Graphite vs. Steel shafts: What Should I choose?

One of the biggest decisions golfers have to make when it comes to golf club specifications is whether to choose a steel or a graphite shaft. Graphite shafts are often seen as being better for slow swing speed players, but there is much more here for golfers to know and understand.

Come along with us as we dive into the significant differences between graphite and steel golf shafts, which ones you should use, which the professionals use, and the positives and negatives of both golf shaft materials.

Graphite vs. steel shafts

If you ask a golfer which shaft they play with, and they answer with graphite or steel, they are not giving you the whole story. Graphite shafts and steel shafts are manufactured differently from one another and made with different materials. However, within the heading of graphite or steel, there are tens of thousands of options.

It is the underlying factors of stiffness, weight, torque, flex profile and feel that are what matter for your golfing performance.

Weight

Generally speaking, graphite golf shafts are made with lightweight materials and have lower overall weights than steel shafts. However, many players don’t understand that every graphite shaft has several weight options, just as every steel shaft has several weight options.

There are some new steel shafts on the market that are incredibly lightweight and can get very close to the graphite iron shafts in terms of weight. Do you remember when there was a clear difference between the cavity back irons and the forged? Now that clear distinction feels a bit less clear as technology improves. The same is true with graphite shafts and steel shafts from a playability and performance standpoint.

Let’s take a look at a standard set of P790 golf irons; there are two stock shaft options a True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 steel and a Mitsubishi MMT graphite shaft. The weights for the shafts are as follows. . .

True Temper Dynamic Gold

  • X Flex: 106g
  • S Flex: 104g
  • R Flex: 102g

Mitsubishi MMT Graphite Shaft

  • S Flex: 74g
  • R Flex: 63g
  • A Flex: 59g

As you can see, the weights decrease as the shaft gets more flexible and the starting point for the graphite stiff flex is considerably lighter than the regular flex in the steel. Of course, there are custom options that will bridge this gap between graphite and steel, but this is a good representation of the difference between graphite and steel shafts when it comes to weight.

We have watched shaft technology progress over the last few years and have seen graphite shafts with heavier weights and steel shafts with lighter weights.

Flex & Swing Speed

The faster your swing speed, the easier it is for you to swing with a steel shaft and still see great results. As you saw from our example with shaft weight, the heavier the shaft, the stiffer it typically is. When it comes to steel shafts, the differences in weight may be minimal, but great players can still feel them.

Typically speaking, all golfers benefit from graphite shafts in their hybrids and woods. These clubs are longer and more challenging to control, and having that graphite material makes it considerably easier to swing through the ball and release the club head. However, the core reason for graphite shafts in wood and driver are that they reduce the overall club mass. A lighter club can be swung quicker with the same amount of force.

One of the first things that golfers will do as they age and their swing starts to slow down is switch to graphite shafts. Graphite shafts are lighter in weight and, therefore easier to swing faster with the same amount of force. For a senior golfer that is starting to lose speed, the initial switch to the graphite shaft may help them earn all of their speed back, and feel more in control.

The key here is to choose a golf shaft that allows you the distance you want in your game while also ensuring you can control the golf ball.

A common misconception

Many club golfers think shafts that are too flexible are responsible for their fade. The opposite is actually true. Shafts that are too flexible load earlier in the downswing and then kick back and often result in a hook.

Control

What good is distance without control? Nobody really cares that you hit a 300-yard drive three fairways over or that you can hit a pitching wedge 175 yards left of your target. One thing that makes golf so complicated is that it is a mix of distance and control performance on the golf course.

When it comes to control, there is a simple answer and a far more complicated one. The simple answer is that golfers will lose some control when shafts are too flexible and/or light for them. For many, this will mean heavier, steel-shafted clubs are best for control.

The more complex answer is that ‘control’ relates to how well a golfer can hit the centre of the club and square the club face. This depends on their swing speed, tempo and release pattern. There are many times long hitters who may gain more control from lighter, graphite shafts and visa versa.

Feel

Feel can be broken down into two sub-topics. Feel at impact and feel during your golf swing:

Feel of impact

The feel difference between graphite shafts and steel shafts typically refers to vibration. The graphite shafts do a better job of absorbing vibration at impact and giving golfers better feel. If you have ever hit a baseball with a steel bat in the winter time, you likely know that ringing feeling that just doesn’t feel all that great.

This same feeling can be the case with a steel shaft golf club that is not struck properly.

However, as great as the graphite shaft feel is, it can mask some issues. You can have a shot that feels great but does not perform as it is supposed to. This can be kind of confusing, especially for a player that is working on getting better and looking for that feedback.

Professional golfers and low handicappers like to have a bit of a poor feel in their shaft from time to time. This is how we learn and make adjustments and eventually move on to become better players. Graphite iron shafts definitely don’t mask all miss hits, but they do a good enough job that you will generally hear graphite called the better feeling shaft.

Feel during your golf swing

Shaft selection will also impact how the club feels during your swing. The club head can feel heavier/light and easier/hard to feel where it is all due to your shaft choice. This is a very subjective topic, but is well worth exploring during custom fitting.

Cost

Graphite golf shafts almost always cost more money than steel golf shafts. The reason here is the production and material costs of the graphite shafts. However, as more premium steel shafts are coming to the market, these lines in cost are becoming more blurred.

When choosing between an iron set that has graphite or steel, you will likely see a $100-$250 difference or so between the two sets. The difference when broken down per club may only be about $10-$30 per club.

If you find that you need the lightweight graphite shaft for more speed, the few extra dollars upfront will be well worth it in the end.

Do professionals use steel or graphite shafts?

Professional golfers almost always use the golf shafts that fit the needs of their golf game the best, which can be either steel or graphite. The average professional will have five or more different shafts in their golf bag. It’s a good idea to break these down into the types of golf shafts so you can understand where they choose graphite shafts and where they choose steel.

Woods

Almost all professional golfers, both men, and women, will use graphite shafts in their driver, fairway woods, and hybrids. These are the clubs that are all about swing speed, ball speed, and launch. The players are a bit less concerned with pinpoint accuracy and control and more concerned with maximizing their distance; graphite is the best material for that.

Irons

Most male professional golfers will use steel shafts with heavier weights, many into the 120g range. However, there are professional golfers like Matt Kuchar, Abraham Ancer, and sometimes even Bryson DeChambeau will use graphite shafts in their irons.

Remember, not all graphite shafts are lightweight, and they can be made just as stiff as a steel shaft. The combination of extra weight and a bit less flexibility results in the control that professionals need in their irons.

Many women professional golfers use graphite shafts or lightweight steel shafts. The swing speed of women golfers tends to be a little lower, and the graphite shafts help to increase overall carry distance.

Wedges

Many golfers use steel shafts in their wedges. The wedges are all about control. Would you rather hit your 56 degree wedge far or hit it within a five foot radius of the flag each time. Most will choose the accuracy, and that is where the steel shaft comes in.

The Dynamic Gold True Temper S400 is a very popular wedge shaft on the PGA tour, and it is a stiff, moderately heavy steel shaft. Women professionals will typically choose between steel or graphite depending on their swing speed and which will blend into their set the best.

Putter

The putter shaft technology was never as complicated or as well studied as it is today. For so many years, a standard run of the mill steel shaft was put in a putter, and then Odyssey changed the game with their Stroke Lab putter shaft.

This Stroke Lab putter shaft improved the overall feel of the putting stroke with a partial graphite shaft while still providing stability and control that the steel can help with. The combination of graphite and steel shaft is a bit odd at first, but it has tested quite well over the last few years.

Some professionals use this shaft on tour, but most stick with the steel shafted putter.

Should beginner golfers use steel or graphite shafts?

Beginner golfers need to find a golf club that fits their swing speed and physical capabilities. This is very easily accomplished by going to a club fitting.

Beginner golf sets typically don’t offer very many flexes. They often come in graphite or a steel shaft choice, and there are no real options for flex in the shaft. If you are a player with faster swing speeds, you will be directed towards the steel, while the slower swing speed player will be directed towards the graphite shafts.

Almost 100% of all women’s golf beginner sets will come with graphite shafts clubs throughout the entire set. Don’t assume a beginner golf set is made for all beginners. It is still up to a beginner to find something that matches the type of player they are.

We offer further guidance in our guide to the best beginner golf clubs.

What shaft should a high handicapper use?

High-handicap golfers should use a shaft that helps them gain more control, whilst still allowing for great distance. Typically speaking, all high handicap golfers will benefit from graphite shafts in their driver, woods and hybrids. Then it is down to swing speed and preference to decide between steel and graphite shafts in their irons and wedges.

We recommend that a higher handicapper get a custom fitting to determine which golf clubs would be best for them. The things that will be looked at when testing different shafts include spin, ball speed, and also dispersion.

Some players will find that they hit graphite shafts five yards further, but their dispersion rates are terrible, other high handicappers will find graphite shafts give them five extra yards and actually improve their dispersion!

How do I know what shaft flex is right for me?

The best way to know which shaft flex is correct for you is to go for a custom fitting session, or use a launch monitor or a golf simulator. Essentially to know if a golf shaft is the right fit, you must have data and technology that tells you it is the right fit for you.

One interesting thing that many golfers are not aware of is that shaft fitting is much deeper than just measuring your club head speed. Your launch, spin rate and every shot shape (fades/draw) can all be altered based on the shafts you have in your irons and woods.

Are steel or graphite shafts more forgiving?

Typically speaking, golfers will say that graphite shafts are more forgiving because there is less vibration and a better feel at impact. In addition, it can be easier to swing through the ball with graphite shafts, resulting in an easier release of the club head.

However, to truly know which golf shaft is more forgiving for your game, you will need to go for a custom fitting. Even if a shaft feels better and seems to perform better on the course, is it really helping your scoring? Have you checked to see the stats?

Golf technology and analysis scares some golfers, but the game is challenging enough! Find an expert, hit some golf shots and make the game as easy as it can be by getting the right equipment.

When should I switch to graphite shafts?

There is some bad advice out there about golfers with handicaps higher than twenty switching to graphite shafts to help their game. However, the switch to graphite shafts has more to do with ball flight, swing speed and carry distance than it does with your handicap.

If you have been playing golf for some time, you should know how far you hit your seven iron. Let’s say for years you have been hitting your 7 iron 150 yards, and this season you can’t get it to fly more than 140.

You have changed up the golf ball, worked out at the gym, even took a lesson, and the ball just won’t go more than 140. Chances are it’s time to change to a more lightweight golf shaft, which for many players is graphite, will gain you a few extra yards.

So, the perfect time to switch to graphite shafts is when you need them! The answer to that question lies in going to test out grahite vs steel shafts with some clear data from a launch monitor and club fitter.

Should older golfers use graphite shafts?

In general, older golfers or senior players with slower swing speeds should generally use graphite shafts. However, there are many senior players who are more suited to steel shafts. As with any other golfer, it comes down to ball flight, swing speed and shot disperion, not your age.

Conclusion

At this point, you should know a lot more about the difference between graphite shafts and steel shafts. We wish it was simple enough to say that graphite or steel is better, but that is just not the way this game works.

Think of graphite and steel shafts as continuums that help you tweak underlying characteristics – flex, weight, torque and how the club feels when you swing. The right choice for you always lies in testing different options and check out the data.

Happy golfing.

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Britt Olizarowicz is a former teaching and Class A PGA professional with more than 25 years spent with a golf club in her hand. Britt is a small business owner, author, and freelance golf expert that knows this game inside and out. She lives in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children.

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