Fairway Woods: How to Choose

Published on 04/27/2023 · 15 min readNot sure how to select the best fairway wood for you? Golfing Expert Ryan Graybar walks you through what to look for and avoid while on the hunt for your next wood.
Ryan Graybar, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Ryan Graybar

Photo courtesy of Callaway

Tl;dr: When buying fairway woods, it is important to consider the loft, shaft length and material, head size and shape, center of gravity, and adjustability to find the right fit for your swing and playing style.

Introduction

My name is Ryan Graybar, and I have been a Curated Golfing Expert since 2021. Before that, I was a college golf player and a caddie at a private club for players of all skill levels. I am now a certified product and fitting specialist from many of the top manufacturers in the world. Aside from that, I just love playing and talking about golf! I help fit players into clubs that work for their game all day.

In this article, I will touch on fairway woods and several things that you should consider before purchasing one of your own.

What Is a Fairway Wood?

A fairway wood is a type of golf club designed for hitting long shots from the fairway, rough, or tee box. A fairway wood has a slightly shorter shaft and a smaller head than a driver but a larger head and longer shaft than a hybrid or iron. Fairway woods are often numbered from 3 to 11, with lower numbers corresponding to stronger lofts and longer distances.

Fairway woods are used to achieve distance and accuracy from long range. Some of the best in the world can crush a 3-wood over 300 yards, but it’s hard to put a number range on how far you should hit one. It’s easiest to think of them as a club to fill the gap between your driver and your long irons or hybrids.

What to Consider When Buying a Fairway Wood

What Loft Do You Need on Your Wood?

Consider the loft of your current fairway woods and the loft of your driver, hybrids, or irons to determine the appropriate loft for your fairway wood(s).

The loft refers to the angle of the clubface relative to the ground, with a higher one producing a higher ball flight and shorter distance and a lower loft producing a lower ball flight and longer distance. The appropriate loft for a fairway wood depends on a golfer's speed, launch angle, and desired shot shape. Higher lofted fairway woods (such as a 5-wood or 7-wood) are typically easier to hit and provide more accuracy, while lower lofted fairway woods (such as a 3-wood) are better suited for longer shots off the tee or fairway. Players with slower swings might find difficulties getting enough height with a lower lofted wood.

Selecting a loft that will fit your game and the gap you need on the course is very important. Whatever loft you decide on, a fairway wood will help maximize your distance and accuracy on the course.

What Shaft Length and Material Do You Prefer?

Consider your height, swing speed, strength, launch, spin, and accuracy before picking a shaft length and material. Generally, men outside the height range of 5’7”-6’0” or women outside the 5’4”-5’9” range should consider a custom length shaft to better fit their game.

Traditionally, fairway woods were made from Hickory wood. However, the game and technology have evolved a lot over the years. In today’s modern game, the heads consist of sturdy and lightweight materials like titanium, steel, and carbon. In addition, shafts are now almost exclusively graphite.

Graphite shafts are lighter than steel shafts and help generate more clubhead speed and distance. However, these shafts have different characteristics which can alter the spin, ball flight, and club’s weight. The material of the clubhead can also affect the club's weight distribution and center of gravity (CG), which can impact the launch angle, spin, and overall performance of the club.

What Head Size and Shape Do You Prefer?

Consider your skill level, confidence, and preferred trajectory and ball flight when selecting a head size and shape.

Generally, larger heads have a larger sweet spot and more forgiveness on off-center hits, making them easier to hit for players with less consistent swings or lower skill levels. However, larger heads can also be more difficult to control and maneuver through tight spots on the course. Alternatively, smaller heads offer more control and workability but have a smaller sweet spot and less forgiveness on off-center hits.

Ultimately, the best head size for your game will depend on your skill level, what shots you want to hit with the wood, and your swing characteristics.

Do You Want an Adjustable Fairway Wood?

Consider whether you want the ability to adjust the loft or other features of your fairway wood and whether the added cost is worth it for your playing style and skill level. For example, adjustable woods often have interchangeable or sliding weights on the clubhead to change launch and spin or an adjustable hosel to further fine-tune the face angle and loft.

What Is the Cost of the Club?

The cost of a fairway wood can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the brand, model, and features of the club. Generally, a basic fairway wood from a well-known brand can cost anywhere from $100 to $300. However, premium fairway woods with custom shafts can cost upwards of $500 or more.

The cost of a fairway wood should be considered in the context of a golfer's skill level, playing frequency, and personal preferences. While more expensive fairway woods may offer advanced features and technology, they may not necessarily be the best choice for every golfer. Therefore, it's important to find a fairway wood that balances performance, quality, and affordability.

Do You Need More Than One Fairway Wood?

Photo courtesy of Callaway

While many golfers carry only one fairway wood (typically a 3-wood), some golfers may carry additional fairway woods with higher lofts (such as a 5-wood or 7-wood) to cover a wider range of distances and shots on the course. I’ve also seen the 4-wood become a popular option in players' bags. Additionally, some golfers may prefer to use a fairway wood with a smaller head size for tighter lies or more precision and a fairway wood with a larger head size for longer shots or more forgiveness.

Slow to moderate-swing-speed players will often have more woods in their bag than high-swing-speed players because they spin more and are easier to maximize height and distance. Ultimately, the number and type of fairway woods you carry in your bag should be based on your individual needs, preferences, and the demands of the courses you play.

What Are the Different Types of Fairway Woods?

As mentioned, fairway woods are traditionally numbered from 3 to 11, with lower numbers corresponding to stronger lofts and longer distances. However, in recent years, some golf club manufacturers have introduced additional types of fairway woods with different loft options and head sizes, including:

1. Strong Fairway Woods

TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus fairway wood

Also known as "3-plus woods,” these are best for higher swing speed players who want a club that offers more control than a driver off the tee without sacrificing much distance or for players who want more distance than a traditional lofted 3-wood will offer.

Benefits:

  • Increased distance
  • Lower trajectory
  • More forgiving than a driver off the tee

Be Aware:

  • Decreased accuracy compared to a traditional 3-wood due to longer club length and stronger lofts.

2. Higher-Lofted Woods

Cobra Aerojet fairway wood

A high-lofted wood is designed to provide an increased trajectory and more stopping power upon approach. These fairway woods typically are labeled anywhere from a 7-wood to higher lofts. The higher the number, the higher it launches and the shorter distance it goes. So a 7-wood launching lower and going further than a 9-wood, and so on. These are often used as higher launching alternatives to hybrids and longer irons, like a 3 or 4-iron.

Benefits:

  • Higher trajectory
  • Increased stopping power on approach shots
  • Improved consistency.

Be Aware:

  • Reduced distance
  • Potential difficulty hitting out of deep rough
  • Can spin too much for some players

3. Deep-Faced Fairway Woods

Tour Edge E723 fairway wood

These fairway woods typically have larger clubheads and deeper faces and are designed to provide increased distance and forgiveness on shots hit low on the clubface.

Benefits:

  • Increased distance
  • Forgiveness on shots hit low on the clubface
  • A larger clubhead provides more confidence at address

Keep in mind:

  • Decreased control on shots hit high on the clubface
  • Potential difficulty hitting shots from more difficult turf, including tight lies or fairway bunkers

It is important to consider that the pros and cons of each type of fairway wood will vary based on each golfer's preferences and game, so it's important to try out different types of fairway woods to determine which ones work best for your game.

Features to Look for When Buying a Fairway Wood

When looking for technical features in a fairway wood, here are some key considerations:

  • Center of Gravity (CG): Look for a fairway wood with a low and forward CG for a lower launch and lower spin or a deeper and rearward CG for a higher launch and higher spin. The CG location can affect the club's trajectory, distance, and forgiveness.
  • Face Technology: Some fairway woods feature variable thickness in the face or "hot spots" for improved ball speed and distance on off-center hits.
  • Adjustable Features: Look for a fairway wood with adjustable features such as loft, lie, and weight distribution to help fine-tune the club to your individual swing and preferences.
  • Head Size and Shape: Consider the size and shape of the clubhead, which can impact the MOI (Moment of Inertia) and overall forgiveness of the club.
  • Shaft Material and Flex: Choose a shaft material and flex (regular, stiff, etc.) that matches your individual swing style and speed.
  • Sound and Feel: The sound and feel of a fairway wood can affect your confidence and enjoyment on the course, so consider finding a club that provides a satisfying sound and feel at impact.

Ultimately, the technical features you should look for in a fairway wood will depend on your playing style, swing mechanics, and personal preferences. It's recommended to try out different fairway woods and work with a professional fitter to find the club that best fits your game.

Features to Avoid in a Fairway Wood

No specific features should be universally avoided in a fairway wood, as each golfer's playing style and preferences are different. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a fairway wood:

  • Overly Complicated or Gimmicky Features: Avoid clubs with unnecessary or complicated features that can add to the cost of the club without providing significant benefits to your game.
  • Incorrect Fit: Avoid purchasing a fairway wood that does not fit your swing style and preferences properly. This can lead to inconsistent results and frustration on the course.
  • Poor Quality Materials or Craftsmanship: Avoid cheaply made or knock-off fairway woods that may not provide the performance or durability of a reputable brand.
  • Unnecessary Extra Clubs: Avoid purchasing fairway woods you do not need or will not frequently use on the course. This can add unnecessary weight and clutter to your golf bag.

In general, it's important to find a fairway wood that provides a good balance of performance, quality, and affordability and properly fits your individual swing style and preferences.

How to Choose the Right Fairway Wood for You

Fairway woods have different technologies to benefit different types of players. It is important to pick a wood that fits your skill level, and allows you to hit the shots you need. Below are some of my favorite fairway woods for players of different skill levels:

Persona 1: Beginner Golfer

Needs: A fairway wood that is forgiving and easy to hit to help them improve their distance and accuracy on longer shots.

What to look for: They should look for a fairway wood with a higher loft (5-wood or 7-wood), a larger clubhead for increased forgiveness, and a flexible graphite shaft that matches their swing speed.

What the fairway wood will unlock for them: A fairway wood that properly fits their swing and skill level can help a beginner golfer gain confidence on the course, hit more accurate and consistent shots, and improve their overall enjoyment of the game. An average golfer who wants a more forgiving wood can also look into some of these options.

Fairway woods to consider:

  • Tour Edge Hot Launch E523: This wood is built for budget beginner performance. E for “Extreme” forgiveness, this club is built to launch high and straighten a slice.
  • TaylorMade Stealth 2 HD: This is one of the top woods on the market today for beginners. The Stealth 2 features TaylorMade’s carbonwood face for more speed and improved feel, twist face technology to keep shots hit off the heel or toe more on-line, and an adjustable hosel to tune flight further. HD refers to the design of this club promoting a higher and draw-biased flight. This is a very common need for beginner golfers.
  • Callaway Rogue ST Max: Very forgiving clubhead meant for high launch, distance, and forgiveness. This club also features a slight draw bias to help straighten a slice, which is very common among newer players. This wood was released in 2022 so it offers a discounted but high-performing wood. If you really struggle with a slice, consider the D model.

TaylorMade Stealth 2 HD fairway wood

Persona 2: Intermediate Golfer

Needs: A fairway wood that provides versatility and distance, so the clubs can cover a wide range of shots on the course.

What to look for: A fairway wood with an adjustable hosel and weight distribution to help fine-tune the club to their individual preferences and playing style. In addition, a fairway wood with a lower loft (3-wood or 4-wood) and a high-quality, stable graphite shaft.

What the fairway wood will unlock for them: A fairway wood that is properly fit and adjusted to their swing can help an intermediate golfer hit a variety of shots from different lies and conditions on the course and provide increased confidence and performance when attempting long shots.

Fairway woods to consider:

  • Callaway Paradym: Callaway’s longest 3-wood ever, the Paradym line features top-of-the-market performance in a fairway wood. Callaway used AI to optimize the clubhead and has a patented forged carbon sole to help maximize distance and forgiveness.
  • TaylorMade Stealth 2: Improved upon the very successful Stealth 1, this wood features a carbon fiber material in the face for an improved sound, feel, and more speed. This wood also features TaylorMade’s patented twist-face technology to improve the consistency of shots hit off the heel or toe. If you really struggle with a slice, consider the HD model.
  • Titliest TSR2: Max forgiveness and high launch in a titanium head. It has a premium sound and feel, an adjustable clubhead, and an optimized face for speed on off-center shots.

Titleist TSR2 fairway wood

Persona 3: Advanced Golfer

Needs: A fairway wood that offers advanced features and technology to help them maximize their distance and precision on the course.

What to look for: A fairway wood with a deep and forward CG, variable face thickness, and an adjustable hosel and weight distribution system. Also, a fairway wood with a premium graphite shaft that matches their swing style and speed.

What the fairway wood will unlock for them: An experienced golfer who selects a high-quality and customizable fairway wood can expect increased distance, ball speed, and accuracy on their long shots. Additionally, advanced features can help them fine-tune the club to their individual preferences and maximize their performance on the course. These woods are great both off the tee and off the deck.

Fairway woods to consider:

  • Paradym Triple Diamond: This is the 3-wood I play, so it only makes sense to have it top my list. A low and forward CG offers more workability and control, lower ball flight, and less spin. This wood is built for speed and control, giving more advanced players the needed performance. Look into this option to take your fairway wood play to the next level.
  • Titleist TSR3: Among the most played on tour in the Titleist line, this fairway wood offers more workability and adjustability compared to the TSR2. This club is built for flight control and adjustability and is on par with the best-feeling woods on the market.
  • TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus: TaylorMade’s player's wood, the Stealth 2 Plus, is among the most adjustable woods on the market. It has an adjustable loft sleeve at the hosel to fine-tune face angle and loft, but also a slidable weight to alter the CG and launch/spin. It can be moved forward for a low launch and spinning head or moved back for a higher launch, spin, and control. A more compact, 170cc player preferred head caps off this great player's wood.

Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond fairway wood

Conclusion

There are many important things to consider when purchasing new fairway woods. The type of clubhead varies based on what each player needs. Shafts vary in weight, material, launch, spin, and flex, and it is important to have a shaft that matches both the type of clubhead and the needs of each player. The length, the loft, the price, the features included, and other things are also critical to getting players in a wood that fits their game best.

It can also be important to consider the warranty included by each brand against potential defects. If you would like some personal recommendations, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a Golfing Expert here on Curated.

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