The right shafts are essential for playing better golf. As you’ll learn today, that might mean swapping to lighter weights in graphite shafts. It’s time to drop the ego and use shafts that are right for your game.
Let’s face it, golf isn’t getting any easier and playing stiff, heavy, steel shafts isn’t helping most players. Even amateurs who practice very little and only go out for a few hours a month. Yet, despite the mountain of data that shows the benefits of playing graphite, some golfers just won’t make the switch.
Here’s a fact that might help you finally drop the stigma of using graphite once and for all. Bryson de Chambeau, who was the longest hitter on PGA Tour 2021 (before switching over to LIV Golf), uses graphite-shaft irons. He not only hits bombs with his driver but also hits his irons insanely well.
It’s obvious that graphite shafts are used by the longest hitters. If you’ve thought about switching and weighing the pros/cons of graphite vs. steel shafts, this article will give you all the information you need.
Graphite vs. Steel Shafts
The right shaft can make a huge difference in your ball flight and overall performance. Many golfers spend too much time and effort choosing the right clubhead and settle with a generic shaft.
I believe that the proper shaft is just as important than the clubheads.
Do not settle for any old golf shafts… especially if you’re a mid to low handicap golfer. The smallest things can make a big difference in your ball striking, confidence, performance, and overall performance.
Let’s break down the type of golf shafts available and see which one is right for your game.
Before getting into all things about steel shafts, don’t forget that golfers originally played with wooden shafts. The most popular old-school shafts were ash, apple, and hickory shafts.
BC Golf House found that, “Around 1820 clubmakers introduced hickory for making golf shafts. This wood proved to be stronger than the apple, ash, and beech woods. To make a golf shaft, you first needed to attach a piece of hickory measuring one inch square that was approximately four feet in length to a lathe.
Soon the spinning rectangular piece became a round spindle about ¾ inch in diameter. Finally, the clubmaker tapered one end to fit into the clubhead hosel.”
This type of shaft was used for a century before clubmakers found the next great invention – steel iron shafts.
Did you know that the steel shaft for golf has been around for almost 100 years? While the original players of this sport used wooden shafts (which most of us can’t even imagine playing with), the R&A legalized the switch in 1929.
According to Golf College, “Around 1925 the steel shaft was introduced in the United States, although blacksmiths had experimented with them since the late 1890’s. The R&A finally legalized the use of steel shafted clubs after the Prince of Wales used them on the Old Course at St Andrews in 1929.”
Golfers discovered that switching to steel shafts from wooden was a good way to improve accuracy, distance and endurance.
Steel shafts have the greatest benefit for golfers: you feel more vibrations during each swing. You get immediate feedback on your shot, which allows you to adjust your setup and swing to hit the desired shot. But beginners won’t enjoy the vibrations if they hit it badly, especially in cold weather.
Another big benefit to steel is that they’re heavier, which means a tighter shot dispersion. Your missed shots are therefore more visible than with lighter graphite shafts. Steel shafts can be 1.5 to 2X heavier than graphite shafts, making it easier to hit knockdown shots for optimal control.
They’re also usually cheaper than graphite shafts as they cost less to produce. If you’re looking to save money, steel is usually the way to go. Plus, they’re more durable and rarely, if ever, do you need to replace.
Steel shafts are more suitable for advanced golfers who have high swing speeds and a consistent swing. But as you’ll see in the next section, even some of the top guys in the world are now using graphite shaft irons.
Weight and Flexibility
Steel shafts weigh 120g or more than graphite. There are lighter options in the 100-110 gram range, while some go up to 140 grams.
The flex of a steel shaft will vary from regular to stiff, and it can change from one manufacturer to the next. Learn more about stiff shaft flex and the senior flex shaft for a slower swing speed.
Steel Shafts Today
In today’s modern golf era, technology continues to change and innovate at a rapid pace. Despite steel being used for nearly a century, it’s still very common to see players using them on the golf course.
Most high handicappers should avoid steel shafts entirely as they’re too heavy and hard to hit. According to Golf.com, “Tim Briand of True Spec Golf, approximately 75% of players he fits have the wrong shafts in their irons, the majority of which are too heavy and too stiff.”
Mid- to lower handicap golfers prefer steel for better control.
With a few exceptions, professional golfers almost all use steel shafts in their irons. They are some of the most consistent players on earth and steel shafts help with shot shaping and distance control.
Regardless of handicap, almost every golfer plays graphite shafts in his or her woods.
Now that you have a better understanding of steel shafts, let’s get into all things graphite.
According to the same article from Golf College, “In 1973 the graphite shaft was introduced which provided more rigidity, lightness and increased strength over the steel shafts. The more modern graphite shafts are manufactured with different materials to improve performance, such as boron to reduce twisting.”
While players were quick to make the switch from wooden to steel, the switch from steel to graphite wasn’t quite as fast. Heck, I remember Tiger Woods’ early 2000s swinging a shafted driver and making it look easy. He was also the longest hitter among all PGA Tour players.
Pros and amateurs alike eventually saw the benefits of graphite and switched to it. Graphite is now more common in everyday golf, while professionals use it only in their woods.
Why then did so many people choose to switch from steel shafts to graphite shafts. Because there are a ton of benefits – all of which make this complex game a little easier.
Graphite shafts gained popularity because they were lighter than irons. It’s not uncommon for steel shafts to weigh twice as much as graphite shafts. Swinging faster is more difficult with heavier weights.
Many golfers found that switching to lighter graphite shafts resulted in increased distance due to a quicker swing speed. Since the club is significantly lighter, it’s much easier to swing faster and increase total distance (especially for high handicap golfers)
A graphite shaft has the added benefit of a higher ball flight. This will result in longer clubs and a better ability to hold the green.
Another benefit is that graphite shafts have a lower impact on your joints. That’s right, there are health benefits aside from increased swing speed.
According to Golf.com, “A lot of graphite products perform like steel but offer some hidden benefits like vibration-reducing technology that’ll reduce wear and tear on your joints during those lengthy practice sessions.
I realize there’s a stigma attached to graphite, but you need to stop thinking of them as a product for your grandpa.” They also mentioned that Abraham Ancer and Bryson DeChambeau use graphite shafts for their irons.
Weight and Flexibility
Graphite shafts weigh 50-90g less than steel. You have many customization options, including color, flex, shaft tip, and more.
These shafts are lighter than stainless steel, making them ideal for senior players, everyday golfers, and women.
Multi-material shafts are a new option. While graphite shafts are recommended for most golfers, they can also be used for other reasons. These shafts can be made from multiple materials or composite materials to create a custom shaft. These shafts have a steel tip and a graphite tip, so you get the best of both.
You get the control of both steel and graphite with a partly steel-partly graphite shaft. They have vibration-reducing technology built in to prevent unwanted vibrations. It’s truly a win-win and something that I could see gaining popularity in the future for low handicap golfers.
Graphite vs. Steel: How to Choose the Right Shaft
Now that you have all this information, let’s talk about how to make sure your shafts are setting you up for success.
Woods vs. Irons
You need to first think about the shafts for your irons, woods, and wedges. It’s not uncommon for all of them to be different weights and possibly different manufacturers. However, the flex of the shaft typically doesn’t change much.
For example, here’s my bag setup to show how the shaft weight changes depending on the club. I use graphite shafts in my woods, as well as steel shaft irons and steel shaft wedges.
- Driver: 70 grams
- 3-Wood 80 grams
- Hybrid: 90g
- Utility iron: 90 grams
- 5-GW: 115 grams (steel shaft)
- SW & LW: 120 grams (steel shaft)
Your driver should weigh between 45-75 grams, depending on your skill level. Fairway woods will be slightly heavier than fairway woods (as you see, my 3-wood has 10 grams more). Then work your way up to irons.
As most golfers use graphite shafts, picking your wood shafts is much easier than choosing your irons. With irons, however, you will need to decide whether graphite, steel or a multi-material shaft is best for you.
Finally, don’t forget to check your wedge shafts too. It’s not uncommon to have your wedges as the heaviest shafts in your bag. A heavier wedge shaft makes it easier to flight shots down and take off distance when you’re between clubs.
Finding the Right Shaft Flex
It is one thing to decide between steel and graphite, but it is quite another to determine the shaft’s flex. There are many options available for shaft stiffness. It ultimately depends on how fast you swing the golf club. You need more flexibility if you are faster than you are swinging the golf club (aka, more club head speed). Slower swing speeds require more flexibility.
To find the right flex, it’s common to hit a golf ball with your driver to monitor carry distance, ball speed, clubhead speed, and other data factors. Here’s a breakdown based on amateur golfers from Golf.com.
- Ladies flex: >72mph
- Senior flex: 72-83mph Light flex
- Regular flex: 84-96mph
- Stiff flex 97-104 mph
- Extra Stiff (X-stiff) flex: 105mph
- Tour-Stiff (TX) flex: 110+mph
You can see that there is a lot involved in finding the right equipment for your game. If you feel overwhelmed by this process or don’t have your own launch monitor, it’s not a bad idea to do a custom fitting. This takes about an hour and allows you to compare your clubs against new clubs and different shafts in order to determine distance, spin, accuracy and many other metrics.
Custom fittings don’t cost that much ($100-$300 depending on the type of fitting/number of clubs) and are worth it. The wrong golf shaft or shaft material can make a huge difference in your game. Playing the right golf clubs will make golf more enjoyable.
Click here to see our complete article on club fitting.
FAQs about Graphite and Steel Shafts
Are you still unsure about the best shafts to use for your game? Keep reading to learn more about selecting the right shafts to improve your golf game.
Is it better to have graphite or steel shafts?
It’s best to play shafts that match your skill level and swing speed. Some players will be able to benefit from graphite shafts, while others will need to use steel shafts.
What does graphite shafts do?
Graphite shafts can make a big difference in your game. Changing from steel to graphite shafts can increase distance, hit it harder, and increase swing speed. While graphite shafts cost more, they’re a great investment in your game.
Do pro golfers use graphite shafts?
Pro golfers use graphite shafts only in their driver, fairwaywoods, hybrids and possibly some utility clubs. Composite shafts are great for hitting long irons and other difficult clubs, which even the best players struggle with sometimes.
These players use graphite shafts that are heavier than the average golfer and more stiff. The majority of PGA Tour or LIV golfers use X-stiff (or even TX) shafts.
Most PGA Tour players choose steel shafts for their wedges and irons because they provide more feedback.
Does Tiger Woods use steel or graphite shafts?
Tiger now uses both graphite as well as steel shafts. He uses both steel shafts for his irons and graphite wedges in his woods. He can also play extremely stiff shafts because of his fast swing speed.
I can still see Tiger in his prime swinging heavy metal shafts in his 3 wood, as well as his driver. In 2004, he made the switch from graphite to steel in his driver.
He hit a steel shafted driver and was the longest player on tour. Most players in today’s modern game of golf can’t even comprehend doing that today.
Tiger was also the first player to make a move. Golf workouts a normal part of the game. That being said, we don’t recommend swinging steel shafted woods anymore. It only makes the game more challenging and isn’t necessary with new technology.
When should I switch from graphite shafts to steel?
It all depends on your swing speed, current clubs, trajectory and many other factors. Most golfers would benefit from playing graphite shafts as they’re lighter, easier to hit, and tend to produce a higher ball flight. In the past, graphite shafts weren’t as accurate but as technology has evolved, you’re not sacrificing much now.
There’s no specific time to switch – for example, saying you’re 60 years old then you need to get graphite iron shafts. Instead, it’s about monitoring your swing, score, and ultimately your golf goals.
Some players can swing steel shafts all their lives, while others prefer graphite at a younger age. There’s a lot of personal preference when it comes to picking the right shaft so do what’s best for your game, no one else.
Graphite and steel shafts with an injury
Golf injuries can be serious. If you’re suffering from a back injury or have a lot of stiffness from golf, graphite shafts are the way to go. Adding these into each golf club will help you alleviate injury as they don’t provide as much vibrations up the shaft. This will benefit your wrists, hands and elbows.
If you have a neck or back injury, a lighter weight shaft might be even more helpful.
How long can graphite shafts last for?
Graphite iron shafts don’t tend to last as long as steel shafts since they’re much lighter but that doesn’t mean you’ll need to replace them often. For example, I’ve played the same shaft in my driver for years and play or practice 3-4X a week!
What about the putter shafts? Are they made of steel or graphite shafts
Although most putter shafts made from steel are made, there are now graphite alternatives. Here’s what GolfWeek said about graphites shafts in putters.
“According to brands that make graphite putter shafts, the advantage they can have over their steel counterparts is versatility.
A typical steel potter weighs around 125 grams. In order to make it lighter, manufacturers will often need to thin the walls. Conversely, to make a steel shaft stiffer, they need to make the walls of the shaft thicker, which adds more weight.”
Graphite shafts can be layered at different angles by companies to improve stiffness and weight. Graphite shafts are lighter and can reduce face twisting, allowing you to hit the target more often. It’s something to consider if you feel like your putter itself is great but need to get out of a putting slump.
Graphite shafts are more expensive than normal steel putting shafts.
Are graphite shafts able to increase distance?
Yes, graphite iron shafts can increase distance, sometimes significantly, for certain types of golfers. Because graphite shafts are lighter than steel, golfers can hit them farther than steel.
It’s not uncommon for graphite irons to weigh half the amount of steel golf clubs. A lighter shaft is easier to swing, which results in a faster clubhead speed, which in turn corresponds to greater total distance.
Final Thoughts about Graphite Or Steel Shafts
Golf manufacturers are always looking for ways to make this difficult game a little easier by creating better shafts. There are more options than ever for choosing the right golf shaft.
Graphite shafts are a great choice for most golfers.
Don’t play the wrong golf shaft anymore. It’s time to ditch the stigma of using graphite and instead, playing shafts that make golf easier. Don’t forget, some of the best players in the world with insanely high swing speeds choose graphite too.
If you’re still debating graphite or steel, this quote from Andrew Tursky, a senior equipment editor for Golf.com said it best, “I’ll go as far as saying that more than 50 percent of golfers would find better performance and a more pleasurable experience by switching to graphite. Composite shaft companies have made huge strides in creating iron shafts that mimic the dispersion of steel shafts, but provide more height, speed and better feel.”
Graphite shafts should be used in the driver and fairway wood of every golfer. But don’t forget, there are tons of different types of shafts as flex, weight, shaft length and tip flex all factor in too. If you’re a committed golfer, sometimes it’s worth doing a professional fitting or at least testing out different shafts with a launch monitor.
Always ensure that the shafts of your new club or set are appropriate for your swing when buying a club.
Check out our article on the best golf shafts next.