Graphite Iron Shafts: Are They Right for Your Game?

When you purchase a brand new driver, fairway wood or hybrid, there is almost a certainty it will come equipped with a graphite shaft installed.  As a matter of fact, you are going to have to think long and hard when the last time you saw a brand name manufacture offer a steel shaft in a driver or fairway wood as even a custom option, let alone their stock option. However, when you look across the golf bags across America, you notice that few iron sets are equipped the same way other than sets devoted to women or senior male golfers.  This begs to question, why?

Simple Economics

There are several reasons as we shall explain as to why so few graphite shafts show up in irons of today’s golfer, but the most obvious reason is simple economics.  A driver is a single club – the big Kahuna so-to-speak both size and cost-wise.  So you would think a golfer will invest into a product that will give them the best chance to excel rather than pinching dimes.  For many, fairway woods are an afterthought and just an extension of a driver.  The average golfer will carry on average two, so the economics is not really an issue there either.  The same could be said of hybrids as most golfers (even skilled ones) will carry one or two in their bag.

No, where the economics adds up is in the irons where the lion’s share of golfers will carry at least six (5 through 9 and a matching pitching wedge).  If you are reading this, then there is a good chance you are familiar with what we sell and can see very clearly there is a price difference between steel and graphite shafts.  For an example, a medium priced steel shaft runs just south of $10, while moderately priced graphite shafts set you back three times that amount.   This is the reason why most graphite-shafted iron sets are the proverbial $200 retail price more than the same steel-shafted set for a full complement of 8 clubs.

For a golfer on a beer budget, an additional $200 can be the difference between buying and not buying a particular set.  On the other end of the spectrum, ardent golfers probably wouldn’t bat an eye over that difference if it meant a benefit for their game. In fact, there are probably more reasons why you don’t see nearly as many graphite-shafted irons sold.

Pyramid of Influence

You might have heard the saying, “Win on Sunday; sell on Monday”.  This is why endorsement deals are offered to the best players in the world. Watch golf on TV and notice how many PGA touring professionals play graphite in their irons.  If your answer is zero, you would be too low.  There are a smattering of PGA Tour players using graphite shafts in their irons to help fight fatigue and shock from repeated practice and usage.  I feel the number will ultimately continue to grow.

Aerotech Steelfiber shaft

Most golfers associate graphite with lighter weight for greater swing speed leading eventually to more distance.  Well, the PGA Tour player isn’t necessarily concerned with more distance as they already hit the ball a long way.  No, they are concentrated with distance control.

Just like the average golfer cannot hit a low lofted, X-flex driver as effectively as a pro, one shouldn’t pattern their buying decision solely on what the pro carries, but rather select what is best for their game.  Your needs are likely to be entirely different.

Distance vs. Distance Control

For the distance challenged, like most women and many senior-aged male golfers with long, full fluid swings, lighter graphite iron shafts provide much needed assistance in achieving additional distance.  The great news is these types of shafts don’t have to be as stiff or a torque resistant enabling the shaft to be lower cost and less of an economical decision for both manufacturers and consumers alike.

For stronger and more powerful golfers or those that possess more of a short compact swing and/or a quick tempo, then an adequate amount of shaft weight is one impelling factor in distance control.  Players that switch to graphite shafts and suffer from distance control most likely weren’t professional fit for the shaft.  That is a shame in this day and age where demo days and interchangeable fitting systems abound and give potential customer a time to thoroughly test before investing in a whole set haphazardly.  There are plenty of heavier graphite shafts to choose from as not all are lightweight, albeit at a higher price.  But it is not uncommon to see a pro or a more skilled amateur carry a Project X or KBS C-Taper, which run around $40 each apiece.

But there are lightweight steel shafts…

While there are lightweight steel iron shafts being made in the 70 and 80 gram weight range (comparable to the weight of many graphite iron shafts), there are limitations steel manufacturers are capable of.  For one, the lighter the steel shaft, the thinner the walls. As a result, these lighter steel shafts are less likely to be as stiff as one with thicker walls.  Secondly, by virtue of thinner walls, ball flight is generally higher (in some cases substantially).

Graphite iron shafts produced in the same weight range do not have that problem as the graphite shaft designers have near endless possibilities with all the materials at hand.  That is they can make the shaft as stiff or flexible as they would like. Factor in the ability to independently alter shaft stiffness distribution and torque and a graphite designer could make a shaft that can virtual fit any golfer or style of swing.

Quality Differences

One might make the argument that even a low cost steel shaft is pretty consistent in terms of weight and flex.  And that statement is quite true as steel shafts are manufactured from a homogenous material throughout rather than a graphite shaft constructed of multiple layers of materials often hand rolled onto a forming mandrel.  The same consistency cannot always be said of cheaper graphite shafts.  However, with a mid or higher priced graphite shaft you are often paying more for consistency.  In some cases, that consistency is becoming a no different than steel.  The old adage, you get what you pay for is for the most part true, but only assuming you are comparing shafts of comparable specifications. Plus, a skilled clubmaker, with a frequency analyzer and very little time on his or her time, can sort through and use manufacturing tolerances to their advantage to make a high quality set.

Weigh the differences

No, I don’t mean get out your gram weight scale and compare the weights of irons.  What I mean is you shouldn’t shy away from the multitude of graphite iron shafts available to you on the market today just because you don’t see a number of touring professionals use them.  Your swing is likely quite different from theirs and you will likely need certain shaft specifications based on your strength and tempo.  Remember, you can always use the same shaft brand as your favorite golfer using in their other clubs

There are enough high quality graphite iron shafts that are just as consistent in terms of manufacturing tolerances as steel that should not become an issue.  Rather, get fit or try (with an open mind) a variety of graphite-shafted irons before you dismiss it as an option.  There are a number of benefits to graphite-shafted irons, just like there are for putting graphite shafts in drivers, fairways and hybrids.  While cost can be a major consideration for some, those customers might look at models that have been recently been discontinued by the manufacturer and subsequently discounted.

One of the major advantages with shopping with Hireko (or going through one of many qualified clubmakers who use our products) is the chance to buy a single club or even a single shaft to retro-fit into one of your existing irons.  You don’t have invest in a whole set and be out a lot of cashola as you would with name brand iron offerings.  Plus we offer a wider range of products than any of our competitors to choose from.