An Expert Guide to the Best Golf Clubs for High Handicappers or BeginnersPublished on 05/22/2023 · 18 min readAs a golfer with a high handicap, you want to be looking for clubs that offer the most forgiveness. Golf Expert Tyler Osantowske breaks down his suggestions below.
Photo courtesy of Callaway
TL;DR: There's no golf club or piece of golf equipment out there that will automatically drop your score ten strokes or help you start hitting putts like Tiger—only practice can do that. However, if you’re a beginner or a golfer with a high handicap, there are specific types of clubs with increased forgiveness that can provide some help as you work on decreasing your score.
After caddying for 12 years and being a golfer myself for the last 15 years, I have years of experience watching and helping golfers of all skill levels hit a variety of clubs. I noticed that golfers often hit clubs not meant for beginners, which made it hard to improve their game since finding the fairway was difficult. After going through 12 years of caddying, it was imperative for me to keep up with all the new technology in golf clubs and new releases for forgiving clubs in order to be able to make suggestions to all the golfers I have caddied for. This has led me in the past year to be a Golf Expert for Curated in order to continue aiding golfers in finding the perfect set for them. This became a passion for me, and I learned quickly that helping golfers in all aspects of the game was a very rewarding process.
Understanding Golf Club Forgiveness
What are forgiving clubs?
“Forgiving” is a general descriptor used in the golf world when referring to golf clubs engineered to suit the beginner and high handicap golfer’s game. Generally speaking, all clubs have a sweet spot in the middle of the clubhead where max inertia and energy combine to produce a straight, long ball. Clubs labeled “forgiving” are designed with a larger sweet spot so players can more consistently generate hits that go straight and find the fairways. A typical forgiving club also tends to have a higher degree of loft and a higher launch angle to help create distance as the ball advances on this straighter trajectory. Forgiveness can also come in the form of a larger clubhead which provides more surface area for beginners to make contact with the ball.
Why is forgiveness important to a beginner or high-handicap golfer?
Forgiving clubs are especially favorable amongst high-handicappers and beginners because these designs help compensate for deficits in their game. For example, the larger sweet spot in forgiving clubs helps players who, because of their skill level, are not able to consistently hit golf balls with the center of the clubface. The further away you get from this sweet spot, the worse the ball travels, making it more difficult for beginner golfers to produce a good shot. Hence, “forgiveness” refers to extra leeway compensating for a player’s poor contact with the ball. Forgiveness is, therefore, crucial to a beginner golfer who is still developing their game but still wants to have an enjoyable time on the course without being frustrated by bad swings and poor ball contact.
What to Consider When Buying Clubs as a Beginner or High Handicapper
What clubs do I need?
The first question to ask yourself, or a Curated Expert, is what clubs you need to start. A typical golf set has 14 clubs altogether and usually includes:
- A driver
- Two fairway woods
- A hybrid
- Irons (4-9)
- Three wedges: pitching wedge, gap wedge, and sand wedge
- A putter
Note, though, that as a beginner, you do not need to invest in a full set of 14 clubs because the full range of clubs will not make a significant difference in your game at that stage. In order to get yourself started while making only a minimal investment, the most important clubs to have are:
- A driver
- A fairway wood
- A hybrid (although possibly optional)
- Irons (6-9)
- A pitching wedge and a sand wedge
- A putter
Is there a specific brand that you like?
There are a ton of great golf brands not only in America but all over the world. The question is, which brand do you choose? It can’t hurt to go with one of the more popular and reputable brands, such as Callaway, Cobra, or TaylorMade.
Are these forgiving clubs?
Once you’ve chosen a brand, it’s crucial that you ensure you’re purchasing clubs that are made for high-handicappers. Most brands have their own line of forgiving clubs, which will make narrowing your search a lot easier. It’s also a good idea to check in with local golf instructors or a Curated Expert for guidance on whether the clubs you wish to purchase will provide the forgiveness needed to help you work on improving your game.
How much will beginner clubs cost?
Let's talk a little about how much these clubs typically cost to get an idea of what the market for beginner clubs looks like. First, understand that clubs with max forgiveness are engineered with technology to guarantee performance and will not come cheap. So, what are your options?
1. Brand New Set: A brand-new, standard complete set of clubs can run anywhere from $500 to $1200, depending on the brand and the number of clubs included. The lower-priced sets are typically 9-piece, meaning they don't come with the full 14 clubs—but that’s completely fine for beginners!
Expert Tip: While getting a standard complete set of forgiving clubs is possible, the shafts will also come ‘standard’ and cannot be customized, so it is important to determine a budget first before committing.
2. Individual Clubs: Buying each of the clubs listed above separately is another option. These prices also vary depending on the manufacturer and model and, when combined, will typically cost more than $1,000. These individual clubs are pricier because they are usually of better quality than those in a set. Although this option is a more expensive route, especially depending on the brand, it’s worth the investment if you are looking for a quality set.
3. Used Clubs: Buying used clubs is a great option if you want to take a more conservative approach to spending on your first set. The used club market offers a wide selection of pre-owned clubs that are often in good condition. The choices may be slightly limited if you’re looking for left-handed clubs, and you won’t be able to get a custom fit or the newest technology, but overall it’s still worth it because of the more affordable price.
What are the limitations of forgiving clubs?
Because forgiving clubs are designed to produce straighter shots, the compromise is that you can lose the following:
- Workability: The more skilled player will have situations where the ball needs to be hit in a certain way to avoid trees and other objects. Being able to work a ball is a priority to the better player and is more difficult with clubs that have more forgiveness built in.
- Launch Control: The ability to launch the ball at a preferred trajectory; most forgiving irons launch the ball higher because the average player may have challenges with getting the ball high into the air.
- Distance Control: The ability to consistently hit a shot at a desired yardage. For example, a tour-level golf club will generally hit a 155-yard shot about 155 yards over and over again. A more forgiving club may hit the ball 145 yards or 170 yards because of the forgiveness that is built into the club.
- Club Feedback: The ability to feel the shot after it’s been hit. A forgiving club will hide any type of mishit or off-center hit because it’s made to have a large sweet spot and can give an illusion that the golf ball was hit in the center. A better players club will have a smaller sweet spot and therefore provide a better assessment of the shot. If a shot is missed with a better players club, it will vibrate, shake, or “sting” the golfer's hands. That can be helpful in trying to improve technique; without the feedback, it will be tougher to know if the ball was hit well.
Different Types of Forgiving Golf Clubs
As a Curated Golf Expert, one of the struggles I hear beginners and golfers with high handicaps talk about most is the dreaded slice. It's common to struggle with a slice, whether you're right-handed or left, especially when it comes to the driver. To address this, manufacturers have engineered drivers with technology that works to counteract this problem.
What are the features of a forgiving driver?
- A larger sweet spot in a larger clubhead.
- High degree of loft (12 to 14 degrees).
- High COR (Coefficient of Restitution).
- Higher MOI (Moment of Inertia).
Benefits of using a forgiving driver:
- Forgiving drivers have a larger sweet spot for better contact and direction when missing the center of the face.
- Higher lofts mean high launch and increased distance.
- COR measures how much energy is transferred from the clubface to the ball. With high COR drivers, less of that energy is absorbed by the clubface, allowing the ball to rebound from the hit with more energy. Basically, the higher the COR, the further the ball speed goes.
- High MOI helps reduce the amount of twisting a club will undergo when the ball is struck. The higher the MOI, the straighter the ball will go on mishits.
- Typically, these drivers favor a draw ball flight and launch higher than usual because of the need to advance the forward.
- They are not meant to consistently play different types of shots, such as a draw, fade, or straight ball.
- The COR range is from 0-1, but the legal limit is 0.83 per USGA rules. Of course, if you’re not playing in tournaments, you can get a driver that falls outside of those rules and have plenty of fun!
Expert Tip: Look for drivers that use specific technology that targets forgiveness. For example, TaylorMade’s new lines of forgiving drivers work to reduce the effects of mishits without compromising distance. This is a huge benefit to beginners.
Best drivers for beginner or high-handicap golfers: TaylorMade Stealth 2 HD, Callaway Paradym X, Cobra Aerojet MAX, and the Tour Edge E522. All of these drivers offer distance, direction, forgiveness, and great looks.
What is the right driver shaft for a beginner?
Determining the correct shaft flex is part of finding the right driver for a beginner golfer. Each graphite shaft weighs differently and ranges from soft to hard stiffness—or, more specifically: ladies, senior, regular, stiff, and extra stiff flex. This matters as your club swing speed increases. The faster you swing, the heavier and stiffer you want your shaft to be in order to keep up with the energy transmission at impact. Beginner golfers tend to have slower swing speeds, so you should look at getting a regular flex shaft. For more detail on fitted golf shafts, check out this guide.
Irons & Hybrids
One thing I would always suggest for someone trying to be better with their irons is to look for cavity-back stainless steel irons.
Why should I get cavity back irons?
Cavity back design irons will be some of the most forgiving irons on the market. Also known as “game improvement irons,” cavity back irons are clubs that come with features specifically for helping with poor swings, increasing straightness, and maximizing distance.
What are the features of cavity back irons?
- Tend to have a thicker sole.
- Increased perimeter weighting.
- Much larger clubface with a larger sweet spot.
- Low CG (Center of Gravity), meaning the clubhead is weighted towards its rear.
Expert Tip: Try graphite shafts in these irons to help increase ball flight and a higher launch angle!
Benefits of using cavity back irons:
- Thicker sole gets through the turf easier.
- Large sweet spot and perimeter weighting keep the ball straighter. This helps advance the ball further down the fairway to improve your golf score.
- Low CG helps produce higher launch, and with increased ball height comes increased distance.
- Thick sole removes doubts and hesitancy. Some golfers like this look and can feel inspired, confident, and ready to knock the ball down the fairway.
- Playing different shot types is very limited in these irons as they typically favor a draw to maximize distance.
- They typically come high launching, and keeping the shot low is difficult.
- Some players prefer a thinner topline that is more compact and seems easier to hit.
Recommended irons for beginner or high-handicap golfers: Cobra Aerojet Irons, TaylorMade Stealth 2 HD, Wilson Launch Pad, and Callaway Big Bertha Irons. All of these irons offer distance, direction, forgiveness, and great looks.
Expert Tip: Irons are the engine to get to the green, and for beginners, cavity backs are the best option for optimal launch and forgiveness. The forgiveness they offer should make them the first choice for high handicaps and beginners alike.
Should I use hybrids or long irons?
This is a question that will be debated for a while in the future of golf. Simply put, for the majority of high-handicap players, hybrids are an easier club to hit compared to a longer iron and, therefore, can be considered a high-handicap iron.
Things to note about hybrids:
- They don’t require as fast of a swing speed as a longer iron.
- Built with a graphite shaft which allows for higher launch direction.
- More lightweight than long irons.
- Tend to take less muscle to get out of the rough.
- There is less ability to shot-shape, so less accuracy.
Things to note about long irons:
- Has a steel shaft.
- Better for shot-shaping, but players without this skill may struggle to control the shape of their shot.
- More shot accuracy.
Recommended long irons or hybrids for beginner or high-handicap golfers: TaylorMade Stealth HD 2 Hybrid, TaylorMade Stealth DHY Utility Iron, Cobra AIR-X Hybrid. All of these clubs offer distance, direction, forgiveness, and great looks.
When looking at a general score overall, I believe there is no area where more strokes can be saved than when you're within 120 yards from the pin—whether it's a dart from 90 yards out or a crucial up and down. While it's easy to make the mistake I made and try to purchase either the slickest-looking wedges or grab the set your favorite tour player is using, it's imperative that you find the right set for you.
Finding a solid cavity back wedge will make a world of difference if you're trying to lower your score. A new design being integrated into wedges is what's called a "wide sole" wedge. Whereas traditionally, a solid divot goes a long way with a wedge shot, a wedge with a wide sole will help avoid those shots that come out fat with no spin and, therefore, short of the green.
What are the features of a forgiving wedge?
- Larger face, wide sole.
- Cavity back shape with perimeter weighting.
- Higher bounce.
- Grooves on the clubface that can improve control and feel.
- A larger face allows players to hit the ball off-center and keep a straight trajectory.
- Increased bounce to minimize the club’s sole digging into the turf. For a better understanding of wedge bounce, read more here.
- Cavity back and weighted perimeter increase stability and minimize clubface twisting upon impact.
- To improve control and feel, brands use different, and often proprietary, groove designs as part of their face technology.
- For more spin with your wedges, keep those grooves clean.
- These larger soles are harder to create spin with, but for beginners, consistency is more important than greenside spin.
Recommended wedges for beginner or high-handicap golfers: Cleveland CBX Full Face 2 Wedge, Callaway Mack Daddy CB Wedge, TaylorMade Milled Grind 3, and Cleveland RTX Zipcore Wedge. All are designed to help with smooth turf interaction, forgiveness, and launch.
Putters are one of the most important clubs in your bag, and finding the best golf putters for you can be overwhelming. Do you go with a premium putter like the Scotty Cameron Phantom X or maybe a more affordable option like the Cleveland Huntington Beach Putter? Your options are endless. Like most other clubs in the bag, weight can play an important factor, but with putters, it's a balance.
The heavier the putter, the more forgiveness there is, but you never want to have a putter that is so heavy you can't seem to ever get a smooth tempo. With that being said, there are two different styles of putters—blade, and mallet—both referring to the putter head design. Here are some important features to consider:
- A larger head means a larger sweet spot, making it better for beginners or high handicappers.
- Tends to be a bit heavier, but will offer a bit more forgiveness because of the weight dispersion in the face of the putter.
- Increased weight can also help in adding distance to putts.
- Offers consistency, especially on longer putts from the perimeter of the green, even with off-center hits.
- Not good for someone with an arc stroke but better for a straight-back, straight-through stroke.
- Better for low-handicap players, used by a lot of professional golfers playing on the PGA Tour.
- Thinner, flatter design.
- Tends to be a bit lighter and gives you more feel in your putts.
- Better for somebody that has more of an arc stroke when putting.
The truth about putters is that they are all about feel and personal preferences. Above everything else, you want to find a putter that has consistency and good distance control with your putting stroke.
Recommended putters for beginner or high-handicap golfers: TaylorMade Spider EX, Odyssey 2-Ball Ten, and Cleveland Frontline Elevado. They are all different yet effective in their design. Give them a try and see which one fits your game.
Head to your local shop to try a few out and report back to your Golf Expert. Make sure to focus on clubhead shape, putter length, and different types of putter grips available to you.
Beginner Golf Sets
Buying a complete golf set is an affordable option for the newer or beginner golfer. Sets usually come in variations of a full set (14 clubs) or a set with lesser clubs (around 9 clubs). As a beginner, you don’t need all 14 clubs, and in an earlier section, we talk about what these clubs might look like. Life will be easier with fewer clubs as you learn and improve, and it will be cheaper than buying a full set.
- Better value—the fewer clubs, the lower the price for the set.
- Consistent feel as all the clubs will match and feel uniform, which is one less distraction for beginner golfers.
- A golf bag is included in most sets, and you have everything you need to go out, put it in the trunk, and go play!
- Although all the clubs will be the same, there are many colors and designs to choose from when it comes to complete sets.
- Conservative budgets can be limiting. You get what you pay for in sets, so depending on your budget, you’ll want to avoid “wasting” money on poor-performing clubs.
- A high-quality set can also last longer. Some golfers just get a basic starter set and, as they improve, will need to upgrade to a new set within a year. Consider starting with a better beginner set so that even as you grow and improve with the set, it will still have a decent lifespan. With better sets, they can maybe last two to three years before needing an upgrade.
Recommended golf sets for beginner or high-handicap golfers: Callaway XR Set, TaylorMade RBZ SpeedLite Set, and Wilson Profile SGI Set. These all include a golf bag and quality clubs. Go try them out and see what you think!
To summarize, when deciding which clubs to pick for a beginner golfer, the keywords to look for are “forgiving” and “game improvement.” Even with that information, there are still seemingly countless options on the golf market, and sorting through them is not easy for a beginner. That is where Golf Experts at Curated like me come in! We are the perfect tool to utilize when you need a little guidance from someone who knows a lot about this stuff. Reach out to an Expert who will help you figure out which clubs are the best fit for you and get you all set for your new golf journey.
The best advice we can give you? Above all, just get some equipment and go play!