One of the first things you’ll hear in any conversation about golf, or see when looking at golf equipment is that most of the clubs are referred to along with a number. “7” iron, “3” wood, etc. This can be confusing at first, and while there are no hard-and-fast rules (other than the golden rule: lower number, longer shot!), the numbers are rather systematic, and once you learn about the numbers on golf clubs, you’ll see when to use which club becomes second nature.
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In this article, we’ll take a look at what kinds of clubs have numbers, which don’t, what those numbers mean, and how to use those numbers to pick which club to use at any given time. Believe it or not, the numbering system actually makes it easier and simpler for a golfer on the course to make decisions, in the long run.
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What Do The Numbers On Golf Clubs Mean?
In almost all cases, the numbers on a golf club are going to refer to the club’s loft, or the loft of the face angle of the club in a normal playing position. In effect, this is going to translate to how far the ball will travel when struck with that club, all else being equal.
Additionally, the general premise is: the higher the number, the higher the loft. Which means the shorter the shot will fly. The lower the number, the farther the ball will be driven and potentially roll out.
This is true for irons, woods, and wedges alike.
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Irons can be numbered anything from 1 to 9, with some rarer sets actually using this system all the way into the pitching wedge by labeling it a “10 iron” or even another wedge as an “11 iron”. This designation is seen mostly amongst Japanese clubmakers. In the vast majority of sets the numbers will stop at 9 and change to designations such as “PW” or “P” and “GW” or “G” or “A” for a pitching wedge, gap wedge, or approach wedge. These clubs each have successively more loft than the 9 iron but the numbering system is abandoned.
Also in modern times, #1 irons are almost never seen and #2 irons are rarely seen anymore. Instead, many manufacturers will label low-lofted irons with the actual degrees of loft of the club, since they are often specialty clubs that may or may not be added to various sets, and it’s more important to know the exact loft of a club like this than the number, because each set might have a different loft for their 3 iron, so matching the actual measurement instead of the labeled number becomes key.
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More commonly, this alternate “numbering” where the loft is printed on the club instead of a single-digit number is reserved for wedges. Since the game of golf has evolved to where players are carrying 3 or 4 wedges these days, the labeling has had to evolve, and the most common thing you will see from different golf club brands is that clubs from 48 to 60+ degrees will start to have labels that represent their exact degrees loft, such as “50” or “54” or “56.” Mostly it is a matter of style from the player or manufacturer if a club will be labeled as a “50” or a “G” for gap wedge.
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For woods, it is the same system. The driver is technically, in older terms, a “1 wood” and from there you will typically see woods in odd numbered intervals as a matter of convention. It is typically not useful for a player to have two low-lofted clubs with very close lofts, and since everyone carries a “1 wood” (driver), it is most common to see 3-woods and 5-woods although technically 2-woods and 4-woods do exist. These could in theory go out indefinitely. In older times you could see 9-woods and even in modern times some professional players, such as Dustin Johnson, have found success using as much as a 7-wood in their bag.
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Numbered Golf Clubs
Typically you will see all iron sets be numbered. This is the most common reference you will hear, and a standard golf set will include 9-iron through a 4 or 5-iron, depending on the player, with options to carry even lower-numbered irons if it suits the player.
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Woods are also numbered. A driver is technically a 1-wood, but is no longer referred to as such very often. Typically at that length there is no need to carry two woods that hit the ball almost the same distance, so players will skip 2-woods and 4-woods and fit themselves with a 3-wood, 5-wood, or both. It should be noted that a 3-iron and a 3-wood (for example) do NOT necessarily hit the ball the same distance by any means nor do they have the same loft, so this designation is very important.
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Wedges are the other set of clubs that are numbered. Typically wedges will be denoted with their actual measured degree of loft, usually something between 48 and 60 (but a few players, like Phil Mickelson, have carried wedges higher than 60 degrees before as well). If wedges don’t have their actual degree stamped on them for their numbering, they can be stamped with a “P” “G” or “A” or “S” or “L” to denote “pitching”, “gap”, “approach”, “sand” or “lob” wedges. These clubs would have higher and higher lofts, in the order listed here, with gap wedge and approach wedges generally being interchangeable.
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Golf Clubs Without Numbers
There are a few clubs in each golf set without numbers. The first and most obvious is the putter. That aside, the others can use some explaining:
Drivers typically don’t have numbers any more, although many will have a mark somewhere on them with their nominal clubface loft, usually between 7-13 degrees. However this number is not typically used to refer to the club. Not too long ago, drivers were referred to as “1 woods” but that is rare these days, although some “vintage” or “throwback” headcovers might still use the classy-looking “1” designation for the driver headcover.
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The other clubs that don’t have numbers are a little more tricky. Typically these are the wedges, which can be labeled with a letter like “P” “G” “S” or “L” denoting pitching, gap, sand, or lob wedges. These lofts can vary a couple of degrees in either direction, but as an example many pitching wedges will be 48 degrees, gap wedges 52 degrees, sand wedges 56 degrees, and lob wedges 60 degrees - as a baseline in a modern golf set.
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When To Use Which Club In Golf
When to use which club in golf is one of the greatest debates that a golfer can have. The only thing that is unanimous is that hindsight is 20/20! If you’re learning golf, know that in many cases there is no clear right or wrong answer (until you have the benefit of hindsight!) but that the best golfers can hit a lot of different shots with a lot of different clubs. They can also hit the same shot with different clubs, and use the same club to hit different shots!
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All that said, there are a few general guidelines to fall back on. It is hard to say a lot because golfers come in so many different sizes, swing speeds, and skill levels - and even beyond that, the lie is going to dictate what is and isn’t possible in many cases, regardless of what is needed.
Very generally, however, we can say that for non-professional golfers, stick to only using the driver off the tee.
When it comes down to irons, it’s important to know how far you hit your irons. At the very least, if you know how far you hit ANY one of your irons, you can start to make an educated guess at what club to use.
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If you are a shorter hitter, such as a junior, a senior, or a lady golfer, you can roughly use 10 yards added or subtracted per club. So if you know your 7-iron goes 120 yards, and you have a 100-yard shot, go with a 9-iron - and use this same rough calculation as a guideline.
If you are an adult who is hitting a 7 iron over 160 yards, you can start to use 12 to 13 yards-per-club as a guideline. It might sound small but it makes a difference! For this example, if you hit your 7-iron 160 yards, and you have a 125-yard shot, you’re going to want to use a 9-iron.
You can also spend some time on the driving range hitting your clubs at the different targets. Use a rangefinder to see how far the targets are and then you can start to see a pattern to how far you hit each club.
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What Is The Difference Between An Iron And A Wood?
The difference between an iron and a wood was a lot easier to explain when woods were made of … well … wood! Because that is where the terminology comes from, when persimmon was long the sought-after material for the club heads of any low-lofted club.
Basically the difference remains even though the materials have changed. A “wood” is going to travel farther than an iron unless it is an extremely high-lofted wood. The head of a wood, even if not made from wood nowadays, is going to be larger, more bulbous, and have a long flat bottom that lends itself to sweeping across the turf and launching the ball high, for being such low-lofted clubs.
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Irons are designed to be able to play the ball out of more difficult lies and do more carving and shaping and playing around with angles, etc., than you would attempt to pull off with a wood. Generally speaking, the worse the lie gets, the more you are going to have to go with an iron - and a higher lofted one at that - in order to try to make good contact with the ball.
What Are The Numbers On A Golf Wedge?
Golf wedges, if they have numbers, are almost always going to designate the measured loft of the clubface when in a neutral playing position. Typically these will range from 46 to 60 or more degrees, however it’s more common to see clubs in the 46-52 degree range get labeled as pitching wedges and gap wedges, as well, with the degree-numbering system taking over somewhere in the 50-degree range. Some sets will also designate everything up to the sand wedge with a letter (“S”). Almost always a club labeled “S” will be equivalent to a 54 to 56 degree club and a club labeled “L” for lob wedge will be equivalent to a 58 to 60 degree club.
In some Japanese sets, such as those popularized by Honma, they will continue the numbering from the iron set into the wedges - not stopping with the 9-iron but labeling clubs as 10, 11, and so-on. These clubs would be equivalent to the pitching wedge, gap wedge, etc. from any other set.
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Often it seems kind of “backwards” the way golf clubs are labeled, making the game more difficult for newcomers to the game. This is because the number corresponds to the loft of the club, not how far it goes. So “9 is more than 8, right?” is correct - but only according to the loft. The distance the ball travels will be shorter for the higher numbers.
The number-labeling system is actually just an attempt to get all the technical jargon out of the way and let players quickly decide between a “7 and an 8” iron rather than trying to decide between their “31 or 35 degree” iron.
This can feel more intuitive if you remember that many drivers, driving irons, and wedges are also labeled with numbers - many times their actual loft, instead of a simplified 1-through-9 number. The same principle always applies: lower number - longer shot!