How Much of a Difference Do Better Golf Clubs Make? Fit First!

A TaylorMade P7MC iron

When you watch any golf on TV or watch better golfers play at your golf club one thing is usually very obvious.

Not one of them will be using cheap clubs so anyone new to the game would assume that expensive clubs automatically make a difference and they should get expensive ones themselves from the off in preference to any budget set.

As a general rule better golf clubs only make a difference once golfers have learned the fundamentals of the golf swing. Good quality budget clubs costing $50-$200 added to money spent on good coaching will enable any beginner golfer to learn the basics after which extra money spent on ‘fitted’ clubs can make a difference.

As with everything in golf however the answer to any question is not as straightforward as we would all like. It can be an endlessly complicated game where so much can go wrong and so many decisions need to be taken.

And when it comes to the questions of how much golf clubs matter and whether expensive golf clubs are really better there is unfortunately no hard and fast rule which will apply to every player.

What is simple though is that you can spend as much on golf clubs as you want to and that spending more and more money on golf clubs is never a guarantee that you will play any better.

Indeed expensive clubs can actually be a mistake on occasion and make golfers play worse and it’s more important to remember that ‘good’, ‘expensive’ and ‘new’ golf clubs are all different things.

What Makes Golf Clubs Better?

Take a quick look on eBay and you can find a set of clubs available from anything from $10 to $10,000.

And if you do a search for the Honma Auzi Package Golf Set, with clubs that are hand-painted by Honma artists in the traditional Aizu-style which dates back to 1590, you will be charged over $60,000 for the privilege of owning them!

But given one driver in its basic design does not look vastly different to another, the lofts of irons are all uniform and all putters all do the same job, you might wonder how it is possible for clubs to be so different in price from one another.

What makes the difference between an expensive golf club and a cheap one?

As a whole the main difference between expensive and cheap golf clubs is the variable nature of the materials used combined with the manufacturing process. Stainless stell clubs are cheaper than clubs made with titanium or tungsten and the process needed to turn costlier metals into golf clubs is more complex and costly.

Graphical price breakdown of a golf club. Materials 33.3%, Retailer 33.3%, Corporate costs 24.3%, Profit 4.5%, R&D 2.3%, Taxes 2.2%
Source: Haggin Oaks

The price of a golf club is also affected by other elements such as the corporate costs of the manufacturer and clearly the big manufacturers such as PING, TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist etc spend more money on corporate, sales and marketing expenses.

But the element which makes the biggest difference to the cost of one golf club to another will always be the materials and manufacturing process.

The material used in golf shafts also makes a difference with graphite shafts typically being more expensive than standard steel ones.

So if you are having a browse of some golf clubs in a sports store or pro shop and you see the words Graphite, Tungsten, Beryllium and especially Titanium expect that to be reflected in the price tag.

Similarly if you see the word ‘forged’ on a set of irons they will be more expensive than ‘cast’ clubs for the simple reason that it costs the manufacturer more to take a soft piece of steep and beat it into shape when making ‘forged’ clubs than pouring molten metal into a mould to produce a ‘cast’ golf club head.

But now that we understand a bit more about why certain clubs may be more expensive than others it is vital that we never automatically align the word ‘expensive’ with ‘good’.

Just because a set of clubs is expensive is no guarantee they are good for your game especially if you are a beginner or early stage golfer.

Are Expensive Golf Clubs Really Better? They Can Help

Golf is a tough game to play consistently well and even the very best golfers in history have never mastered it.

The number of things that can go wrong in a golf swing can feel infinite at times and it would help all golfers across the world a massive amount if all their problems could be solved simply by spending more money on more expensive golf clubs.

The problem with that however is that not only do a lot of golfers not want to spend a lot of money on golf clubs but that there is no direct link between expensive golf clubs and better scoring for every golfer.

Now that is not the same thing as saying that expensive golf clubs are NEVER worth it or that they will NEVER make a difference but the main point is this in relation to whether expensive golf cubs are really better.

Expensive golf clubs are only better once a golfer has a certain level of competence with golf swing fundamentals. From that point whether expensive golf clubs are better depends on the amount of ‘gain’ they deliver for a golfer for the cost. Wrongly ‘fitted‘ expensive clubs can also make players worse rather than better.

Titleist TSi 3 driver
Titleist’s TSi3 Driver costs around $600

Golfers can use up to 14 clubs as we know but let’s just focus in on the driver to look in detail at the question as to whether expensive clubs are really better and can make a difference or not?

If you are a beginner golfer for example and are struggling to make good contact with a ball using a driver, and are managing to hit the ball only 100 yards when you do connect, an expensive driver is not going to make a difference.

At that stage you are still understandably struggling to get used to the key fundamentals of the golf swing – posture, grip, ball position and alignment – and so the difference an expensive $1500 driver would make to your game versus a $50 version is clearly going to be zero and not worth the money.

If you want to spend money on your golf as a beginner you will see far faster improvement focusing your spend on golf lessons from a good instructor rather than on golf clubs.

That is not to say also however that the driver you choose does not matter even as a beginner.

It certainly does and if you are starting with a driver which is the wrong length for you and has the wrong shaft, lie angle etc these things will affect how you swing even as a beginner and likely store up some bad habits from the outset which will become hard to break later on.

Whatever standard of golfer you are, you are going to adapt your golf swing, either consciously or unknowingly, to the clubs you are using.

“You are definitely going to get more out of tuition (than expensive clubs). You can’t buy a golf game unfortunately. You have to earn it with the right skills.”

James Robinson, European Tour golfer

However the good thing is that you do not need to spend much money on a driver or any clubs as a beginner golfer to get ones that are a good fit for your height and your starter swing and part of a good golf teacher’s role will be to ensure your golf clubs will enable you to establish the fundamentals as quickly as possible.

Once you start to improve and get a better handle on the fundamentals of the game however the question of whether more expensive clubs are better becomes a bit more complicated.

Continuing the driver example can a more expensive driver make a difference?

Absolutely but the real question is whether the difference the more expensive driver delivers is worth the cost. And that depends on the standard of golfer. The extra 10 yards an expensive $700 driver gives is often worth it for a scratch player but a high handicapper will not see such a small gain as being worth the cost.

For the vast majority of us regular golfers therefore the returns which come from ever more expensive golf clubs reduce and reduce past a certain price point.

Think about it. Is that $700 special edition Scotty Cameron putter really going to enable you to hole more putts than more standard $100 putting models which are all of good quality?

Expensive Golf Clubs Can Also Hurt Your Game

And don’t forget also that more expensive clubs can on occasion also make your game worse rather than better.

My eldest brother for example is really struggling with his driver at the moment.

A single figure handicapper back in the day he is now struggling to break 100 on some rounds simply because he is hitting the ball so far offline from the tee.

Given that he recently started using an expensive driver with a high-value golf shaft that costs over $700 he is currently struggling to understand what’s going on and why he’s playing so badly with a club that was so expensive.

The simple reason is that he borrowed it from my other brother who is a professional golfer and the extra stiff shaft, while perfect for him, is entirely unsuited to my eldest brother with the result that his confidence off the tee has been shot to pieces.

Similarly many golfers opt for expensive ‘blade‘ irons when they are simply not good enough to play them and would have far better results with cheaper ‘cavity back’ or ‘game improvement irons.

I can’t hit a blade. It’s too difficult, and I’m a pro golfer. I think a blade goes shorter. Off-center hits aren’t going to perform as well as cavity-backs. I don’t see a reason why you would want to play a blade. I really don’t. I played blades in my early 20s, maybe one year – when I was dumb. But I’m wiser now and play a cavity back.”

4-time PGA Tour winner, Kevin Na

In short therefore while more expensive clubs, grips and shafts can make a difference as your golf game improves more money does not automatically mean better and it is far more important that you have golf clubs that are ‘fitted‘ to your swing as opposed to simply being more expensive.

What is ‘expensive’ for golfers obviously varies from individual to individual but it is always important to weigh up the gain in terms of the shot outcome against the cost of the club to deliver it.

If we are honest with ourselves, once you’ve spent enough to buy a good quality set of clubs, the main benefit to your game comes from spending more time on the range than in the pro shop buying ever more expensive clubs.

Titleist Forged MB iron
‘Forged’ irons are more expensive and not worth it for beginner golfers

How Much Should You Spend on Golf Clubs? Not Much to Start With

At Golfing Focus we are acutely aware that golf is an expensive game and we would never want to make any recommendations that make people spend any more than they need to enjoy the great game of golf.

How much one golfer wants to spend on golf clubs and thinks is worth it can clearly differ from what another player thinks is justifiable for a hobby.

On that basis, and although any golfer is free to spend as much as they want on golf clubs, we would recommend the following in terms of how much you should spend on golf clubs.

Beginners should not spend more than $50-$200 on golf clubs. Beginners do not need more than 8-10 clubs and only when they have the basics and want to play regularly to improve should they spend more. Regular players can then choose to buy more costly clubs but spending on ‘fitted’ clubs is more vital than expensive ones.

It always upsets me when a hear stories of beginners or high handicappers spending many hundreds of dollars or pounds or euros on clubs which will not make one bit of difference to their game.

Yes, more expensive clubs can make a difference as players get better but as you are getting to grips with the game’s fundamentals – posture, grip, ball position and alignment – any big spend on clubs is pretty much wasted.

Such players will get far more bang for their buck, and the enjoyment of getting better faster, focusing their spending on golf tuition at an early stage.

Once golfers start to improve though and have developed their swing the answer as to how much they should spend on clubs will clearly depend on a number of factors – how much they can afford to spend, how much they play and how serious they are about improving.

For some that will be only be a couple of hundred bucks while for others that can mean thousands of dollars spent almost every year on new equipment.

In our view though there is little to be gained by spending ever-increasing amounts of money on clubs.

Yes, more expensive clubs can make a difference and regular players will undoubtedly see a benefit of buying a set of irons which cost $600 compared to the beginner set of irons they perhaps started with.

However will they see a difference between a $900 set of irons and the $600 set? Only better players in our opinion will feel the difference between such clubs and on average it would be doubtful that such an extra spend will be worth it for the average player.

Better players are continually seeking out fine margins to improve their game and sometimes need to spend a bit of extra money on fancy shafts or clubs to get there but for the average player it is highly doubtful whether spending ever increasing amounts of clubs will make any difference to their scorecard.

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