Graphite vs Steel Shafts

Choosing the Best Golf Shaft

Posted by Robert

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Steel or Graphite? It’s the question that has confounded men throughout the ages, among others: “Why are we here?” “How did the universe begin?” “What did the dryer do with my other sock?” And “Why isn’t there a 10-iron?”

By the time you finish this article, you will have answers to at least one of these questions.

Let’s talk shafts.

Remember Gramps talking about the days of the hickory-shafted Brassie, Mashee, and Niblick?

In the 1920s, the company that eventually became True Temper developed the steel shaft that would revolutionize the game. The slow, flip-wristed “handsy” swing predicated by high torque hickory shafts evolved into the modern, powerful fast “body-swing” that it is today.

In the 1970s, the graphite shaft was born, making golf clubs lighter and (in theory) stronger. However, the prototypes were inconsistent and had too much twist and torque.

Of course, today they have perfected the graphite shaft, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody (besides Gramps) that doesn’t have a graphite shaft in their driver.



Here’s a quick education on flex to get you up to speed (literally). Both graphite and steel shafts come in a variety of flexes. Flex is the amount of bend in a shaft when you swing it. The general categories are as follows: L (ladies), A (senior), R (regular), S (stiff), and X (extra stiff), least to most flexible, respectively.

When you swing a golf club, the shaft bends or loads on the backswing like a spring. Ideally, at impact, the spring will kick and deliver the stored energy into the back of your golf ball -- BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE! If the shaft is too stiff for you, then the club won’t load resulting from loss of distance. If the shaft is not stiff enough, then the shaft will be more flippy than a Slinky, and you’ll spray the ball all over the golf course.

The Golden Rule of Flex: Choose the most flexible shaft that you can control.

Below, I’ve drawn up a general guideline:

Most people over-estimate their swing speed and buy shafts that are too stiff. Also, it’s important to remember: there are no set parameters from one club maker to the next. Depending on the make and model, an R-shaft in one model may be stiffer than an R-shaft in another. (If I’ve just confused you more than when you started this article, I’m sorry. Keep reading!)

At most golf shops, you can have your swing speed measured and plug that data into the Web. There is no standard, but generally men swing their longer clubs (drivers/woods) 90 mph, and their irons slightly slower.

Steel Shafts

Pros: Control, Price and Durability. All PGA Tour players use steel shafts in their irons, save one (Matt Kuchar uses Aerotech SteelFiber graphite shafts. See below). They like the consistency and feel of steel. Standard steel shafts weigh about 125 grams (compared to graphite, which is less than half of that.) Keep in mind tour players are swinging it on average about 125 mph. Thus, they’re not too concerned about more distance.

Cons: Heavy, More vibration, Shorter Distance. With control and responsiveness of the steel, you are giving up some distance and dampening that comes standard in graphite shafts. Even the True Temper Sensicore shafts aren’t nearly as soft and easy on the wrists and elbows as graphite.

True Temper Dynamic Gold ($14) (120 grams) (Low Flight) is the most common shaft used on the PGA Tour (and everywhere else). Most pros choose either the X100 or S400. I recommend Dynamic Gold shafts for mid-low handicap players who want a low, penetrating ball flight with the greatest control and accuracy.

True Temper Dynamic Gold SL ($17) (99 grams) (Low Flight) is the same shaft as the standard, only lighter. They use an alloy steel to reduce weight by 20 percent. The ball flight, control, and feel are the same. I recommend this shaft for mid-low handicap players who want the same penetrating ball flight as the Dynamic Gold while increasing their swing speed.

True Temper Dynamic Gold GS75 ($25) (75 grams) (High Flight) is the lightest steel shaft (really an alloy) you are going to find, but you are paying a premium for it. The ball flight is higher, but it has similar control as the standard. I recommend this shaft for mid-low handicappers wanting the feel of graphite.

True Temper High Launch ($14) (111 grams) (High Flight) is the same shaft as the standard only with lightweight responsive tip designed to launch the ball higher. The control and feel are the same. I recommend this shaft for mid-high handicap players who more control with a higher ball flight.

True Temper Sensicore ($17) is the same shaft as the standard only with a composite core and inserts that eliminate 70% of the vibration. (See Steel Shaft Cons.) You can get all of the True Temper designs with the Sensicore inserts.

Project X Rifle Shaft Tapered ($33) (120 grams) (Low Flight) is a shaft that has a slightly softer feel then the standard True Temper with a very discrete constant taper – like a rifle muzzle. The price puts them in an elite category. This taper design results in more energy being transferred to the golf ball. I recommend these shafts for mid-low handicappers who are looking for control with a ball-flight that gets up quicker but swiftly flattens out.

Project X Flighted ($35) (125 grams) (Low Flight) is also very popular on the PGA Tour. Titleist uses these in many of their irons as well. This shaft has a different kick point within each shaft. Long irons have a lower kickpoint for a higher ball flight, whereas short irons have a higher kickpoint for a lower flight and optimal control. The price puts them in an elite category.
I recommend these irons for mid-low handicappers looking for a dynamic kick point for the ultimate in playability and control.

Graphite Shafts

Pros: Lightweight, Dampening, Longer Distance. The majority of amateurs are (and should be) using graphite shafts in their irons. Most of us can use the added distance. Plus, if you aren't playing every day, then you want to give your hands, wrists, and elbow a break when you do. The shock at impact is much less when using graphite, which you’ll find out very quickly when you play in cold weather. Graphite shafts tend to be a little longer in standard irons. If you are concerned about control (because of lack of strength or height), have your graphite shafts cut to steel shaft length. And remember, just because the club is lighter doesn't mean you should swing harder (a common mistake). Swing with a smooth tempo, and the club will naturally go faster and the ball farther.

Cons: Less control, More expensive, Durability. If you’re the guy who calculates to the half-yard how far your 9-iron flies, you’re not going to even humor switching to graphite irons. If you are somewhere in between, then I’d recommend trying some graphite shafts, while keeping your wedges in a steel shaft. Finally, as you will see below, graphite is more expensive and tends to wear quicker.

Below I’ve listed some of the leading graphite shafts and also some of the leading irons that come with their own custom graphite shafts:

ACCRA DyMatch i Series Shafts Tour 40i-90i (49 grams - 83 grams) ($100). This is a tour-quality shaft that has six different types from Tour 40i – Tour 90i (lightest to stiffest). You have the ability to mix multiple weights within each set based on your launch preferences and ball flight. I recommend this shaft for all levels, but especially those looking for extra distance for some extra cash.

Graphite Design Tour AD 85 (87 grams) ($69). These graphite irons shafts contain the highest fiber and lowest resin content of all the shafts in the line. This increases control and feel. This shaft is good for everybody, but especially the players looking for more control with more distance.

Aero-Tech Steel Fiber I 95 Iron Shaft (70-90 grams) ($41). This is the brand that Matt Kucher is playing on the PGA Tour. You can expect superior control and feel with these shafts without giving up the distance. All levels can appreciate these shafts.

Aldila NV Comp (77grams – 88 grams) ($45). I see these shaft everywhere. They have a soft feel with great control. They have a dampening system using Micro Laminate Technology. I recommend these for all levels.

Grafalloy ProLaunch Red and ProLaunch Blue (77grams – 109 grams) ($30). These are the most reasonably priced shafts for the quality. They feature a Micromesh Tip technology that stabilizes the shaft at impact. The Red is stiffer for faster swingers and has a low ball flight, while the blue is softer for slower swingers with a higher ball flight.

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