Shaft Exchange

Which type of shaft is right for your game?

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Whether you opt for steel or graphite shafts, make sure you get properly fitted by a reputable clubfitter. It's the only way to ensure you get the best possible performance from your iron set.

In case you haven't noticed, there has been a mini-renaissance occurring among the professional players on Tour. And no, it's not the hybrid, as many players have finally succumbed to the versatility and advantage hybrids have over long irons. And no, it's not lightweight metalwoods, or even clubs with flashy aesthetics. What I'm talking about is a slow shift toward more players adopting composite shafts in their irons.

I was recently asked by a colleague about whether or not we'll see more top players opting for composite shafts over traditional steel shafts, much like Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker have done (both employ Aerotech SteelFiber shafts). I didn't have an answer for that question right away, but it piqued my curiosity about the subject. As an editor, I had heard about the benefits of today's latest iterations of composite iron shafts, and how they're far more consistent and durable than they used to be. In fact, I've even heard claims that today's composite shafts for irons can be fitted to act more rigid than steel—something I had never even thought possible until I did a little research on the subject. Turns out, you really can get a set of composite shafts that feel and perform like steel.

But the question is, why? Is it worth the time and effort to switch to composite shafts in your irons, when steel seems to perform so well? Where are the performance advantages or disadvantages in using graphite shafts in your irons? The benefits that come with composite shafts in your woods, even your hybrids, are obvious. They're lighter, more flexible (maybe) and can be custom-fit to exact launch angles and spin rates. Simply put, composite shafts can really help you hit the ball a lot farther. And they feel better than steel. But in your irons, is that so important? Do we need more distance with our irons? And if so, how consistent are these shaft flex characteristics from one iron to the next?

As you can see, my list of questions continued to grow the more I thought about it. Like any self-respecting editor or writer would do next, the logical next step was to hit the phone and email contacts, and ask some experts about what they think of switching iron shafts from steel to composite. So I did that—and I got some feedback from both sides. Of the clubfitters, steel-shaft companies, graphite-shaft companies, teaching professionals and industry people I talked to, many extolled the virtues on either side of the argument—some praised using composite shafts; others argued against composite shafts. Generally, the arguments in favor of composite shafts pertained to the lighter weight of composite over steel; greater vibration dampening; and a more custom fit in terms of flex characteristics, launch and spin.

Arguments against composite shafts pertained to composite being more expensive, less durable, too flexy and less consistent than steel (in other words, it's harder to have the same flex profile in a variety of graphite shafts than it is in steel shafts—a claim that even I know isn't necessarily true).

My point is, I wasn't getting a definitive answer on the subject. Most people do use steel shafts in their irons, and my initial gut guess is that it's because they're less expensive. But what if money was no object when it comes to golf equipment? (I confess, it sometimes isn't when you're a Golf Tips editor.) What'd be an interesting heads-up comparison of steel versus graphite?

That's what I set out to discover. And like a few other reviews we've done here, I didn't want to employ TrackMan or other launch-monitor data to do my test. Instead, I wanted a real-world, practical summary of steel versus graphite, so you the GT reader could both understand and interpret what it all means. So here's what I did.

My current set of irons have Project X 6.0 steel shafts in them. I happen to like these shafts. They produce the ballflight I prefer, they feel great and they have a flex I'm comfortable with. I've tried several other steel shafts too, all of which I also liked. But it so happened that my set has Project X steel, so I stuck with that brand for the test. I figured the best comparison I could find would be to try the Project X graphite shafts in a set of irons that were virtually identical spec-wise to my steel-shafted set. I requested that my clubfitter use the same lengths and grips I have on my steel-shafted irons, and do the same on a new set of irons with the composite shafts (at the same 6.0 flex, at least based on what the model says).

Now, here's where you're hopefully going to learn something from my experience. I broke down my comparison into four categories, and did all I could to produce a fair assessment after playing four to five rounds of golf and hitting several hundred golf balls with both steel and composite-shafted irons.

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