Expert Picks: Fairway Woods for High Handicappers
Golf expert Sara DeMarco breaks down everything you need to know about the fairway woods she recommends for high-handicap golfers.
Arnold Palmer once said golf is “deceptively simple, and endlessly complicated,” and while I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Palmer, what I really think he was talking about was fairway woods. Such a versatile golf club, but also so complicated to figure out. Do I hit it like a driver? Not quite. Like an iron or hybrid? That’s not right either. And how do you know which loft to choose? Do I need a 3 wood? 5 wood? Maybe both?
Needless to say there’s a lot going on with these clubs, but one thing’s for sure: when you find the right fairway wood, it becomes a vital club in your bag, whether you’re teeing it up or going for a par 5 in two. So, if you find yourself having a hard time narrowing down your fairway wood of choice, keep on reading for my top picks for the best fairway woods for high handicappers in 2020. And straight talk, I am not sponsored by any brand. I am excited to share my honest, unbiased opinions on this gear.
A note about choosing the correct loft: While fairway woods can be an extremely useful club to have in the bag, they can be one of the most difficult clubs to hit, especially for beginners and high handicappers. One of the most common issues seen with beginner golfers trying to hit fairway woods is not being able to get enough height on the ball, which causes players to lose not only distance but accuracy as well. If this sounds like you, sometimes it is as simple as adding more loft. Struggling to get your 3 wood off the ground? Try a 5 wood. Getting more roll out than carry distance with your 5 wood? How about a 7 wood. Ok enough talk, let's get to the clubs!
Callaway MAVRIK Max
- Best For: Golfers who struggle with losing their shots to the right and like the confidence an oversized club head gives them at address.
- Available Lofts: 13.5, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Light, Regular, Stiff, Extra Stiff
What can I say, Callaway really hit the nail on the head this year with their fairway wood offerings. The MAVRIK Max features the already successful Jailbreak Technology and Artificial Intelligence-designed Flash Face Technology from the popular Epic Flash line. In addition, it combines a bigger head, lower center of gravity, and improved leading edge design to make this one of the most forgiving and easiest to hit woods on the market! The MAVRIK Max has the biggest head shape on the list coming in at 200 cc for a 3 wood compared to the 165-185 cc that we typically see from a game improvement fairway wood, giving golfers a bit more confidence off the tee. What does that mean for you? A larger head means a larger hitting area and more confidence when standing over the golf ball.
The club also has an interchangeable 2g and 14g weight on the sole to adjust ball flight. Want a higher ball flight and more overall forgiveness? Put that 14g weight in the back and watch that ball fly. Trying to straighten out a slice? Pop the 14g weight in the heel and the 2g in the back to spend more time in the fairway and less looking through someone’s backyard. Can we also talk about the plethora of loft options!? Whether you need to hit stingers with the 13.5 degree 3+ wood or need a high-flying soft landing 25-degree 11 wood, the club has you covered.
And I can’t not talk about the answer to many golfer’s prayers, the Heavenwood. Coming in at 1 degree less than a seven wood at 20 degrees but a 1/4 inch longer than a 5 wood shaft, the Heavenwood has become a popular option for golfers looking for a higher ball flight without sacrificing distance.
The MAVRIK Max's large profile may not suit everyone’s eye. For those who prefer a lighter feeling club head and struggle with a hook or left miss, you’ll find better options on this list. However, if you’re looking for a hot-off-the-club-face-no-matter-where-you-hit-it fairway wood, the MAVRIK Max is an excellent choice for you.
TaylorMade SIM Max
- Best For: If you reach for your fairway wood no matter the conditions or your lie, the V Steel Sole will be a welcomed feature to help make better contact.
- Available Lofts: 14, 15, 18, 21, 24
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Senior, Regular, Stiff, Extra Stiff
V Steel is back and better than ever to create one of the best clubs on the market! Why am I so excited about this you may ask? Well about 20 years ago, TaylorMade released V-Steel-soled fairway woods with the idea that if the sole has less contact with the ground by way of a raised heel and toe, players would make better contact and ultimately hit better shots in all conditions. Sounds like a winner, right? With the SIM line, TaylorMade has brought back V Steel from previous models and improved on its design with a lower center of gravity to help launch the ball easier without excess spin.
Along with a low center of gravity, Twist Face Technology is also back, utilizing a redesigned face to help tighten dispersion whether you hit it low on the heel or high off the toe. Add in the Thru-Slot Speed pocket that allows the sole to flex more on low misses creating more ball speed to make this club an absolute rocket! The SIM Max also comes in two head options, the standard model, as well as the Sim Max D, which is designed with an internal weight in the heel and sets up more open to help golfers close the face easier and eliminate the right miss. All these technologies combine to create a striking fairway wood that you’ll want to pull out of the bag in all kinds of situations.
There’s no adjustability on this club which means what you see is what you get, and the SIM Max has a lower, more penetrating ball flight that may not be ideal for golfers who struggle getting the ball off the ground. But with five loft options and shafts ranging from ladies all the way to extra stiff the SIM Max was created with the majority of golfers in mind and is a great pick for whether you’re a more advanced player or looking to break 100 for the first time.
Cleveland Launcher HB Turbo
- Best For: A great value, and ideal for those who prefer a counterbalanced club for greater feel in the hands and the anti glare matte black finish.
- Available Lofts: 15, 18
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Senior, Regular, Stiff
This year’s iteration of the Launcher line combines tried and true technology from Cleveland with a sleek new design to appeal to a variety of golfers. The new lower-profile HiBore crown lowers center of gravity for easier launch and improved trajectory with a new antiglare black finish that’ll be much appreciated on those days when the sun is beating down on you. Cleveland put an emphasis on saving as much weight as possible this year with an ultralight hosel so that they can reposition weight in the back for more forgiveness. The Turbocharged Cup Face creates a more responsive face for more ball speed across all parts of the face aiding in less dispersion on off center strikes. Add a counterbalanced shaft, which has been known to help golfers gain more control by putting more weight in your hands and less in the head for higher club head speed, this club is a good choice for those with slower swing speeds looking for greater distance.
The downside to the Launcher line is the limited lofts so if you’re looking for something more than a 3 or 5 wood, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your higher lofted woods.
Cobra F-Max Airspeed
- Best For: Golfers wanting to maximize distance and higher launch in a lightweight package without breaking the bank.
- Available Lofts: 16, 20, 23
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Light, Regular, Stiff
The F-Max line was designed for speed and increasing distance, and Cobra was not fooling around with this one. Cobra understands the needs of the high handicap golfer, and they delivered with a lightweight shaft that’s five grams lighter than its predecessor, and has a 10-gram-lighter carbon fiber crown, perimeter weighting to assist and launch and increase MOI (Moment of Inertia or, in other words, resistance to twisting), and an offset design at address to fight off a slice. Power ridges on the crown provide two raised lines to help you line up the ball correctly every time. The lofts were also chosen with the high handicapper in mind to create higher launch conditions leading to more distance for slow to moderate swing speeds.
The F-Max also comes stock with a Midsize grip for the men and a men’s standard size grip for the women. What does this do you may ask? A larger grip provides a few great benefits. For starters it allows players to have a better feel for the club especially those with larger hands. It also provides more vibration dampening on off center strikes for greater comfort. If you’ve ever hit a thin shot in the freezing cold, you’ll appreciate what more shock absorption will do for your hands.
Now, for the golfers who struggle with the left miss and do not like or need the look of an offset club, I would look to the SIM Max or EXS 220 instead for a more neutral wood without draw or fade bias. That said, the F-Max is a popular club that's hard to beat!
Tour Edge Exotics EXS 220
- Best For: Players looking for a bit of everything including forgiveness across the face, increased distance, and better turf interaction.
- Available Lofts: 13.5, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Light, Regular, Stiff, Extra Stiff
Tour Edge has long been a go-to brand for new players looking for a great package set at a variety of price points, so it's no surprise their Exotics brand of clubs includes an amazing option for a forgiving fairway wood that easily competes with the big name brands of Callaway, TaylorMade, and the like. The EXS 220 Fairway utilizes Diamond Face Tech for varying face thickness, leading to a bigger sweet spot across the face for consistent ball speed no matter where you hit it. Those waves on the bottom of the sole, called Slipstream, help create better turf interaction for faster clubhead speed through impact.
Equally as impressive is Tour Edge’s shaft offerings. Contrary to the other woods on this list, the EXS offers three different shaft options depending on what flex you need. For ladies and senior/light flex golfers, the Fujikura Air Speeder 40a is a lightweight, high-launch shaft for more moderate swing speeds. Need a regular shaft? You get two options: the 46.5g Fujikura Air Speeder or if you prefer a lower ball flight, less torque, and a heavier feel the 58g Ventus 4t Core will be more your speed. For the players in the stiff category, you’ve got the Ventus shaft or the low launch and spinning HZRDUS Smoke Yellow 60 shaft. The HZRDUS shaft is also offered in Extra Stiff for those who really grip it and rip it. This club isn’t going to be the longest, most forgiving, easiest to launch, or most draw biased head, if you’re looking for a specific feature you’ll probably find one of the others on the list does it just a bit better than this club. But, if you’re looking for the jack-of-all-trades, does-a-bit-of-everything club then check out this great offering from Tour Edge.
These clubs are not to be thought of as less than the clubs above, but because they are designed with a very specific golfer in mind, I felt that the five clubs above served the majority of golfers better. But read on - one of these clubs might be right for you!
- Best For: Slow to moderate swing speed golfers looking to splurge on a brand that has been making ultra-lightweight clubs for nearly two decades.
- Available Lofts: 15, 16.5, 18, 20, 23
- Available Shaft Flex: Ladies, Regular, Stiff
A great option for slow to moderate swing speeds, the XXIO is all about creating lightweight clubs that launch with ease. The Eleven fairway wood is no exception, with a cup face design for greater ball speed and 13g of brass added to the butt end of the club for a counterbalanced feel. This fairway wood isn’t for everyone; if you have an aggressive fast swing, you’ll likely find the lightweight shafts too hard to control. But if you’re looking for a lightweight alternative that’ll allow you to swing easy and gain distance and you're not on a tight budget, give the XXIO Eleven a try.
Callaway Big Bertha B21
- Best For: Those who want to eliminate the right side of the course completely but prefer a smaller more traditional-sized clubhead.
- Available Lofts: 15, 18, 21, 24
- Available Shaft Flex: Light, Regular, Stiff
This brand new club from Callaway attempts to fix a common problem for golfers: the dreaded slice. Like the MAVRIK Max, Callaway brought back Jailbreak Technology and A.I. designed face but with a few key changes to set the B21 apart. The increased offset on the Big Bertha creates even more draw bias and a shallower face for more forgiveness and even higher launch than the MAVRIK. Compared to the MAVRIK Max, the B21 has a smaller head size coming in at 170 cc instead of 200 cc. Paired with Callaway’s own RCH shaft, which comes in 45, 55, 65, and 75 gram weights to suit different players with various swing speeds. And for the women golfers the Big Bertha REVA was designed just for you with lighter 40 and 50 gram RCH shaft options and higher loft options of 16, 19, 22, and 25 degrees. This club was specifically designed to be the slice killer, so if that’s not your issue you may find the other clubs on the list to be a better fit.
Whether you’re looking for higher launch, the anti-slice fairway finder, more distance, the lightest woods on the market or all of the above, there is definitely a fairway wood that’ll suit your game. Brands these days have taken notice of the struggles golfers face when trying to find a fairway wood that is easy to hit and has a predictable ball flight and they have delivered! If you found this guide helpful and want to learn more about these fairway woods and which one would be the best for your golf game, contact me and I’ll be happy to help you find your new favorite club in the bag!