That certainly used to be the case. But like Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin’”. Composite materials are lighter than steel and therefore represented the best option to build lighter, more flexible shafts. To date, plenty of golfers can benefit from iron shafts that weigh less than 60 grams and that’s still the primary use case for graphite iron shafts.
Golfers with slower swing speeds can benefit from lighter shafts than help them swing faster which creates higher launch, more ball speed, and ultimately more distance. But, because graphite shafts only served the needs of a particular set of golfers, it got a reputation. And that history is a good bit of why better/faster golfers often carry a stigma against graphite iron shafts.
But that history, is well, history. Fujikura, Mitsubishi, Aerotech Steelfiber and LA Golf are several manufactures that produce graphite iron shafts that are played around the world by some of the strongest, fastest players in the game (See: Bryson DeChambeau)
So, no. Graphite isn’t only for slower swing speed players. The options aren’t as plentiful as steel, particularly in heavier weights (120gr+) but that’s slowly changing as well
2. Why do graphite shafts cost so much more?
Short answer, that’s not always the case. Longer answer – but it generally does.
If it were a Venn Diagram with one circle representing the cost of steel shafts and the other graphite shafts, there’d still be some amount of overlap. Most steel shafts on the market fall in the $30-$60/shaft range (uninstalled). Comparatively, graphite iron shafts start around $50 and go up from there. LA Golf’s graphite iron shafts all sit slightly north of $100 per shaft.
Why does graphite cost more? The quick answer is that graphite shafts cost more because they’re more expensive to produce and use higher cost materials. The other element is supply and demand. With relatively few choices in the market, scarcity helps support higher prices. Should that equation change and we start to see additional options, that could start to bring prices down a bit.
3. Will a tour player ever use graphite iron shafts? Why haven’t we seen it much?
Yep, and we’ve already seen it.
Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar have both routinely used Aerotech SteelFiber shafts in their irons throughout their careers. And keep in mind, these aren’t two fringe players struggling to keep a PGA Tour Card. Kuchar has 9 PGA Tour wins, 3 international wins and over $54 million in on-course earnings. Likewise, Snedeker won the FedEx Cup in 2012 and also has 9 PGA Tour victories. More recently, players like Abe Ancer (Mitsubishi MMT) and Bryson DeChambeau (LA Golf) have switched to graphite iron shafts.
And if we’re willing to look beyond the PGA Tour, you’ll see plenty of LPGA Tour players with graphite iron shafts.
I think the reason we haven’t seen more graphite iron shafts, specifically on the PGA Tour is for two reasons. First, is a lack of clear benefit. That might sound harsh, but there isn’t any wide-scale evidence that shows PGA Tour players are struggling to perform with existing steel shafts. Moreover, if we look back at momentous changes in golf equipment that resulted in relatively fast and near universal adoption (solid core golf balls, graphite wood shafts), the performance implications were obvious and undeniable. That isn’t the case right now with graphite iron shafts.
The second reason isn’t as impactful, but it’s a factor nonetheless. With graphite iron shafts, players have to consider and assess the impact to at least 50% of the clubs in his/her bag. That takes a lot of time and testing. The only real opportunity players have to do this is during the off-season, which is when players are also looking to spend time with family, travel and rest. This gets us right back to “if it ain’t broke….” and round and round we go.
4. How do I know which is the better option for me?
The only way to know definitively whether shaft A is better than shaft B is to work with a qualified fitter. But more than that, it’s imperative to have a plan as to how you’re going to assess performance.
And this is less about graphite vs. steel, but also about iron fitting, in general. We know that golfers too often rely on a “homerun derby” approach to fitting. That is, they tend to fixate on a single best (often, longest) shot as opposed to looking at total performance. Regarding irons, distance is an important criterion. But, golfers should give equal weight to the total trajectory of each shot – launch, spin, peak height and descent angle. Beyond that, pay attention to “North-South” and “East-West” dispersion. Too often golfers equate accuracy with how far left/right of target a shot ends up. But, the range of each iron from shortest to longest is just as important.
A final consideration – For many golfers, steel and graphite shafts will feel different – particularly because of how they handle vibration. As a result, graphite often feels “better” or “softer/smoother” If you tend to struggle with joint issues or soreness, graphite likely offers some advantages.
5. Which clubs in my bag should have different shafts?
At a minimum, it’s likely that you need at least five different shafts, not including the putter. Driver, fairway wood, hybrid, irons and wedges.
You can make the argument that if you can carry 14 clubs, then each club should be optimized to do a specific job – and if that job requires a slightly different shaft than the club to either side, so be it.
The other way of thinking about this is that you need the number of shafts that allow each club to perform optimally for you.
This is one case where it’s not a terrible idea to look in the bags of tour players and competitive amateur golfers to get some baseline information. Typically, you’ll find 4-5 different makes/models, often separated by category – wedges, irons, fairway woods/hybrids and driver.
As always, a couple caveats to consider. Some golfers might use a different wedge shaft (DG Spinner, KBS Hi-Rev) to create more spin and higher launch in a specific club – often the highest lofted wedge. Additionally, iron shafts such as Dynamic Gold AMT feature different weights in each shaft to help alter launch conditions throughout the set.
6. Ah yes…but what about my putter?
Putting is a slow science. So, that’s always the backdrop when we talk about performance on a swing that doesn’t exceed several miles-per-hour. However, as a slow science, small changes in performance can produce drastically different results. So long as a 6-inch putt counts the same as a 300-yard drive, it’s fair to narrow our focus to tenths-of-a-degree and fractions of an inch.
Consider that a putter face that’s more than 1° open or closed will miss the hole from 8 feet. At 15 feet, it drops to 0.5°. The point is that it’s reasonable to investigate anything that can help a golfer reduce the variation of face angle at impact. No doubt, companies that sell graphite and multi-material putter shafts often cite similar statistics while producing studies that advocate for whatever product it is that they’re trying to sell.
So, do you need a graphite shaft in your putter? Our research seems to suggest that there is a potential benefit for some golfers. But while the technology shoes promise, it’s premature to declare any sort of universal benefit.
7. Is one better than the other?
There is a best answer for every golfer. But that answer isn’t the same for every golfer. Moreover, that answer will likely change as companies continue to evaluate new materials and manufacturing processes. It’s also worth noting that steel shaft manufacturers continue to experiment with composite materials. Conversely, composite companies aren’t investing in or exploring the capabilities of steel shafts. That ought to tell us something.
Taking a step back and considering both where the industry is today and where’s it’s likely headed, carbon composite shafts have the advantage. Steel is isometric – meaning, it can basically do “one thing.” But composite materials allow engineers more levers to pull and dials to turn. Effectively, the possible implications of graphite shafts are greater than steel shafts. Put differently, we know the majority of what steel shafts can and can’t do. With graphite shafts, we’re still asking the questions.
I’ll finish with a quick history lesson. In the mid 1800’s hickory shafts became commonplace, replacing locally available woods like ash, hazel and danglewood. And though early versions of steel shafts started to surface in the early 1900s, the R&A and USGA deemed them to be against the rules. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1924 US Open that steel shafts were allowed – and even then, the use was limited to putters. By the 1930s steel shafts were legal and ubiquitous. And here we are, nearly a century later and that’s still the case. For now.
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