There are two common golf club shafts, the steel shaft and the graphite shaft. For many years, the steel shaft was the go-to option (don’t sleep on the hickory shafts before that). However, times have changed, and since the 90s many brands have shifted to graphite as an alternative. With that shift comes a heated debate on which is better — steel vs graphite shafts.
Each material has pros and cons depending on a players’ needs. An amateur golfer doesn’t have the same demands (or skills) as a tour professional, so they shouldn’t be expected to play with the same golf club setup as the legends. Some golfers just prefer a lighter shaft over a heavier shaft, so personal preferences play a role as well.
Choices are good. Having a steel golf shaft and a graphite golf shaft option gives players the opportunity to tailor a set of clubs to their particular game.
But which shaft material is more popular? And which material do the pros use?
In this article we’ll examine both shaft types to give you a better understanding of their features and what sets them apart, as well as which the pros prefer.
Do Pros Use Graphite or Steel Irons?
With millions of dollars on the line, pro golfers have access to the very best golf equipment available (perks of being a pro) and tons of incentive to make the best golf club choice.
Golf professionals vary widely in their preferences, as each athlete develops his or her own particular technique over time.
That being said, most professional players prefer to use a graphite shaft for their woods, because they give a smoother stroke at the very highest swing speeds.
For their irons, professional players tend to prefer steel iron shafts because they offer consistency and rigidity.
So what are the main differences between graphite shafts and steel shafts? Let’s address those as well.
The Difference Between Graphite and Steel Shafts
Steel shafted golf clubs are some of the most consistent performers. These clubs have a stiff shaft and which helps a golfer make reliable contact with the ball.
The steel club is great for pro players who have a very regimented stroke and technique. It makes sense that a golfer with a consistent swing would pair that swing with a consistent shaft.
Scratch golfers depend on the consistent club shaft throughout their round which allows them to change their technique on the fly if needed. They have the skills to create a different type of shot, rather than relying on the club itself to do the work for them.
Graphite club options have a reputation for being a little less solid and allowing for more flex in each shot. As a result of this shaft flex, these clubs have sometimes been blamed for inconsistency over the years. This bias may result from earlier clubs where the technology wasn’t quite as refined as it is today.
Golf club manufacturers have honed graphite technology for many years now. They continue to develop an even a lighter shaft with a stronger composite. The results are a consistent performance and the added benefits of graphite.
Since most professional golfers use graphite shafts in their woods, there is clearly a swing speed and distance advantage.
In fact, some would argue that the launch of graphite shafted clubs has revolutionized golf. Players can hit the ball significantly further off the tee, and that has forced courses and tournaments to redesign their layouts to manage the record-breaking yardages.
Steel vs Graphite Shafts: A Breakdown
In this section, we’re going to directly compare the characteristics of both steel and graphite shafts to give a clear comparison between the two materials.
- Steel – A very solid and rigid feel with some flex
- Graphite – A much smoother and comfortable feel which is easier to use
Generally, a lighter club means a faster swing speed which results in more power and a greater distance on each shot. This is why pros often use graphite in their drivers and woods.
- Steel – 100g to 120g per club
- Graphite – 60g to 70g per club
The more flexible a club is the more power it can generate. The trade off for extra power is a little less accuracy and consistency between shots.
- Steel – Less Flex
- Graphite – More flex
- Steel – Very responsive on contact, providing heavy vibration through the club
- Graphite – Less responsive on contact, which means less feedback but a smoother and more comfortable strike.
- Steel – The most durable material, a steel shaft can last many years without any noticeable wear.
- Graphite – With more flex and less strength, a graphite shaft can be less durable and more prone to breaking
Who should use graphite / composite irons?
Despite the fact that most professional players use steel irons, there are many composite irons on sale to the general public and amateur players. This is because graphite clubs are much more forgiving. Or, better put, graphite clubs should enhance the casual golfer’s performance more than they hurt it.
Since less experienced golfers will naturally be more inconsistent, a little added inconsistency from graphite clubs isn’t that big of a deal. They added power that these clubs generate is worth the trade off.
There are varying degrees of stiffness when it comes to golf shafts, ranging from stuff to medium to very flexible.
Some are marketed as ‘senior’ flex or ‘ladies’ flex, which typically means they are very flexy and help these players achieve great distance from a slower swing speed. Steel clubs make best use of a high swing speed and are best suited to more athletic players.
A Quick Recap
If you’re reading this article, you probably aren’t a professional golfer. If you are, thanks for stopping by.
As discussed previously, most professional players use steel shafts in their irons because of their consistency. Accuracy with irons is key for pro players.
When it comes to driver shaft and fairway wood selection, graphite is often the shaft of choice, even for pros. The lighter weight and increased swing speed is worth a slight downgrade in the accuracy.
If you’re shopping for your own set of clubs and you’re an average to below average golfer, look for a graphite shafted set. It will help you get more golf ball distance out of each swing.
See some of our other golf club posts.