Choosing the Perfect Set Make Up

According to The Rules of Golf, we are allowed to carry up to a maximum of 14 clubs.  So how do you know which 14 clubs are best suited to you?  Each club is produced with a unique loft and length combination designed to hit the ball a certain distance and height. Rule number one, you should never have two clubs in your bag that go the same distance. So, it is important that one should have the right mix of clubs that will enable them to tackle as many situations as possible that may occur on the course on any given day. Does a golfer need all 14 clubs, or are there cases why you may need more? We hope to shed some light on how to correctly build that “perfect” set make up.

Why are 14 clubs allowed in golf? The “Swiss Army Knife” Rule

The golf bag is much like a Swiss Army Knife, those versatile pocket items that are mostly available with a red handle and feature the white cross, or the emblem of Switzerland on them. Some of the deluxe models will have a multitude of gadgets ranging from a large blade, screwdriver, can opener, corkscrew, and tweezers to items such as a wood chisel, metal saw and even a fish scaler with hook disgorger & ruler. Many of you probably own one and may occasionally use it from time to time.  However, I bet most people who received one as a stocking stuffer or Christmas present will use the large blade 99% of the time and for curiosity’s sake might use one of the other gadgets just to see what it can do.

two Swiss army knives, two golf tees and two golf ballstwo Swiss army knives, two golf tees and two golf balls

Why are all these tools available in the first place? Well, just in case you are lost in the woods and need to cut down a small branch, create a crude fishing pole, catch a fish, scale, and filet it and start a fire so you can cook your fresh catch. In essence, you just never know when you might need that one tool and it was there in your pocket all along.

The golf bag is somewhat similar. Enacted to the Rules of Golf starting in 1939, we are allowed up to 14 clubs to be carried in the bag at the same time.  (Note: Prior to 1939, there was no limit on clubs allowed) For beginning golfers, they may have the full complement of 14 clubs to carry around yet may use a single club for most of the shots during a round because it is the only club that they feel that can hit consistently.  On the opposite extreme, you have the veteran golfer or professional who knows like the back of their hand how far and how each club will go based upon hours of pounding shot after shot at the range or out on the course. However, even the most accomplished golfers will realize that not every club in the set will be used during a single round. So why do we carry them all? The simple answer is just in case we need to make a specific shot we have it in the bag. After all, the Rules of Golf allow for it so we might as well make every effort to have a rhyme and reason for each club that is in the golf bag.

What are the different golf clubs to choose from?

Before discussing what mix is best, it will be helpful to explain the terminology of each of the different types of clubs and what their functions are.  The typical number of each type of club carried in a golfer’s bag is listed in parentheses.

Driver (Typical – 1, Range 0-2)

This is also referred to as a tee club because this is the one club that is designed solely to be hit with the ball elevated off the ground with a tee. This club is designed to hit the ball the longest way as the driver has the lowest loft (other than a putter) and usually the longest in length. Driver heads range in loft from as low as 4º to a high as 16º. However, the average lofts for men range from 10 - 12°, ladies 12- 15° and touring professionals and long drive competitors below 10°. The driver is a single specialty club, like the putter, where no more than one is needed. Only in rare cases a golfer will carry two potentially to conquer a specific hole or produce two entirely different ball flights with each one.

Fairway Woods (Typical – 2, Range 0-7)

These clubs are designed to be hit from long distances away on approach shots for par 4 and 5’s. These can be played off a tee too, but normally they will be played off the fairway or out of the rough. Most golfers carry at least 2 fairway woods, usually the #3 and 5-woods, but higher lofted versions are available to replace irons to be hit from a much shorter distance, especially for lady and senior male golfers who enjoy the addition of #7 and 9-woods.  Full sets of fairways (all the way to a #15 wood) have been manufactured, but with the advent of hybrids, they are now much harder to find.

Irons (Typical – 6, Range 0-7)

Iron golf clubs are the thin, elongated clubs in the bag. These are used to hit from the intermediate lengths between that of fairway woods and wedges. These are designed to be hit off the ground and have varied loft angles to hit the ball different lengths. The lower lofted or lower numbered clubs like the #3 and 4-irons will hit the ball the furthest of the irons but may be more difficult to get the ball airborne and hit toward your target. The mid-lofted irons are the #5, 6, and 7-irons, while scoring irons or the shortest hitting of the irons, #8 and 9, are the easiest to hit.  It used to be customary that all golfers would carry the #3 through #9 irons, but with the advent of hybrids (see below), that is not the case anymore.

Hybrids (0-7)

Alternatives to irons, these clubs look like a cross between irons and mini metal woods. These are designed to replace often hard-to-hit irons in the bag. Even the best golfers in the world will carry at least one, while beginners should not consider even getting a 3, 4 or even 5-irons and look at adding a hybrid to replace them. Full sets of hybrid golf clubs have been made to replace the entire set of irons and even wedges.

Wedges (Typical – 3, Range 2-5)

Anyone starting out is bound to miss a lot of greens on approach shots and require one to get the ball close to the hole from around the green. Golf wedges are the highest lofted clubs in the bag designed to go the shortest distance to have the ability to stop rolling and land close to the hole. Wedges are sometimes hit as full shots, but many times as less than full finesse shots to land the ball softly. One model, the sand wedge, was designed specifically to hit from the sand trap, but you will find this club useful on several other shots such as from the deep rough around the green. 

The other wedges, a PW or pitching wedge is the club that comes right after the 9-iron and is an important addition to any bag. There is also a GW or gap wedge which bridges the gap in distance from the PW to the SW. There are other names as well like approach (AW), dual wedge (DW) and utility wedge (UW). A lob wedge or LW has the highest loft and goes the shortest distance on full shots of any club in the bag. This club will be more beneficial to higher skill level golfers as many beginners will end up hitting the ball short of their target with this club.

Putter (1)

Approximately 40% of all your shots during a round will be encountered on the green, so the putter is considered the single-most important club in the bag and only one is truly necessary to carry.  Putters come in all shapes and sizes and are designed to be specifically on the short grass of the green.

Chipper (0-1)

Technically this club is an iron, but the chipper golf club is designed to be hit short distances around the green and can be considered a lofted putter as the stroke that is used is like it. This is not a club that you will find in many golfers’ bags but is listed as some golfers might find this to be useful utility-type club.

70/30 Rule: Not all golf clubs are created equal

Have you ever heard the term 80-20 rule? It is a general rule of thumb that associates that 80% of an outcome is derived from 20% of a cause. One example is in business where 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of their customer base. This is also referred to as the Pareto principle, named after an Italian economist in the early 20th century to help explain why not all things are equally distributed.

Well, your golf bag has a general rule of thumb regarding the frequency of clubs used. That is approximately 70% of your shots come from only 30% of your clubs. What are the most popular clubs in your bag? They are the putter, driver, and wedges and are often the most experimented and swapped out golf clubs when things are not going well. So, you should focus your fitting more on these clubs than any of the maximum 14 allowed to be carried during a round.

Golfers can do a lot of self-fitting and improve their scores if they take good notes during or after each round and compile statistics. If one doesn’t already keep track of their strokes, I would strongly suggest that they do. By examining some of the data it will show what to work on. The following are a few stats to keep in mind with a brief explanation of each one.

Golfing Terminology You Should Know

Fairway Hit

A term for the ball landing in the fairway off the tee (and that is your own fairway too). On par 4’s and par 5’s, the fairway is the ideal area to land the ball after teeing off toward the hole.  The fairway constitutes a nicely mowed area where the grass is short and even. Most golfers will reach for their driver on each par 4 or 5 meaning that 14 of the 18 holes will use that one club. However, there is no rule you must use your driver; you can use any club off the tee to advance the ball and keep it in play.

Green in Regulation

The concept of a par 3 is that the golfer reaches the green in one stroke and then takes two putts to put the ball in the hole or to hole out.   A par 4 is designed so that it takes two strokes to reach the green and two putts to hole out. Lastly, a par 5 is designed so that it takes three strokes to reach the green and two putts to hole out.  When a player reaches the green in the number of stroke outlines above (or even less), the term is called a green in regulation or GIR for short.

Putts Per Round

A term that is self-explanatory. It is the number of putts that occur on the putting surface only during a round (typically 18 holes). One important note, if you use your putter from the fringe or elsewhere on the course that is not the actual putting surface, technically is not considered a putt.


According to at the time of rewriting this, here are some average statistics for the PGA Tour. Remember the slogan “These guys are good.” Well, if you look at the average, they still hit less than 2 out of every 3 greens in regulation or fairways off the tee and goes to show just how difficult this game is!

2022-23 Season

Scoring average                71.12

Driving accuracy               59.1% (or 8.3 fairways hit per round)

GIR                                       66.32% (or 11.94 green in regulation per round)

Putts per round                 31.68

For the other 99.99% of us who golf, we will have a higher average score, have more putts per round and not hit as many greens or fairways. By how much will be proportional to your score. Look at the table below to see how each of the three key stats is approximately based on your score.

Statistics for Scoring
Average Score Fairways Hit Greens in Regulation Putts per Round
109 0 0 42
106 0 0 41
103 0 0 40
100 1 0 39
97 2 1 38
94 3 2 37
91 4 3 36
88 5 4 35
85 6 6 34
82 7 7 33
79 8 8 32
76 9 9 31
73 10 10 30
70 11 12 29


Let us say a player shoots 100 for 18 holes, here is a likely breakdown of their strokes:

Driver = 14 times

Greens in Regulation = 0

Wedges = 18 (We shall assume at least 18 shots will come from 100 yards in toward the green with one of the wedges) 

Putts = 39 times

This totals 71 strokes with probably only these 4-5 clubs (driver, putter, 2-3 wedges), while 29 strokes are taken with 8-9 clubs.  This comes remarkably close to the 70/30 Rule.

Now let us look at someone who shots on average 79 strokes for 18 holes, here is the likely breakdown of their strokes:

Driver = 14 times,

Greens in Regulation = 8

Wedges = 10 (We shall assume at least 10 shots will come from 100 yards in toward the green with one of the wedges) 

Putts = 32 times

In this case a total of 54 strokes with probably only these 4-5 clubs while the other 23 strokes are taken with 8-9 clubs.  Again, this comes very close to the 70/30 Rule.

Where improvement is needed

Let us say one's scoring average for 18 holes is 91 and they have compiled these stats for 10 or more rounds.  They should have a good understanding of what to work on. By examining the chart of statistics for scoring, one can focus on their weaknesses. For instance, the chart indicates they might hit 4 fairways per round, 3 greens in regulation and 36 putts per round if their average score is 91. This bogey golfer may average 3 fairways per round, 2 GIR, and 33 putts per round. From tee to green, the performance could be improved, but on putts it is better than average. That is how we analyze this information.

There are many professional golfers who do not look at the statistical fairway hit as overly important as many of these golfers are strong enough to recover and hit shots into the green with mid and high lofted clubs. Some of the longest drivers on tour are near the bottom of driving accuracy. In the 2022-23 season, Rory McIlroy leads the Tour with a driving distance of 326.3 yards. He placed #159 out of the 193 players the stats were kept on. He hit 53.5% of the fairways. Jon Rahm (#11 in driving distance at 314.0 yards) was #151 in driving accuracy (54.98%). Conversely, Russell Henley was #1 in fairway accuracy at 71.44%, but ranked #168 for driving distance (290.9 yards).

The average golfer who hits their driver 220 yards off the tee is much more penalized whenever they miss their own fairway. To avoid costly penalty strokes and have an opportunity to hit the green on the next shot on a par 4, there are a couple things one can do.  One is to make sure they are playing the proper set of tees as outlined in Chapter 4. No need to penalize one by playing a course that is too long and cannot possibly reach the greens in regulation. 

The other option, if someone is missing a disproportionate number of fairways, is to use a club off the tee that will put them in play. After all, a golfer has 8 or 9 other clubs they bought and sits in the bag just begging to be used.  Even though it may mean slightly less distance, this may very well improve their chance of reaching the goal of a GIR. One of the most accurate statistics is the number of GIR in a round. The more you make, the lower your score will be. But don’t be discouraged if you find that once you hit more GIR your putts per round will increase slightly as you will most likely be further from the hole.

There are golfers who might not be very strong, like women or senior male golfers that potentially might hit a disproportionate number of fairways and possibly fewer putts than what their score would indicate.  For this reason, both fairways hit and putts per round are not as strong of indicators as GIR are in scoring relevance. In these cases, it is helpful to focus on the longer and lower lofted clubs to get them much needed distance.

So, if you feel that during a round that they are using the same clubs repeatedly and wonder why you have seldom used clubs in your bag, well now you know. Thirty percent of the clubs (putter, driver, and wedges) will do the brunt of the work (70%), so it is vitally important to select ones that are properly fit for the player's game as well as take the time to practice with them too.

What is a Golf Set?

Nearly 50 years ago, it was commonplace that a male golfer carried a set of four woods (Driver, 3, 4 and 5), eight irons (2-9), a PW, specialty SW and a putter. In the decade of the ‘80’s, the 4-wood was dropped in favor of a 7-wood for the average golfer.  This era also saw the advent of the 60-degree lob wedge. In the past 15 years, hybrid clubheads have become popular replacements to traditional clubs. In today’s world, golfers are becoming more and more educated and customizing the clubs they carry in their bag to suit their needs.

Until just recently, the core of the golf bag has consisted primarily of three matching woods (driver, 3 and 5) and eight matching irons including pitching wedge (4-9, GW). This is what is referred to as a 3/8 (or 3 and 8) set.  This allows for the addition of a putter and two other specialty clubs. Today, many name brand clubs must be purchased with a 4-iron because of this tradition.

As you can see from the chart below, lofts (other than the driver) have become much stronger (lower lofted) in the past 40 years. In some cases, there is just an enumeration of clubs. What do we mean by that? The traditional 1, 3, 4 and 5 woods are no different than the modern 1, 3, 5 and 7 woods in loft. The only thing different is the numbers engraved on the sole.


  Traditional Lofts 1950-1970 Traditional Lofts 1970-1990 Modern Lofts 2000-today
Driver 11° 10° 10.5°
3 Wood 16° 15° 15°
4 Wood 19° 18° 17°
5 Wood 22° 21° 19°
7 Wood n/a 27° 21°
9 Wood n/a n/a 24°


The lofts continued becoming stronger in the irons as well, other than the sand wedge which purpose is to hit the ball out of the sand or deep rough. This causes a large gap between the modern PW (pitching wedge) and the SW (sand wedge) that created a need for an additional club commonly called a Gap Wedge (GW). By looking at the lofts of modern clubs today, the 4-9, PW, GW set is no different than the 2-9 irons of yesterday. Because of the difficulty of hitting a low lofted club such as the 3-iron, manufacturers have dropped that club option in favor of a higher lofted fairway wood (like a #7-wood) or #3 hybrid club.


Club 1950-1970 1970-1990 1992 1997 2002 2007 2012 2017 2022
1 Iron  n/a 17° 16° 14° n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
2 Iron 20° 19° 18° 17° 17° 17° 17° 17° n/a
3 Iron 24° 22° 21° 20° 20° 20° 20° 20° 17°
4 Iron 28° 25° 24° 23° 23° 23° 23° 23° 20°
5 Iron 32° 28° 28° 27° 26° 26° 26° 26° 23°
6 Iron 36° 32° 32° 31° 30° 30° 30° 30° 26°
7 Iron 40° 36° 36° 35° 34° 34° 34° 34° 30°
8 Iron 44° 40° 40° 39° 38° 38° 38° 38° 34.5°
9 Iron 48° 44° 45° 43° 42° 42° 42° 42° 39°
PW 52° 49° 49° 47° 46° 46° 46° 46° 44°
GW n/a n/a n/a n/a 50° 50° 50° 50° 49°
SW 56° 55° 55° 54° 55° 55° 55° 55° 55°


Adams Golf helped pave the way to changing the traditional set make-up of the bag with the Idea irons. Instead of offering a matched set of 8 irons, the long irons (most golfers struggled to hit) were replaced by hybrid clubs. These clubs took the shape of small metal woods, but with lofts and lengths common to an iron.  There is a growing movement amongst manufacturers to shed the traditional 3/8 with something that will most likely fit most golfers.  This type of set will be referred to as a 3/2/6 set as the core clubs. 

What would consist of a 3/2/6 set? The “3” will represent the woods. Most manufacturers do not manufacture a stainless-steel driver to match with the fairway woods. So, you will see a large titanium driver, followed by two matching fairway woods. The irons will not automatically come with a 3 or 4-iron but supplanted by two matching hybrids to replace those two clubs. Then there will be 6 normal irons starting with the 5-iron to going to the PW (OK, technically that is a wedge). 

Very skilled golfers may still prefer traditional 3 or 4-irons, but even on the professional tours, many are switching to a hybrid. So far, we have 11 clubs, with the possibility to carry 3 more.  One is a given and that is the putter – the single most used club in the bag. Now the golfer has the choice of two more clubs. 


Most golfers will miss plenty of greens in regulation or hit in hazards close to the greenside. Therefore, most golfers will benefit by completing the set make up by adding two more wedges. The sand wedge, where the sole radius of the club is designed specifically for extracting the ball out of a bunker, will be a necessity. Remember from the Loft Comparisons chart, there was a large gap between the pitching wedge (in most sets) and the sand wedge. For most golfers with average to above-average strength, adding some sort of gap wedge, whether it is from the matching set of irons, or individual model from a standalone wedge series will be beneficial.

The difference between golf wedges that complement a set and those that come only in wedge sets are mostly about the shape. Those that complement the irons are typically a cavity back model and will usually have a little more offset and wider soles than the standalone wedges, which are typically blades (non-cavity back). Wedges are the shortest clubs in the bag and even mid-handicap players do not tend to hit off-center as much to be penalized in accuracy or yardage verses a cavity back model. So, it comes down to personal preference as to which one may be best. But for higher handicapped golfer, it is wise to have a cavity back (or even hybrid) design to reduce the mistakes of a miss-struck shot because of the wider sole design.

High-Lofted Fairway Woods

Golfers should also look at the golf course they play most often to see if there is a particular hole where a specific club would come in handy. Perhaps it might be a long par 3, where accuracy and hitting the ball high to land softly is a bonus.  In lieu of a long iron and even a hybrid, a high lofted fairway wood may fill that void.

Some golfers may struggle with not only the long irons, but mid and short irons alike. In these cases, choosing a high-lofted fairway wood may be a good substitution. Only a few models today go all the way to a 15-wood to replace even high lofted irons.

Club Loft Iron Substitute
7 Wood 22°  3 iron
9 Wood 25° 4 or 5 iron
11 Wood 29° 6 iron
13 Wood 33° 7 iron
15 Wood 37° 8 or 9 iron

Golfers who tend to shank (or hit in toward or on the hosel) will find high-lofted fairway woods to be extremely helpful as these clubs have a face-forward design and are essentially shank-proof.


Hybrid clubs are a cross between wood and irons and vary in nature from manufacturer to manufacture as to what club (distance-wise) they replace in a bag. The purpose of most hybrids is to combine the benefits of both an iron (accuracy) and a wood (forgiveness). The wider sole and footprint of a hybrid over that of an iron does help the clubhead to become more stable on off-center shots and complement those golfers who tend to make a sweeping motion in the swing.

Hybrids can replace the longer irons (#2 through 5) and even make a complete set who struggle with conventional irons all the way down to the wedges. Basically, any iron club that a golfer doesn't feel comfortable hitting can be replaced with a hybrid to help improve their score.


Another club that you may find helpful is the chipper. For those that struggle from just off the green with a wedge to get close to the hole or keep the ball on the green, the chipper may help reduce strokes. The chipper is basically a lofted putter (although a putter grip is not allowed) and utilizes the same stroke rather than one where you cock and un-cock your wrist with a longer swing arc of a wedge. More accomplished players will find ways of using different clubs to chip and run around the green. But for high-handicap players or beginners, the chipper may make a welcome addition to the bag.

Why buy more than 14 golf clubs?

Even though the Rules of Golf states that there is a limit to carrying 14 clubs at a time, does not mean for certain individuals that more clubs should be purchased.  For serious golfers and/or those who travel to different courses, more clubs may be needed to adjust for the length of the course or fairway or bunker conditions.

For instance, if a golfer’s home course is long, that person may elect to drop a wedge and put another fairway wood or long hybrid into play. But when playing with family or friends at a local municipal course, where it is much shorter, the extra wedge is exchanged for the fairway wood.

Sand and rough conditions may also play an important role in club selection.  Again, if the player’s home course has well-manicured sand in the bunkers and thick grass around the greens, that person may favor a wedge with additional bounce or more radius sole grind, than if he or she was to play a municipal course with hard packed sand and sparse rough around the greens. 

Playing with a reduced number of clubs

Aside from young junior golfers, which will carry a limited number of clubs (usually seven or less), there is another category called a starter set. A starter set is comprised of less than the limit of 14 clubs for the purpose of keeping the cost and confusion down until the person is more fully involved with the game.  In many cases it might be suggested to carry only a driver, one fairway wood, one hybrid, 5, 7, 9-irons, wedge, and putter. Remember though, making such a purchase in no way guarantees that matching fill-in pieces will be available later.

Golfers with lower clubhead speeds may also find that 14 clubs are entirely too many.  As we saw in Chapter 4, the proportionality of distances hit with each club in the set in relationship to their driver. 

For a strong-hitting amateur or professional golfer who hits their driver 283 yards, they would normally have a spread of 185 yards on full shots between all the clubs in the bag. In comparison, an average strength golfer (215-yard driver distance) would have a separation of 131 yards on full shots with each club in the bag. For a lady golfer hitting her driver 126 yards, then there is only a little over 75 yards different from hitting full shots with all the clubs in the bag.  This begs the question, does one need all these clubs? 

A 100-yard gap for a touring professional would amount to carrying only 9 full shot clubs.  This might be a good idea for golfers who have limited strength.  This is why manufacturers have suggested more of a 10-piece set for beginning ladies and a 12-piece set for more advanced lady golfers with reduced swing speed.

“Custom” Golf Sets

Make sure that you put the best group of clubs in your customer's bag to score well. This may very well be a driver, seven fairway woods, two high-lofted hybrid clubs, sand wedge, chipper and two putters (one for short putts and another for long putts). Someone may question the selection that fits their game by saying that it will not have any re-sale value. Make sure to tell that person that the set was intended to be used to enjoy the game and not as an investment for future club purchases. 

Modern Guide to Golf Clubmaking

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