Are My Golf Clubs Too Old? It’s Performance Not Age That Matters


I’ve never hit the top of the driving distance charts over the years but I have always felt very comfortable with how far I hit the ball.

Until recently when my young playing partners were consistently outdriving me by between 40-50 yards.

At par 3’s I also noticed them reaching for irons often two clubs higher than mine.

It was a tough experience and my ego took a bit of battering.

Looking at their bags of clubs though it was clear they were much newer than mine so the question arose as to whether my clubs were now too old?

There is no evidence that golf clubs deteriorate over time. Well maintained clubs will last a lifetime. 10+ year old clubs should be checked for better options but clubs less than 5 years old do not need replacing except for wear and tear issues to which wedges and forged irons are most vulnerable.

While this is clearly bad news for my ego I have always been wary also however when it comes to new clubs.

Every week I seem to be reading about some new ‘revolutionary’ golf club design that will make ‘the difference’.

Golf clubs don’t change that often surely and I’ve always been a big believer in improving via the practice fairway rather than via the credit card.

But there seems no doubt that golf tech advances over the last couple of decades, in particular, has made the question of how often you should replace your golf clubs much more complex.

Focusing On The Age of a Club is Not the Answer

The question of whether your golf clubs are too old is a very reasonable one to ask.

Golf club design has increased in pace a huge amount since the 1990s and someone looking at a set of clubs from that era vs. a set of modern clubs today might even wonder if they are for the same game.

But when it comes to the question of whether your current clubs have become obselete or if it is time to replace them the thing we should be focusing on is the ‘performance’ of your old clubs rather than their age.

And the simple reason for that is that when it comes to the question of how long should golf clubs last the answer is that the vast majority should last a long time.

“The basic construction of the metal head and metal or carbon fibre shaft is tested … at forces higher than most golfers can ever achieve and for thousands of impacts to make sure that unless there is some manufacturing defect the club itself will last longer than the golfer swinging it.”

Paul Wood (Ph.D), VP of Engineering at Ping Golf

In short it takes a lot to break a golf club.

Unless you are wrapping your clubs around trees on a consistent basis or not looking after them at all it is highly unlikely that the clubs you are currently playing will ‘go bad’ and fall apart on impact when you next play with them.

So assuming you look after your clubs even to a basic amount including giving them a wipe clean with a towel every now and again they should last at least 10 years if not a lifetime.

Hit correctly near the middle of the clubface they should do pretty much what they always did.

[Editor’s note – We are assuming of course that you are not playing with an old set of hickory clubs from the 19th century rather than golf clubs from the last 10-40 years but even very old clubs should still work as they were designed too!]

There is no evidence to suggest that clubs weaken over time and become ‘too old’ simply by virtue of their age.

The half life of titanium for example, which is combined with very strong and thin steel in a lot of irons, is around 60 years or so which means you shouldn’t really have a problem with your old clubs deteriorating.

Of course if you are leaving your clubs out in the rain for weeks and weeks they may not last as long as they should.

But if not your old clubs should last and continue to perform in line with your abilities.

Now that’s not to say some newer clubs may give you a few extra yards, be easier to hit or give you some more spin.

Golf technology advances over the last few decades have been significant so it is very possible, particularly if your clubs are well over 5 years old you may be leaving some extra help on the table.

Will New Clubs Make a Difference? 3 Tests to Help

When it comes to the interlinking questions of whether your clubs are too old or when is the right time to replace your existing set or whether new clubs will make a difference the answer depends on two things:

  1. How your old clubs have been used to date and
  2. Whether their performance is now below the standard available from newer clubs?

In other words are you losing out on a bunch improvements because you are faithfully sticking with your old clubs.

Lots of people will automatically say the answer to checking whether your golf clubs are too old and are ready to be replaced is to go and get a professional fitting done.

That is of course a legitimate option but some golfers are wary of custom fitters, thinking it’s a just way for the manufacturers to sell more clubs more often and complain that when they do go regularly they seem to get different results every time.

Before a fitting becomes a consideration also there are three simple factors you can look at yourself to decide whether it’s time to consider look at some newer clubs to replace your existing set.

1. Are your regular playing partners hitting it consistently further and straighter?

When people you have played with regularly over the years are starting either hitting the ball much further than it seemed they used to or becoming more consistent or both this can be a warning sign about your current clubs.

Their improvement compared to you may simply be down to the tried and tested method of practising more but if you glance at their bag and they are carrying a few newer clubs which you’ve not seen before it’s worth asking them about them to see what’s changed.

If your own clubs are a lot older by comparison it may be a sign you are giving up some distance or forgiveness or both by persevering with your old clubs.

2. Are you no longer hitting the ball like you used to?

While how you stack against with your regular playing partners may be affected by some new equipment it’s also possible that it’s due to you no longer swinging the club you way used to.

As time passes the club head speed we can generate falls off and as a result it could be that your old clubs are no longer the best fit for that reason.

Modern golf head design, combined with shaft advances, have helped immeasurably for the golfer with lower club head speed.

So if your old clubs are not so forgiving that could be a sign that it’s time to consider an upgrade to take advantage of newer technology to keep your game where it is.

Conversely, if you have made some huge improvements in recent times your swing could have changed significantly as a result and as such your old clubs may again not be the best fit.

Whilst it’s always dangerous in golf to change a winning formula it’s possible if your game has come on in leaps and bounds it’s worth checking whether your old clubs are the best fit for your new improved game.

Or whether an upgrade could help take your game even further.

3. Regular wear and tear

If you’re playing a lot or don’t look after your clubs very well, or have chipped your irons by playing once too often from rocky cart paths, it stands to reason that this could affect how long your clubs last and how often you should replace them.

As we have already discussed if your old clubs are well looked after they should last a number of years and potentially a lifetime.

But the amount of time you spend on a golf course and the number of times a club is used will clearly have an effect on its speed of deterioration.

If grips wear out – which they do and you should check these every year – these obviously can easily be changed but if you practice wedges very regularly the grooves will also start to wear out.

Or if your driver has loads of dents on the face then there is an increased chance the performance of the club will be affected.

So if you start noticing some very odd trajectories on some of your shots or your wedge shots no longer spin at all when they used to it may be time to start looking at whether your old clubs have started to become compromised.

Look Out for Different Things In Different Clubs

A recent survey in the UK asked over 1,000 golfers how often they replaced their golf clubs.

And the results were as follows:

  • 7% replace their clubs every 12 months
  • 2% replace them every 2 years
  • 17% change them every 3 years
  • Almost a third (31%) change their clubs every 4 years
  • Almost half (43%) change their clubs after 4 years

What the survey didn’t tell us though was how often players replaced different types of clubs.

For example how often did they replace their driver compared to their irons? Did they replace their wedges far more often than their putter?

And the reason for thinking about this is that you should be looking at how often you replace your clubs based on club type rather than your set as a whole.

It stands to reason for example that because you use your wedges a heck of a lot more than your 5-iron it’s more than likely that it’s worth checking those clubs for wear and tear much more often.

So when it comes to different types of golf clubs here are tips for what to look out for when you are considering replacing them.

Drivers

Drivers are typically the most changed club in the bag amongst amateur golfers.

And the simple reason for this is that with the constant talk from the big golf manufacturers of driver design improvements delivering more and more distance many amateur players worry they are falling behind and therefore can just buy their way to a better driving game.

“For substantial distance increases, we’re done in driver head design. There won’t be any other new metal that will be discovered, any new kind of weighting or construction of the head that will increase the ball speed over the 1.5 smash factor that COR controls in the rules …. In terms of the drivers the player’s can’t hit it any further than they’re hitting it right now because they are all locked on the limit.”

Tom Wishon, industry leader in the research of golf club design

But if you really want to fix your driving it’s more likely that it will require you to change your swing rather than just swapping out your old driver.

Visions of turning 200-yard drives into 300-yard bombs simply by purchasing a new driver are based solely in fantasy.  

There isn’t a club on the market which is going to transform your game in a dramatic way.

Unless the shaft starts to wear out it is doubtful that a driver should not last you at least 5 years and most likely a lot longer.

Driver club heads are brilliantly engineered in the modern game and as a result there is no reason you can not use your driver for 5 years as a minimum and most likely longer than that provided you look after it.

Club makers and designers say today that when it comes to driver design they have pretty much exhausted the science and point to a few things to back this point up:

  • The fact golf ruling’s bodies have already placed limits on driver design through the coefficient of restitution or COR of the clubhead. The current COR basically restricts how much a driver is allowed to translate club head speed (i.e. the speed at which player swing the club) into ball speed. This so-called ‘smash factor’ – ball speed divided by club head speed – has been limited to 1.5 since the late 1990s.
  • The incremental improvements in average PGA driving distances in the 2010s rather than huge leaps.
  • Pros turning to the gym rather than technology to generate faster club head speed to enable them to hit the ball further. A recent USGA and R&A survey found a player fitness to be the third-most important contributor to increased hitting distance on the golf course behind club and ball technology. 

You only need to look at Bryson Dechambeau as evidence of the final trend but that of course has not stopped the manufacturers more recently playing around with many different things – moveable weight plates, shaft adaptors etc – to allow players to change driver loft or whether it will push a ball right or left.

Many are a bit skeptical of the benefits of the latest advances however and view them as simply a new marketing approach to sell more clubs.

In addition when it comes to distance and drivers you can’t overlook the impact that the development of the golf ball has had in addition to club design.

Therefore when it comes to whether its’ time to replace your own driver there seems little reason to change it if you see no big changes in how far you are hitting it compared to your normal standard and your regular playing partners.

Wear and tear wise the things to look out for scratches on the face and dents on the head itself which can affect performance.

But if you take good care of it it should last a good number of years.

The same rule of thumb applies to fairway woods although it’s worth remembering that these can get a bit more wear and tear.

Because fairway woods are more likely to be used off the fairway and in other conditions the hitting of the ground or paths or tree roots can lead to them wearing less than well than your driver.

But again if you look after them they should at last at least 5 years and again most likely a bit more.

Irons

The question as to when it may be time to replace your irons is a bit different.

And this is simply because when it comes to irons we’ve got grooves to consider which requires us to look at the club in a bit more detail than we do a driver.

Forged irons in particular, which are made by taking a soft piece of steel and beating it into shape, are a bit more prone to wear and tear so if you have forged irons and play alot the lies and lofts can potentially change.

Pros have talked of sometimes finding regularly used forged irons having lies altered between 2-3 degreees and lofts changed by 1 or even 2 clubs over a couple of years.

So if you have a forged set of irons and play regularly it’s worth getting their lies and lofts checked every year or two.

They are likely to be fine but it costs nothing to check.

Harder cast irons, which are made by pouring molten metal into a mould to produce a golf club head, are much more robust by comparison.

Advances in iron tech also haven’t been as dramatic as it has been with drivers which means your irons are unlikely to become as outdated as quickly as other clubs.

“Given that there are centuries-old samurai swords using basically the same kind of steel found in some irons today, it’s probably fair that your irons aren’t going to decompose in your lifetime.”

 Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson (Golf Digest’s equipment editors)

That it is not to say irons design has not improved a lot over the years.

When it comes to cavity back clubs particularly manufacturers have worked hard to improve the elements players lost when giving up their blades such as shot-making capabilities and feedback on the strike.

However if you are happy with the ‘performance’ of your existing irons and maintain them well – checking the grooves are ok and making sure the club face doesn’t have any obvious damage, your irons should last a long time.

Remember it’s all about the ‘performance’ of your irons and what you are looking for rather than age.

If you have got a 10-year-old set it’s possible that the latest irons will add some distance and forgiveness to your armoury.

Or if you’re a good player who has lost some speed and distance over the years a new set of irons could make a difference.

You may feel for example you don’t play enough now to be able to strike your old ‘blades’ as well as you used to and it’s now time for cavity backs.

Or if you look in your bag and still see an old 3 and 4-iron in there you are undoubtedly not taking advantage of advances in golf technology.

Modern hybrids have taken over almost entirely when it comes to long irons so if you keep on persevering with your old long irons you are likely leaving strokes on the table by not replacing your old clubs.

If those are your circumstances and you deem it time for a change that’s likely a very sensible plan but it will be nothing to do with the ‘quality’ of your old irons which likely be as good as they always have been when hit correctly.

Wedges

Making sure the grooves in your irons are maintained in good shape is important when it comes to irons and when it comes to your wedges that importance level ramps up a notch.

Wedges are the most versatile clubs in the bag.

As a result they are the most used and often in conditions (e.g. sand, paths, other ‘debris heavy’ areas etc) which means they are likely to wear out faster than the other clubs. And wedge groove wear affects spin.

Testing by the Titleist Vokey Research & Development team found that a new wedge can generate up to 2000 RPM more and less than half the roll out of a wedge which had been played within 125 rounds.

And there is no doubt wedges are the top most changed club by pros who will often switch their wedges out to ensure they are getting the maximum spin from them.

But for us mere mortals who can’t just go and get a new wedge at will how important is that potential loss of spin rate over time?

How often do you actually strike your wedges from deed centre of the clubface to therefore benefit the most from the extra sharp grooves a new wedge will give you?

If you are a good player then maybe but for the average player, it’s more questionable how much replacing your existing wedges with those clean and perfect new grooves will make or break your game.

Also, 125 rounds of golf will take someone playing 35-40 games a year 3 years to get to.

So although wedges are definitely worth keeping the closest eye on when it comes to wear and tear and consequent peformance degradation you need to ask yourself honestly how much a replacement may help your game.

Like irons, and particularly if they are forged irons, just keep an eye on the grooves, lies and lofts every couple of years and they should be fine for a number of years.

Putters

Alongside the driver, putters tend to be switched out of golfers bags the most frequently.

But I would venture to guess that is usually because of ‘confidence issues’ rather than the putter wearing out or manufacturers coming up a new magic design formula.

While there have been advances in putter technology in an effort to make them more balanced, and therefore give golfers a better chance of keeping their putts on target, it is hard to argue the changes have been earth-shattering.

So if you have a trusty old putter and are comfortable with the fact that it’s most likely your putting stroke rather than the putter that’s causing you to miss all those putts I doubt that your old putter will need replacing for anything other than a wear or tear issue on the putter face.

Replacing your old putter because it doesn’t feel like you could hole a 5ft putt even if the hole were the size of a bucket is a different story.

Just remember though it’s highly unlikely because your current putting wand has deteriorated to such a terrible extent it’s now unusable!

Changing Your Golf Clubs Too Much is Also Bad

The conventional advice when it comes to answering the question of whether you are clubs are too old and need replaced is to go and get your clubs checked by a professional fitter.

That is solid advice and can definitely help but amateur golfers also frequently complain of getting different results at every fitting and therefore being recommended to change their clubs each time they go.

Like every service there are obviously going to be bad experiences and you should definitely beware of fitters simply trying to flog you new equipment every time you go to them.

But a good quality fitter will always try to give you the best advice and if they feel your current clubs are fine and the different results you are getting are simply down to the inconsistencies of your golf swing they will tell you.

If that’s the case then the answer if you want to improve is to spend some more time on the practice fairway rather than in the golf shop.

While the pros will often change their clubs, and particularly their wedges, frequently as they seek to achieve those ‘marginal gains’ remember that every club change they make is followed up with hundreds of hours of practice to get used to that club.

So even if you get a regular fitting and are regularly told its time to change by a legitimate fitter just confirm that you’ve put enough hours into playing with your new clubs to ensure they are definitely not the ones for you.

It’s very unlikely that you will have done so therefore save your money and hit the practice fairway in that instance rather than change yet again.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the question of whether you need to replace your clubs the first thing to do is ignore the hype when it comes to the golf club manfacturers their latest product.

Yes, there have been huge advances in golf clubs over the years but every single year does not herald a ‘revolutionary’ break through.

A cursory search of the web will show you numerous examples of older clubs which are well over 10 years old performing just as well as new ones.

Think about in these terms – 90% of your performance is based on your technique and preparation and only 10% is based on your equipment.

Your current clubs, providing you’ve looked after them will deteriorate long after your game does.

If all your clubs predate the 2000s however you are undoubtedly leaving some easy club wins on the table.

If your clubs are over a decade old it’s also probably a useful exercise to test them against new ones with a fitter on a launch monitor to see what the numbers say.

But even then rather than potentially spending a fortune on the latest and greatest clubs straight away think about whether you play enough, and are serious enough about getting better, to justify spending a potentially a few hundred bucks on new clubs.

Also remember there are loads of used-club outlets where you can look at buying clubs that are 2-3 years old and which can still represent a good upgrade on what you have.

Always save your money where you can and make sure any time you replace clubs it’s going to be worthwhile.

Do the maintenance basics on what you have – keeping the club heads and grips in good order – and don’t change just for the sake of it.

It may be that money spent on lessons to improve may be a better bet than a change of clubs.

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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