Are steel or graphite shafts better? There is not a clear-cut answer because both have advantages and disadvantages. In almost all cases, your driver and fairway woods will have graphite shafts. The real question comes down to the irons. The status quo has always been that professionals and low-handicap golfers use steel shafts, while amateurs and beginners benefit more from graphite shafts. This is not necessarily the case these days.
Benefits of Steel Shafts
The main benefit of the steel-shafted club is it imparts more vibrations up the shaft to the player’s hands. Skilled players often desire this feedback. A skilled player can often tell what they may have done wrong or right by the feel of the swing and impact, more so than a beginner. The steel-shafted club is heavier than the graphite club. Players with a high swing speed may find that this fits their swing tempo better and allows them more control. Players who tend to swing too fast will also benefit from heavier clubs. And the budget conscious should note—steel-shafted clubs are less expensive than graphite clubs.
Disadvantages of Steel Shafts
Mishit shots are apt to leave one’s hands stinging due to the vibrations imparted through the shaft. The heavier weight will slightly reduce swing speed, resulting in a difference of up to 4 miles per hour that translates to a loss of about 10 yards. Steel-shafted clubs are more likely to irritate chronic hand, arm or shoulder problems than graphite clubs, due to their weight and rigidity.
Benefits of Graphite Shafts
Graphite shafts are lighter than steel shafts, resulting in an increase in swing speed and distance. This is particularly beneficial to players with slow swing tempos. Most golfers can realize an increase of at least 5 yards for each club. Graphite shafts are easier to swing for someone who has hand, arm or shoulder problems. Vibrations are muffled on mishits, making them less painful.
Disadvantages of Graphite Shafts
Graphite shafts are less rigid than steel shafts and tend to have more whip and flexibility. Though this can be an advantage for a player with a well-grooved swing, it can also exaggerate the problems of a poor swing and may affect accuracy. And of course, graphite shafts are more expensive, typically adding about 15 to 20 percent to the cost of a set of irons.
The choice comes down to the skill level of your game, and most importantly, what feels best for you. It is no longer true that steel shafts are more durable than graphite shafts. Either set will last a lifetime if your equipment is treated properly. Graphite shafts get the edge in the “last set of clubs I’ll ever own” department, because they tend to be easier to use for elderly golfers. Take time in deciding on your personal preference. Try out a lot of different clubs, and try them out several times. Quality clubs are a significant investment and should last many years.