We have a limited number of clubs in our golf bags, so it’s crucial that each one serves its purpose in helping us perform at our best. Many golfers overlook the importance of considering their swing speed and distance achieved with each club. Instead, they simply stick with the “standard set.”
However, there are more options available when it comes to adding fairway woods and hybrids to your bag. While every player, from experienced golfers to high handicappers, carries a driver, the next longest club creates a bit of a debate: the 3 wood vs. the 5 wood.
Continue reading to discover the advantages and disadvantages of each golf club, and find out which one is the right choice for you.
The Difference between 3 Wood and 5 Wood
Before discussing when to use these clubs and which shots they excel at, let’s start with their design. While the two woods have some similarities, they also have significant differences.
A standard 3 wood usually has a loft of 15 degrees, while a 5 wood has a loft of 18 or 19 degrees (depending on the manufacturer). These three to four degrees make a significant difference in terms of playability and total distance.
Additionally, a 3 wood comes in multiple lofts, including 13.5, 15, and 16.5 degrees. A 13.5-degree lofted 3 wood is considered strong, while a 16.5-degree loft is more like a 4 wood.
Apart from loft, another major difference between these fairway woods is the shaft length. A 3 wood has a longer shaft, ranging from 43 to 43.25 inches, while a 5 wood usually measures 42.5 to 42.75 inches.
The clubhead size is the last significant divergence between the two woods. For example, the popular Callaway Rogue ST MAX 3 wood has a clubhead size 76cc larger than that of the 5 wood. The 3 wood has a clubhead size of 174cc (compared to the average driver’s 460cc), while the 5 wood is 148cc.
Ultimately, a 3 wood will give you more distance and total distance than a 5 wood due to the following factors:
- Less loft
- Less spin
- Longer shaft
- Larger clubhead
However, that doesn’t mean the 3 wood is the right choice for every golfer. It’s not the easiest club to hit, as we’ll cover later in this post. Now, let’s explore how each club can benefit you in specific situations on the golf course.
Off the Tee Box
Which is better off the tee, a 3 wood or a 5 wood?
As mentioned earlier, a 3 wood will go further due to its decreased loft, making it the ideal choice off the tee. However, it will only provide more distance if you can hit it well consistently.
Remember, a 3 wood has the second-longest shaft in the bag and very little loft. The combination of a longer shaft and less loft makes it harder to hit consistently, especially for average golfers. Nonetheless, since it’s teed up, it is slightly easier to hit than when hitting off the fairway.
Different golfers may benefit from either a 3 wood or a 5 wood. For instance, if you struggle with a driver, frequently using fairway woods off the tee might be a better option for you. In that case, it would make more sense to have a 3 wood as your primary club off the tee. This ensures that you don’t sacrifice too much distance by not using the driver and gives you a shorter approach shot into the green.
Moreover, a 3 wood’s lower loft is advantageous when it comes to achieving a longer roll on the green. On the other hand, a 5 wood’s higher loft allows for a softer landing, which prevents excessive roll due to a higher trajectory.
From the Fairway
While a 3 wood may have the advantage off the tee, it is not as effective from the fairway. Since most golfers don’t hit drivers off the deck (which is considered one of the most challenging shots in golf), a 3 wood is typically the longest club used for fairway shots.
However, it’s important to note that a low loft plus a long shaft make the 3 wood difficult to hit, especially from the fairway. While golfers who shoot in the 70s or better might be able to handle it, for most players, it remains a challenging shot.
For the average golfer, hitting a higher lofted wood off the fairway would be more beneficial. The additional 3-4 degrees of loft, combined with a shorter shaft, improve turf interaction, making it easier to achieve better results.
Butch Harmon, one of the most respected coaches in the game, recommends “benching” the 3 wood from fairway shots. According to him, amateurs often make the mistake of reaching for the 3 wood when they are too far from the green to reach it. He says, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
It’s hard to disagree with one of the greatest coaches ever, especially considering his influence on Tiger Woods’ early career.
Unless you are confident that you can reach the green with a 3 wood, keep it in the bag. It’s not a high percentage shot, and most golfers will struggle to hit it well from the fairway. Opt for a 5 wood instead, as it will increase your chances of making solid contact and getting closer to the green.
From the Rough
When it comes to shots from the rough, the 5 wood is the clear winner.
Hitting a 3 wood from the fairway is challenging enough, let alone when the ball is sitting down in the rough. In fact, even scratch golfers and PGA Tour players rarely attempt to hit a 3 wood from such a lie.
Sometimes, a 5 wood may not be the best choice either, depending on how the ball is positioned in the grass. In such cases, a hybrid or iron might be a more suitable option.
The only time hitting a 3 wood from the rough is recommended is when you have a perfect lie with the ball sitting up. This is known as a flier lie, where the ball reacts as though it’s on a tee. In such instances, if you choose to use a 3 wood, keep in mind that the ball will launch 10-15 yards farther due to the optimal lie.
Generally, when the lie is suitable, the 5 wood is the club of choice for shots from the rough.
Alternate Option: 4 Wood or High-Lofted 3 Wood
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the 3 wood and 5 wood, let’s discuss the club in between: the 4 wood. This club is not as popular among golfers but may be exactly what your game needs.
Although most clubs aren’t labeled as 4 woods, the distinction lies in the loft and shaft length. A typical 4 wood has a loft of around 16 degrees and a shaft length similar to that of a 3 wood.
For instance, the Callaway Rogue ST Max offers a 3HL (high loft) option. It has the same length and lie as the 3 wood but with additional loft.
If you enjoy having a 3 wood and want to use it more frequently from the fairway, a 4 wood is a great option. The extra 1-1.5 degrees of loft will help you launch the ball higher.
There are also “strong” 3 woods with even less loft, typically around 13.5 degrees. However, these are recommended only for skilled golfers, as they are more challenging to hit, particularly off the fairway. Additionally, carrying a strong 3 wood may create a significant distance gap in your bag.
What About Hybrids?
You may wonder where hybrids fit into the mix.
Hybrids are game improvement clubs that have revolutionized the sport for many players. They come in various sizes, shapes, and lofts, and can even replace some or all of your irons. In fact, you can even play a full set of hybrid irons.
Hybrids are particularly valuable for mid-handicappers or high handicap golfers, as they are easier to hit. The club’s design instills confidence, making it suitable for almost any type of shot.
I believe hybrids and fairway woods complement each other. Having a mix of both and eliminating difficult-to-hit long irons is crucial for scoring well and making the game a bit easier.
Remember, even skilled players struggle with longer clubs. By carrying clubs with more loft and slightly shorter shafts, you can make a significant difference in your performance. Additionally, don’t forget to check out our guide on how to hit hybrids effectively.
For more information on the 5 wood vs. 3 hybrid debate, click here to read our article.
FAQs about Fairway Woods
If you have additional questions about finding the right fairway woods for your golf bag setup, we have the answers below to help you create the best setup for your game.
Is it better to have a 3 wood or a 5 wood?
The answer depends on the golfer. Some players will benefit from carrying a 3 wood, while others will prefer a 5 wood. Some golfers may even choose to have both in their bag. It ultimately comes down to personal preference.
If you’re seeking an alternative to a driver, a 3 wood is likely the best choice. However, this decision is subjective and depends on your personal preference between the two clubs.
Is it easier to hit a 3 wood or a 5 wood?
For the average golfer, a 5 wood is easier to hit. Thanks to its increased loft, it’s easier to get the ball airborne, even if the average distance is not as long as that of a 3 wood.
For more tips on hitting your 3 wood effectively, click here to read our comprehensive guide.
Does a 3 wood hit further than a 5 wood?
If both clubs are struck well with solid contact, the 3 wood will provide more distance than a 5 wood. Due to its more piercing ball flight and the factors mentioned earlier, the 3 wood will give you greater distance off the tee.
What is a 5 wood used for?
A 5 wood is a versatile club used in various situations. With its loft ranging from 18 to 19 degrees, it is easier to hit off the fairway than a 3 wood and can also be used effectively from the rough. Additionally, a 5 wood is suitable for bump and run shots around the green. However, it is not recommended for punch shots, as its high loft and clubhead design are meant to launch the ball into the air.
Should you carry a 3 wood and 5 wood?
Whether you should carry both clubs depends on your playing level. Beginner players may benefit from having more fairway woods and hybrids and fewer wedges. For more skilled golfers, it may not be the best use of their 14 clubs. Instead, it would be better to add a 7 wood, hybrid, or utility iron for greater versatility in the bag.
Traditionally, the average golfer carried a set of golf clubs consisting of a driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, 3-PW, SW, LW, and putter. However, times have changed, and both golf balls and clubs are now easier to hit, even with slower swing speeds.
Hence, for some golfers, carrying two woods that serve almost the same purpose may not be the best approach. Instead, consider one of the following combinations to avoid large gaps in your distance:
- 3 fairway wood and 7 wood
- 4 fairway wood and 7 wood
- 4 fairway wood and driving iron
- 3 fairway wood and 4 or 5 hybrid
Having one of these combinations will ensure that you have consistent distances between clubs. Moreover, carrying only one fairway wood and complementing it with a hybrid or utility iron allows you to hit different types of shots that are not possible with high-lofted fairway woods. For example, in the semi-rough, a hybrid might be a better choice than most fairway woods, as it provides greater assistance.
Before making any new purchases, I recommend using a launch monitor to determine your current distances accurately. Hit 10-15 balls with your 3 wood and 5 wood to calculate the average distance. Then, compare those distances with your next longest club (hybrid, 3 iron, or any other club in your bag) to identify the distance you need to fill.
Should you use the same shafts in fairway woods as drivers?
Shafts have a significant impact on total distance, trajectory, and launch angle, so it’s essential to choose the right ones. Ideally, you should use the same shaft flex in your fairway woods as your driver. However, you may want to consider adjusting the shaft weight.
For example, if you play with a 60-gram driver shaft, you may want to use a 70-gram shaft in your 3 or 5 wood and possibly 80 grams in your hybrids. This will help you achieve a tighter shot dispersion and gain a better understanding of your game.
Using different clubs with different shafts and weights makes it harder to identify your misses. By keeping the shaft weights consistent, you can more accurately determine whether any swing issues need to be addressed or if the club is simply not suited to your game.
It is generally advisable to avoid steel shafts, even if you are an avid golfer, as they make it more challenging to get the ball airborne and may lead to a loss of distance.
Do professional golfers carry high-lofted fairway woods?
Yes, even professional golfers play with different clubs like 3 woods and 5 woods. These clubs are not just for high handicap golfers anymore.
Due to their shorter shaft length, lighter shaft weight, and higher loft, they are ideal for hitting long par 5s or when laying up on short par 4s.
Some golfers even carry a 7 wood. Remember, regardless of your skill level, it’s best to play with clubs that suit your swing and give you the most confidence.
What are the best fairway woods?
If you’re ready to buy a new fairway wood to add to or replace your current set of golf clubs, here are a few of our top recommendations:
- Callaway Rogue ST Max: These fairway woods come in three models – low spin, MAX (great for the average golfer), and Max-D, which has a built-in draw bias.
- TaylorMade Stealth: Choose between the Stealth Plus for lower spin or the Stealth Fairway for higher launch.
- Titleist TSi: This line offers fairway woods with lofts ranging from 13.5 to 18 degrees, in various head options.
For more information, make sure to read our comprehensive guide to the best fairway woods.
Finally, be sure to spend plenty of time on the driving range with your new club before taking it out onto the course.
Final Thoughts on 3 Wood vs. 5 Wood
So, which club should the average male golfer carry?
Both the 3 wood and 5 wood have their advantages and disadvantages.
For beginner players, it may make sense to have both a 3 wood and a 5 wood, especially if they have difficulty hitting the driver and need a longer club off the tee.
For advanced golfers, I would not recommend carrying both clubs, as it is not the best use of their 14 clubs. Instead, consider adding a 7 wood, hybrid, or utility iron for more versatility in your bag.
Remember, 3 woods have longer shafts, low spin, and require more clubhead speed to hit consistently well. On the other hand, a 5 wood will achieve a slightly higher trajectory and shorter distance, making it easier to hit from the fairway or rough.
Choose the club that suits your game and inspires confidence in your swing.