What can graphite golf clubs do for the avid golfer? For hundreds of
years, club shafts were wood - often hickory. They were somewhat prone
to breaking, though, and by the early 20th century more durable steel
shafts were beginning to be used. By the 1930s or so, hickory shafts
had all but become a thing of the past.
Now, shaft technology is evolving again. Introduced in the early 1970s, the first graphite shafts performed inconsistently. Their early problems have, however, been eliminated. Today's graphite shafts are lightweight, dependable and strong.
Although many professionals and amateurs still use steel shafts, more and more of them are converting to graphite golf clubs. They're doing it because most golfers will do almost anything to improve their game, and graphite can do exactly that.
Many golfers don't realize that shafts are the most important components of their clubs (except for their putters). In fact, your shafts can dramatically impact your game.
A lot of players prefer stiff shafts because they're more resistant to twisting (and playing with them is seen as being "macho"), but a shaft that is too stiff or too heavy for your swing speed and strength will cost you both distance and accuracy. As a general rule, graphite shafts are somewhat more flexible than their steel counterparts, but they're also significantly lighter. While steel shafts weigh more than 100 grams, graphite shafts range between 49 and 72 grams. That substantial weight difference means that compared to steel-shafted clubs, players with the graphite counterparts can gain significant club head speed while swinging with the same force. All other things being equal, a faster swing speed translates into better distance.
While many amateurs would benefit from the flexibility and comparatively light weight of graphite golf shafts, smaller men, seniors and ladies will probably be helped more than big, tall, strong men. But many professional golfers are also switching to graphite to help them hit the ball straighter and longer.
In addition to promoting faster swing speeds and greater accuracy, graphite is better than steel shafts at dampening the vibrations that are caused when the club head strikes the ball. This characteristic isn't particularly meaningful if you always hit the ball cleanly on the sweet spot. But how many of us do that? Because the vibrations caused by mishits can be jarring or even painful, the dampening effect of graphite shafts can help significantly, especially if you have arthritis in your hands. Graphite simply doesn't transmit as many of these vibrations to your hands as steel.
As you can see, golf clubs with graphite shafts can give you several benefits. They do, however, have a couple of disadvantages. For one thing, they almost always cost more than steel-shafted clubs. A set of graphite irons typically costs $100 to $200 more than the same clubs with steel shafts.
They also require you to be slightly more careful than steel-shafted clubs. For example, you should never store them in your car's trunk or anywhere else that could become extremely hot. Exposure to high temperatures can negatively affect the bonding of the shaft. It can also cause degradation of the epoxy used to attach the club head to the shaft. You don't want a club head flying off while you're swinging, so always store graphite golf clubs where they won't be exposed to extreme heat.
You'll also want to ensure that the head covers for your graphite driver, woods and hybrids are long enough to extend partially down the shaft. Without this protection, the layers of graphite in your shafts could be damaged when your clubs knock or rub against each other inside your bag.
Despite these few minor drawbacks, most players today opt for graphite shafts. They're lighter and more flexible, and they promote greater accuracy and distance than steel.
The decision of which shaft to use doesn't stop with answering the question of steel versus graphite, however. All graphite golf clubs are not created equal. Far from it, because in addition to being available in various weights, graphite shafts come in several different flexes. Most graphite golf clubs can be purchased in stiff, regular, senior or ladies flexes, in descending order of stiffness. In other words, ladies graphite shafts are the most flexible and stiff graphite shafts are the least flexible.
Ultimately, you should choose the clubs you're able to swing effectively and comfortably. For many amateur golfers, that means graphite golf clubs.