn into hybrids. My advice would be to select which long irons you struggle with the most and then head to your nearest golf retail store to demo hybrids that are the same degree as the irons you selected.

Which Clubs are Long Irons?

Long irons are generally your:

  • 3 iron
  • 4 iron
  • 5 iron

Occasionally, some golfers may prefer to use a 2 iron or if you are crazy like Jack Nicklaus was, a 1 iron!

Long irons have been the standard used in golf bags for years and years. Most professionals still use them as they blend seamlessly with the other irons in their set allowing the weight and feel to remain consistent from club to club.

If you are interested at all about the degrees of loft in long irons and how they relate to other golf clubs in your bag, use the chart below to compare

Driver:8-13 degrees
3 Wood:14- 17 degrees
5 Wood:19-24 degrees
3 Iron:19-24 degrees
4 Iron:22-26 degrees
5 Iron:27-30 degrees
6 Iron:31- 36 degrees
7 Iron:37-40 degrees
8 Iron:40- 43 degrees
9 Iron:43-47 degrees
Pitching Wedge:47-52 degrees
Sand Wedge:53- 58 degrees

Is a Utility Iron a Hybrid?

A utility iron is not a hybrid. It is more of a combination between a hybrid and an iron or a hybrid of a hybrid! I know golf technology is getting strange… They generally have a hollow cavity in the clubhead (just like a hybrid) to improve consistency but have a smaller sole to give them a more “iron” like appearance.

Another common term for a utility iron is a driving iron. Which, as the name suggests, helps golfers reach longer distances off the tee without having to use a fairway wood or driver. Though they are different designs, hybrids and utility clubs are often interchangeable when it comes to the loft of the club, which translates to similar distances when well-struck well on the clubface.

To clarify any confusion you may, I recommend watching the first few minutes of this video where TXG Club Fitting Guys talk about the difference between the two clubs. (Great video guys)

Who Uses Utility Clubs

I have had the privilege to teach some great golfers over the years. One thing I have noticed is that these better players are taking notice of the new technology and look of utility irons. Even the guys and girls on TV are starting to add them to the bags.  And not to say that I am in the “better” player category, but I am starting to enjoy them too!

The reason why is because they have the same appearance as an iron but give you just a little more forgiveness on miss-hits due to the dispersed weight behind the clubface. For me, my eyes don’t match up well when I look down at a bulkier head like that a hybrid. I like the clubface to look narrow so that I can “feel” like I have more control of my release for accuracy. And the utility club gives me both! 

Can Beginners Use Long Irons or Utility Clubs?

Of course, they can! In fact, I recommend that when you first start to play golf that you experiment with all different types and models of golf clubs to find what works best.

Everyone’s swing is different and you might find that your particular swing style works better with a specific club model.

But if I were to generalize based on all of the lessons and club fittings I have done over recent years, beginning golfers generally have more success when they use hybrids for their long irons. In today’s game, technology is only here to help the 99% of us golfers looking for more distance and forgiveness and that is exactly what hybrids are designed to do. By decreasing the amount of”fat” and “chunk” shots, hybrids are a great way to gain more confidence on the course.

Similar Questions

Is a 3 hybrid the same thing as a 3 iron? – It depends on the type of irons or hybrids that you are using. For example, your Titleist 3 iron might be 19 degrees but your Wilson 3 hybrid might be 17 degrees. An easy solution is to google the clubs that you do have and search for the “specs”. (ex. Cleveland CBX specs) Golfers should keep their club lofts consistent with one another so it is important that you know which lofts your clubs are before adding another club to your bag.

What is the lowest degree you can get a hybrid? – Today (2020) the lower end of hybrid golf club lofts are at 16-17 degrees. This would be comparable to a 2 or 3 iron in loft.

What iron is similar to your 5 Wood?– A 5 fairway wood generally has the same degree of loft as a 3 iron, would have. (19-24 degrees) The difference between them is how the clubheads are designed. The difference in design will create a lower ball flight with the 3 iron compared to their 5-fairway wood.