Fairway woods are chosen to bridge the distance gap for golfers between their driver and the highest iron or utility they carry. The fairway wood often splits opinion amongst golfers. Some will claim their fairway wood is their favourite club in the bag, hitting it instead of their driver off the tee on auto-pilot. Others will probably only get out their fairway wood in extreme circumstances.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, fairway woods still play a vital role and the majority of golfers will carry at least one. So which one should you choose?
What is the difference?
The main difference between a 3 wood and a 5 wood is the loft. A 3 wood is generally between 13-16 degrees and a 5 wood between 18-21 degrees. In the simplest of terms, a lower loft creates a lower launch angle which translates into more distance because of the energy transfer at impact.
The shaft length of a 3 wood is sometimes an inch longer than a 5 wood. This depends on the brand of club you chose and can also be altered to suit your style. Many golfers opt for the shorter alternative to allow slightly more control, but this is personal preference.
When should I use them?
One of the first things to consider before selecting between a 3 wood or a 5 wood is what the primary use of the club is likely to be.
Off the tee your best option is the 3 wood. If you are struggling with your driver, then you will usually look towards your fairway wood to provide extra control without sacrificing too much distance. The lower loft on a 3 wood gives more distance and forgiveness differences are not as impactful because you are hitting from the tee.
From the fairway a 5 wood is a more flexible option for the majority of golfers. Having slightly more loft allows for a better launch angle off the ground, making it much easier to hit. Unless you have a fast swing speed, the distance drop off compared with a 3 wood will be minimal.
What about Hybrids?
Hybrids muddy the water when it comes to discussing fairway woods, falling halfway between a wood and an iron. Usually the debate as to which is easier to use will come down to personal preference, but both have their advantages.
Hybrids are a good option for replacing long irons and can make cleaner contact out of the rough and tricky lies than a fairway wood can. It is important to remember that they will lack distance against the equivalent loft on a fairway wood. So, a 19-degree hybrid will not go as far as a 19-degree fairway wood.
Where does a fairway wood fit in your bag?
The other club selections in your golf bag are key to choosing which fairway wood would be best suited. The key is to ensure as consistent a yardage gap as possible. For example, if you have a strong hybrid (e.g. 18-degree) or carry a 2 iron/utility then these clubs are likely to be a similar yardage to a 5 wood, so a 3 wood would be the better option.
If you are not confident with your long irons you may have a 23-degree hybrid instead of a 4 iron. This would allow room in your bag for both a 5 wood (or second hybrid) and 3 wood. This is a good option for beginners, seniors or ladies who will often have slower swing speeds. Woods and hybrids are more forgiving and are easier to get up in the air, allowing for easier distance than long irons.
Lots of golfers enjoy having a ‘15th club’ which they will switch in and out depending on the golf course they are playing and the conditions on the day. A second fairway wood will commonly fit into this category. Normally either chosen or sacrificed in favour of an additional long iron or a fourth wedge.
How about a 4 wood?
The option of a 4 wood (normally around 17 degrees) is often overlooked among amateur golfers. If you are only looking to select one fairway wood, it can fill the space in your bag. It sacrifices less distance than a 5 wood, but is easier to launch from the fairway than a 3 wood. For golfers that carry a 3 iron hybrid or utility the distance gap is usually perfect. Most of the major manufacturers also now offer a 4 wood option.
One benefit of selecting a fairway wood is that many models will come with the ability to customise the loft, lie and face angle. Allowing you to alter the club to suit your swing and make any adjustments based on playing conditions. This adjustability will also allow you to amend your 3 or 5 wood into a 4 wood. If you choose a fairway wood with this feature, I recommend playing around with the loft options to find out which most accurately fills your yardage gap.
Should I get custom fitted?
In a word, yes. As with all golf clubs getting custom fitted can dramatically impact the clubs you choose and how well you play with them.
Fairway woods can be challenging to hit, especially from the fairway. So ensuring you feel comfortable standing over the clubhead as well as having the correct shaft stiffness is imperative. If the shaft is too stiff for your swing speed you will struggle to get the ball off the ground. Too flexible and you will lose distance with increased spin rates.
Overall, it is personal preference whether you choose a 3 wood or a 5 wood. Maybe even neither or both.
Beginners or high handicappers struggling with their fairway woods should stick with the easier to hit 5 wood. Otherwise, consider which area of your game is strongest. How much do you enjoy hitting your fairway woods compared with a hybrid or long irons?
It is important to understand the different traits of each club and consider when you will use them. Ensure that you know what yardages your clubs travel so no two clubs are performing the same role.