How do You Know When to use what golf club?

Just a few weeks ago, I was paired up with a beginner. He had some decent skills (for a beginner), but he had no idea how long he could hit each club. As a result, he was either short or long for just about every shot he hit.

Before he ever plays another round, he needs to ask himself the following questions:

Why are there so many different clubs in a golf bag? 

How do you even know when to use what golf club? 

Are these questions preventing you from hitting the greens or the fairways? We’ve got the answers you crave to get you out on that course with confidence.

While we can’t correct your swing, we can help you understand your golf clubs and how to get the most from each one.

The Basics of Building Your Golf Bag

The United States Golf Association (USGA) has rules regarding the number of clubs a golfer is permitted to carry in their bag during competition.

Many golf courses adopt the rules for all players, even casual golfers. The standard golf set includes 12 clubs, but the USGA permits a golfer to carry 14 clubs in their bag. 

In the beginning, you may want to use a standard set of clubs (three woods, seven irons, a pitching wedge, and a putter). As you learn more about the game, the courses you frequent, and your abilities, you can incorporate other wedges, drivers, or hybrids.

Aside from golf clubs, you’ll need to build a golf bag that works for you. Though you don’t need to invest a lot in the beginning, there are some basic golf bag necessities to ensure a successful outing. Stock up on hand towels, pencils, tees, and used golf balls.

You’ve built your golf bag, but what do the different clubs do, and how do you know when to use each one? Before we talk about specific types of clubs, it’s vital to grasp some key terms to understand the difference between a wood and wedge.

which clubs to have in your bag
From NiftyGolf

Beginner’s Guide to Golf Club Lingo

Like any sport, golf has its own terminology. When you’re on the course, you’ll say things like birdie, par, or bogey, but you probably won’t discuss differences between golf clubs.

To successfully select the right club for a shot, you’ll need to know other golf terms like loft and bounce.

Parts of a Golf Club

Golf clubs have three main components, the grip, the shaft, and the clubhead. However, the clubhead can be broken down further to differentiate between club styles. 

  • The grip refers to the top of the club. Generally, since the grip is a hollow piece of rubber slid over a portion of the shaft, it is customizable in several ways.
  • The shaft is the part that connects that grip to the clubhead. The width, taper, and length of the shaft will vary from club to club.
  • The clubhead, also known as the head, is the part of the club that hits the ball. It is the most customizable part of a golf club because nearly after part of the clubhead can be altered in some way. 


Would you be surprised to know that every golf club in your bag has loft? In golf, loft refers to the angle of the clubface in relation to the shaft of the club and the vertical plane of the ground.

The greater the loft, the higher (and farther) the ball will go, and the higher the number of the club.  


In golf, bounce is another vital angle, but it generally applies only to wedges. The space between the ground and the sole of the club is the bounce angle. If the sole of your club is nearly flush with the ground, it is a low-bounce club. 

Types of Golf Clubs

If you chose fourteen clubs that were all the same, you’d have a tough time on the golf course. However, adjustments to the design of clubs allow them to function differently on a course.


A wood club will probably be the first club out of your bag because their large clubheads and long shafts give you the most distance. They are named woods because they were traditionally made from a hardwood, though modern clubs may be metal or composite.

There are two classes of woods available.

  • A driver, also known as a 1-wood, is lightweight and low-loft with the intent of driving a ball the longest distance. 
  • Fairway woods range from 2-wood to 9-wood, though odd-numbered woods are most common. The higher the wood number, the higher the loft, but they are meant to drive a ball from the fairway when there is still a reasonable distance to the hole.

Typically, golfers carry three woods, including a 3-wood, 5-wood, and driver. However, beginners may struggle with the long shafts of drivers and opt for a higher wood or hybrid.

golf club length for men
From NiftyGolf


A relatively new club design, hybrid clubs combine the larger clubhead of a wood with the shaft length of an iron. Also known as utility clubs, the hybrids can replace irons or the fairway wood.

They are excellent choices for new golfers because the design helps with accuracy.

Irons and Wedges

The most common type of club is an iron. Irons have shorter shafts and smaller clubheads than woods. The clubhead of an iron is usually flat with an angled face and made of iron or steel. There are ten levels of irons.

The higher the iron number, the higher the loft. For this reason, 6, 7, 8, and 9 irons are the most popular with beginners because they are the easiest to hit since they have the highest lofted club.


Sometimes grouped with irons because of their similarities, wedges have a higher loft than irons. There are four main types of wedges with slight design differences that give them different uses on a course.

  • A pitching wedge has the least loft giving it the most considerable distance. You could probably hit the green from 110 to 140 yards away. 
  • Gap wedges are less common and have the second-lowest loft, giving them the ability to cover 90 to 110 yards.
  • The shorter wedges and sand wedges are useful for popping out of sand traps or a distance of 80 to 100 yards.
  • The lob wedge has a lot of loft and intended for shots onto the green from under 80 yards.

For beginners, the most popular of the higher lofted clubs are pitching wedges and sand wedges.


In short, putters are used to knocking a ball in once you reach the green. The face of a putter is flat, so the ball rolls instead of flies. Traditionally, putters have the shortest shafts, but newer versions can have longer shafts.

A putter is the one club you must have in your arsenal because it happens to be the most frequently used, so choose one that is most comfortable for you.

What do the numbers mean on golf clubs?

The number on a golf club relates to the loft of the club or the angle of the face of the club.

  • The higher the number of the club, the more loft the club has, and the higher and shorter the ball will go when the club hits it.
  • The lower the number of the club, the less loft the club has, and the lower and farther the ball will go when the club hits it.

What to Consider When Choosing What Golf Club to Use

You’re on the course. You know what each club is designed to do. How do you know which one to use when? Outside of using a putter on the green, chances are you’ll have some decisions to make at each hole.

Gauge the Distance

golf tip hit 50 balls
From Dummies

When you’re looking at a hole that is 400 yards from the tee to the green, you’re not going to reach for a 7-iron. Likewise, you’re not going to use a driver on a short 150-yard hole. 

Most courses have markers at specific distances to help identify common yardages. Take a good look at the distance you have to hit the ball and choose your club to correspond with that distance. 

Keep in mind that even if you hit a ball correctly, clubs will differ 10 to 15 yards from one club to the next. However, there are some general rules of thumb for each type of club. 

  • Anytime you are more than 175 to 200 yards from the green, use a wood.
  • If you are 100 to 200 yards from the green, try using an iron. Remember, the higher the number, the shorter the distance.
  • For shots that are not on the green but less than 120 yards away, in the rough, or a trap, put a wedge to good use.

How Fair is the Fairway?

Beyond accounting for distance, you need to consider other fairway conditions. Assess everything between you and the hole, including variations in the lengths of grasses to lines of trees. 

You may only have 120 yards to a hole, but if there’s a huge tree blocking your shot, you’ll have to go around. Don’t forget to watch for water and sand hazards as well! Sometimes, it’s wiser to lay up or go around.

Is Mother Nature on Your Side?

Golfing on a sunny, temperate day is ideal, but not always the case. You have to account for the elements, especially wind, when deciding on a club. If the wind is likely to provide resistance because it’s blowing in your face, you may want to choose a club meant for greater distance.

It’s Tee Time

Hopefully, we’ve taken the mystery out of the many clubs in your bag and given you the confidence to hit the green. Even if you’re a newbie, you’ll have enough know-how to choose the right club for each shot.

Maybe you’ll also impress your partner with your knowledge of golf clubs!

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