Fairway woods buyers' guide

Thomas Tanner
Jan 14, 2008
11 minutes
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With the rise in popularity of hybrid (sometimes called utility or Rescue) woods (click here to view our guide to choosing Hybrids), deciding which fairway wood to opt for has become a little trickier - not least because the line between a fairway wood and a hybrid is often quite blurred.

There are endless combinations of lofts, different head materials – and now even different shapes – square versions from Callaway and Nike have hit the market. So perhaps the first question to ponder is - what do you want the fairway wood for? The most popular answers to this are likely to be:

  1.  To hit off the tee
  2.  To replace long irons from the fairway
  3.  To reach par 5's in two

Now you've decided what you will use your fairway wood for - it's now time to decide which fairway is best for you.

To hit off the tee

Having more loft, fairway woods are easier to hit than driver – they don’t go quite as far, but a 3 wood in the right hands can still travel well in excess of 220 yards. If you’re looking for an easy-hitting alternative to a driver, then you’ll probably want a 2,3 or 4 wood.

To replace long irons from the fairway

Many people would rather hit a high-lofted wood into a green than a 2,3 or 4 iron. In which case 5 woods and above are what you’re after. The larger clubhead of a fairway wood compared to an iron makes it easier to achieve more distance without over-swinging. As a rough rule of thumb, a 5 wood would replace a 2 iron, a 7 wood the 3 or 4 iron, a 9 wood the 5 iron.

To reach par 5s in two

If you want to go for glory, there are some holes which are just too long to reach with a drive and a long iron. The only thing which will get you there in two is a drive and a fairway wood. For this, you’re probably looking for a 3 or 4 wood. And if you expect predominately to use the 3 or 4 wood from the fairway, look for one where the head is fairly shallow. You’ll still be able to use it from the tee, but a lower profile head will be better for hitting from tighter lies.

So Which Fairway Wood?

Most manufacturers denote the fairway wood number on the sole of the club (3,4,5 etc) as well as the loft (as in this TaylorMade Burner. Some however - notably Titleist - only denote the loft – as per this image of their popular 15 degree (i.e. 3 wood).

Here’s an approximation of how loft equates to the number:

Degrees of Loft Description and Notes
13-14 A 'Strong' 3. Slightly lower loft than a normal 3 - slightly lower trajectory.
15-16 Classic fairway 3 wood.
16-17 Strong 4 - A slightly easier, shorter 3 wood.
17-18 4 wood. Safer than a 3 wood, longer than a 5.
18-19 Strong 5.
19-21 Easy hitting long wood. Along with the driver, often carried with a 3 wood.
23-24 Strong 7. Shaft should be a little longer than a regular seven. A good complement to 4 woods.
28-29 9 woods and beyond. High-lofted woods like these can be used instead of mid irons – some find them easier to hit. Also good out of rough because the edges are smoother than an iron head so swipe through long grass more easily.
29-32 11 Woods. See above. Lofts vary considerably between manufacturers. These very high loft fairway woods are especially popular with lady golfers and seniors who don’t generate quite as much clubhead speed.

Fairway Wood Shafts

Unlike with drivers, most manufactures do offer steel shafts as an option on at least some of their fairway wood ranges. Nonetheless, graphite shafts are definitely the norm on fairway woods nowadays. If steel shafts are favoured at all in fairway woods, it tends to be by better players. Steel shafts may help give a lower, more penetrating ball flight (assuming you want that – most golfers are actually looking for more height from their fairway woods).

Some better players also prefer the more raw, solid and immediate, crisper feel and sound that steel shafts give – and would claim that steel offers a little more accuracy. If it does, it will be at the slight expense of distance – and remember that fairway woods are not really about accuracy – they are more about hitting the ball long. If you’re unsure, stick with graphite. You’ll be on safer ground – and have a much greater choice as well.

Fairway Wood Head Design

As with drivers, along with the standard models, some manufacturers are beginning to offer a choice of ‘Offset’, ‘Draw’ or ‘Neutral’ options on fairway woods. Let’s look at why...

This occurs because the clubface is more ‘open’ (pointing to the right in simple terms) than it should be when the ball is struck – often because the player’s hands are ‘behind the ball’ at impact – instead of ‘ahead’ which with a good swing they would be. This imparts side-spin on the ball, and off it goes into the trees.

The manufacturers attempt to compensate for this by placing weight inside the clubhead (something heavy – normally tungsten) in such a position that it helps you keep the clubhead square at impact.

A draw is a slight right-left swing on the ball – the opposite of a slice and much more desirable – hence ‘draw’ enhanced woods. A good example would be TaylorMade’s R7 Draw Fairway Wood (pictured).

Another solution for slicers are clubs with the head already sitting a little ‘offset’ behind the shaft – which has the similar effect of keeping the clubhead square impact. An example would be Cobra’s Speed LD Offset picture left. Such clubs are favoured especially by those with lower swing speeds – for example, senior and lady golfers.

But just to be clear – the vast majority of fairway woods made – and bought – are standard versions – so don’t get too wrapped up in the choices. If you’re unsure, start at least by trying out a standard model.

There is, anyway, an argument that unless you do have a slower than average swing speed – but are still consistently slicing the ball - you might be better off visiting your local pro in order to cure the swing fault rather than temporarily ‘patching’ the problem with an offset head. On the other hand, if time is short and you can’t get out to play and practice as much as you’d like, a quick-fix might be just the ticket.

Fairway Wood Head Materials

There are three types of head material to choose from when it comes to fairway woods – and wood isn’t one of them!


This is by far the most popular material for fairway wood heads. It’s not too expensive and strong – and almost all fairway woods sold have heads made of steel.


Titanium is half the weight of steel – which is great for making big-headed drivers. It's now also used in the making of titanium fairway woods – but they tend to be the bigger fairway woods – those which will be used predominately for hitting form the tee. Its light weight allows manufacturers to push the centre of gravity far back in the head (usually by means of a heavy weight plug - often tungsten) which helps get the ball airborne early – and thin titanium faces provide maximum distance.

Recent examples include the TaylorMade’s r7 CGB Max Fairway Wood. But you guessed it - titanium fairway woods cost more than steel-headed.


Multi-material composite clubs combine modern materials such as carbon with steel or titanium to create ultra-lightweight fairway woods. The light weight allows the manufacturers to place weights around the inside perimeter of the head which helps to reduce twisting on off-centre hits. Again, these are premium products which come at a price. Examples include Callaway’s new FT-I Squareway Woods and Ping’s Rapture range.

To Conclude

We hope this brief guide has helped understand some of the factors that go into deciding which fairway is best for you. You might also want to read our buyers guide on hybrid clubs before making a final decision.

There’s no substitute for trying a few out and seeing what suits you best. All Golfbidder’s clubs comes with a No Risk Trial Period. Try one that seems to fit the bill, if it’s not an improvement on your current fairway wood, simply send it back for a full refund – or try something else.

If you need any further help or advice, feel free to ring our PGA-qualified Customer Service Team.

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Further reading

If you're in the market to purchase a driver, it is arguably the best time ever to do so. Everything from the top of the grip to the sole of the head has been improved to eke out every advantage and get you hitting longer and straighter than ever before.

With the price of a brand new fairway wood edging closer and closer to £300 we had a look through the Golfbidder warehouse to see what you could add to your bag for around half that, and in some cases, far less than half!