If you’re new to golf as a sport, then you might struggle to understand many of the technicalities associated with it. Mastering the swing involves just about every muscle in the body, coordinated in a single, smooth, perfect motion that even veterans struggle with. Then there are the seemingly-arcane scoring and handicap systems. 

The equipment, too, might present a challenge. There are woods, wedges, putters and irons: and plenty of hybrid intermediaries, too. What’s more, you’ll find there’s often significant variation within clubs of the same type. Irons and woods in particular are distinguished with the help of a single-digit number. But exactly what do these numbers refer to? Let’s take a look.

The numbers

Woods come in three sorts: ones, threes and fives. You might find even-numbered ones, too; these, however, tend to be extremely niche. Irons are a lot more plentiful, for the simple reason that you’ll be looking to move the ball over a greater variety of distances when you’re using an iron and aretypically numbered from two to nine.

What do the numbers mean?

The number on your club refers to the loft – or the angle of the club’s face relative to the shaft. A shallower loft means that you’re hitting the door from beneath rather than the side. Lower numbers produce less loft but tend to transfer more force into the side of the ball. You can think of a two-iron as a bit like a cannon, and a nine-iron as a bit like a mortar. The higher you go, the less energy goes into driving the ball forwards, which means less distance. Of course, there might be obstacles in the way of your stroke, which makes a club with a greater loft an appropriate choice.

What does this mean in practice?

Irons tend to come into play when you’re two-hundred yards or less away from the green. A two-iron will allow the average male to hit the ball two hundred yards (and the average female around one hundred and forty). Conversely, a nine-iron will carry the ball around 115 or 70 yards respectively. 

Of course, you aren’t going to be breaking out the measuring wheel every time you approach the ball – that would be impractical. Instead, you’re going to have to develop an eye for the distance and build up your club selection from experience. To begin with, this might mean restricting yourself to three clubs. A three, five and seven iron might provide all you need.

For woods, things are a little simpler. A one-wood is only going to be used for one thing – driving from the tee. The others, called fairway drivers, will tend to be used throughout the course in much the same way as the irons we’ve mentioned – except they’ll hit the ball further. Just don’t try to use them from the rough.

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