Graphite vs. Steel Shafts in Golf Clubs: Which Is Right for You?Published on 07/14/2023 · 7 min readTrying to decide which type of shaft is right for you? Golf expert Rob H. breaks down the differences to help you choose.
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One of the most common questions that comes up when purchasing golf clubs nowadays is, “What type of golf shaft should I get? What most benefits my swing and the trajectory of shots I hit out on the course?”
Historically speaking, steel iron shafts have been better for more advanced or higher swing speed players wanting a low shot trajectory, while graphite golf shafts have been ideal for amateur golfers with more moderate swings or players wanting maximum distance with lighter shafts. This is not the case anymore for a properly-fitted set of clubs.
Graphite has evolved leaps and bounds, especially over the past 20 years, as graphite shaft manufacturers have begun using different types of graphite and other exotic materials to create extra stiff (XS) club shafts compared to what graphite used to have as a performance maximum. (Fun fact: some graphite shafts use carbon fibers that can be found on the nose cone of the Boeing 787.)
I have always played graphite in my driver. However, I have played with both graphite and steel with all of my other clubs during my over fifteen years in the golf industry.
If you're confused about why shaft material and weight even matter for your swing, check out this article on swing weight. Now, let’s go look and see what types of golf shafts might be right for you.
There are certain factors that all shafts share for Tour professionals and high-handicap golfers alike. The first of these is the range of flight characteristics from the flex-point, or kick points. You can have a low kick point, mid, or high kick-point which would launch with a high ball flight, mid ball flight, and a low ball flight respectively.
The other characteristic you need to concern yourself with is shaft torque, or how much the shaft bends and twists. The lower the torque, the less twisting the shaft will have, giving the player more control of the face angles at the ball impact point. Typically, faster swing speed or more advanced players, especially the players on the PGA Tour, will want lower torque, because it can handle the faster swing speeds and allows players more control of the trajectory of the shot. However, players who don't have a fast swing speed would benefit from the forgiveness of higher torque golf club shafts that fit their lower swing tempo and clubhead speed.
For a long time, stainless steel shafts were very bland, which was why only better players or high-swing speed players generating a lot of clubhead speed would play them. That is no longer the case. Steel shafts are coming in increasingly lighter, whether in a regular shaft flex or x-stiff. You no longer need to worry about swinging the 130-gram shaft—the old days of heavier weights are gone. These days, you can routinely find steel shafts in the mid-80g range. The major difference you are finding in these clubs is new metals that are still strong but can be made lighter. Companies like Nippon Steel are even pushing the limit and making steel shafts in the 70g range, which create more spin and launch without increasing clubhead lofts.
Steel is really good for giving you a feeling of more control. However, if you go too light, you will compromise that main feature. Weight is mainly what makes a steel shaft stable.
Graphite shafts, especially graphite iron shafts, got a bad rap when they were first released by club manufacturers. They were criticized as less durable, having poor accuracy, and were often plagued with criticisms of the shaft flex and hitting the ball too far, until recently. Graphite shafts, now using different forms of carbon composites, have finally caught up to steel as far as consistency, durability, and distance control, while also preventing unwanted vibrations.
Typically, in modern graphite shafts, the ones you’ll find on the shelf are going to be in the lighter weight range, from 50 to 65g. But there’s still plenty of variation. You can now find graphite composite shafts up in the 100g range, especially with iron shafts, and there are even models coming in at the 29g range with the Mitsubishi Grand Bassara.
The things I love about this category of shaft are the graphics and colors; the chrome plating on steel does not allow for the same kind of decoration. Some of these shafts turn into works of art—you can look at the Vylyn or Nemesys from VA Shafts and see their inspiration from Andy Warhol.
If you are looking for validation on the use of graphite shafts, look no further than the 2020 U.S. Open Champion, former PGA Tour player, Bryson DeChambeau. He used graphite shafts in all 14 of his clubs (not including his putter) during the tournament, and he is one of the longest hitters of the golf ball ever. The shaft he uses is called the “Texas Rebar,” and it is supposed to be stiffer than the stiffest steel shaft for professionals on the market.
Also keep in mind that most equipment manufacturers do not have stock steel options in drivers, fairway woods, or hybrids, although some companies might let you order it custom to switch to steel. This is because the performance of graphite is hard to beat in these three types of clubs.
Thanks to the success that Aerotec has had with its Steelfiber iron shaft in recent years—not to mention the success of the grandfather of multi-material shafts, the Grafalloy Bi-Matrix—shaft manufacturers have been working on other options that infuse steel into graphite. The goal is to find a perfect middle ground by creating a shaft with the stability of steel and the feel and distance of graphite composites. This is still really early in the development and only time will tell if it will work. Right now, it’s one of the most expensive upgrades you can make to clubs since the manufacturing time is longer than either a steel shaft or graphite.
But the future is bright for this category as companies like Nippon have released the Graphite On Steel Technology (GOST) shaft this year. The options are growing—stay tuned.
What Is Best for Me?
This is becoming a harder and harder question to answer with the lines becoming blurred between "yes, graphite" or "yes, steel". Yes, graphite will be a little longer than steel and steel will be slightly more accurate than graphite. But you should really look at the outlying factors to help you decide. It isn't as simple as beginners, seniors, and high handicappers needing a lightweight club with greater flexibility in the shaft anymore.
Graphite often does cost more and steel will cost less. If you have back problems or arthritis, graphite will be better due to its vibration dampening properties, and lightweight graphite will be easier on your body to swing. If you are solely wanting more distance in your golf game, go with graphite.
If none of these issues can help you decide, talk to your Curated Golf Expert or fitter. They can help you get the correct shaft. A lot of it will come down to timing in your swing—you need the correct shaft to help get the club head back to the correct impact position.
I am always an advocate of trying something new, so if you have not tried graphite, especially in your irons, go give it a try. If you're looking for the best shafts for your wedges, check out this article which breaks down some top choices. There is a chance that a certain shaft material might not work, but you might find out that it is an even better option for you! Low handicappers and Tour players are blurring the lines; it's time we all try something different to improve our game!