We only get to carry 14 clubs in our bag so it’s vital that each one plays a role in helping you play your best. Too many golfers don’t consider their swing speed and distance achieved with each and instead, just play the “standard set.”
But as you’ll learn, there are more options when it comes to adding more fairway woods and hybrids to your bag. While pretty much every player (from an experienced golfer to high handicappers) carries a driver, the next longest club is a bit of a debate.
So many players it comes down to a 3 wood vs. 5 wood, or both?
Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of each golf club to see which one is right for you.
3-Wood vs. 5-Wood
Before getting into when to use these clubs and which work best for certain shots, let’s start with the design of the two woods. While they are similar to one another, they also have some big differences too.
A standard 3-wood is 15-degrees of loft, while a 5-wood has 18 or 19 degrees of loft (it differs between club manufacturers). Those three to four degrees make a big difference in terms of playability and total distance.
Additionally, there are multiple lofts for a 3W including 13.5, 15, and 16.5. A 13.5 is a strong lofted 3W while a 16.5 degree is more like a 4W (more on those options later in the post).
Loft aside, the second major difference between each fairway wood is the shaft length. A 3-wood is the second-longest club in the bag and is between 43 and 43.25 inches (for context, a driver has a longer shaft at 45 inches). While a 5 wood is usually 42.5 to 42.75 inches.
The last major difference is clubhead size.
When comparing the popular Callaway Rogue ST MAX 3 wood vs. 5 wood, the 3-wood is 76cc larger. The 3W is 174cc (for comparison’s sake, the average driver is 460 CC) while the 5W is 148 cc.
Ultimately, a 3 wood will have more distance and total distance than a 5 wood for these reasons:
- Less loft
- Less spin
- Longer shaft
- Larger clubhead
But that doesn’t mean the three wood is necessarily the right option for every type of golfer. The three wood isn’t the easiest club to hit, which we’ll cover in this post. Now, let’s get into how each club might help you in certain situations on the golf course.
Off the Tee Box
Which is better, a 3-wood or a 5-wood off the tee?
As mentioned in the past section, a 3 wood will go further thanks to decreased loft, which likely makes it the best choice for off the tee. However, it will only go further in total distance if you actually hit it well.
Remember, a 3W is the second-longest club in the bag with very little loft. A longer shaft plus less loft means it’s harder to hit consistently, especially for average golfers. But since it’s teed up, it does make it slightly easier to hit than when hitting off the deck.
There’s a case to be made for some players benefiting from a 3 wood and others from a 5 wood.
For example, if you’re an amateur golfer that struggles with a driver, you might hit fairway woods off the tee frequently. If this is the case, it might make more sense to have a 3 wood as it’s your primary club off the tee. This will make sure you don’t sacrifice as much distance for not hitting the driver and give yourself a shorter approach shot into the green.
Plus, you don’t need a softer landing on the green so the lower loft of a 3 wood will help the ball roll out further. The higher loft on a five wood means a softer landing too, which means it won’t roll out due to a higher trajectory.
From the Fairway
While a 3 wood might have the advantage off the tee, it definitely doesn’t from the fairway. Since most golfers don’t hit drivers off the deck (known as one of the hardest shots in golf), a 3 wood is typically the longest club to hit off the turf.
But remember, low loft plus a long shaft makes this club hard to hit, especially from the fairway. While players shooting in the 70s or better might be able to do it, it’s still a challenging shot.
The majority of average golfers would benefit from hitting a higher lofted wood off the deck. The extra 3-4 degrees of loft paired with a shorter shaft make it easier for better turf interaction.
Butch Harmon, one of the most respected coaches in the game, said you should “bench” your 3-wood from the fairway. In a Golf Digest article, Butch said, “The only time you should hit a 3-wood off the fairway is when you can reach the green. One of the biggest strategy mistakes I see from amateurs is grabbing the 3-wood whenever they’re too far from the green to get there. It just doesn’t make sense.”
It’s hard to disagree with one of the greatest coaches ever. Don’t forget, this is the same guy that helped Tiger Woods in the early part of his career!
Needless to say, if you can’t get to the green on a long par 4 or reachable par 5, leave the 3W in the bag. It’s not a high percentage shot and will challenge most golfers to hit it cleanly from the turf. Opt for 5 wood so you’re more likely to make better contact and get close to the green.
From the Rough
While the three wood wins from the tee and 5 wood wins from the fairway in most cases, what about the rough?
The winner here is pretty clear – a 5 wood.
A 3 wood is tough to hit from the fairway, let alone when the ball is sitting down in the rough. In fact, you rarely see scratch golfers or PGA Tour players attempt to hit a 3 wood from the rough.
Sometimes, a 5 wood might not be the play either depending on how the ball is sitting in the grass. Instead, a hybrid or iron might be the play.
The only time to hit a 3 wood from the rough is if you have a perfect lie where the ball is sitting up on the rough. This is known as a flier lie and the ball will basically react like it’s on a tee. If you do opt for a 3W in this instance just remember the ball will launch 10-15 yards more thanks to the great lie.
In general, if the lie is good enough, the 5 wood is the club to hit from the rough.
Alternate Option: 4-Wood or High-Lofted 3-Wood
Now that we’ve covered the basics with a 3W and 5W, let’s talk about the club in between – a 4 wood. This club is not nearly as popular among golfers but might be just what your game needs.
While most clubs aren’t actually labeled 4W (kind of like there isn’t a 6W), it’s more about the loft and shaft length. A 4W is typically 16 degrees of loft and has generally the same length of shaft as a 3 wood.
For example, the Callaway Rogue ST Max comes in a 3HL (which stands for high loft). It’s the same length and lie of the 3 wood but just extra loft.
If you do like carrying a 3 wood and want to hit it more often from the fairway, this is a great option for many golfers. The extra 1-1.5 degrees of loft will help you launch it higher.
Lastly, there are “strong” 3 woods too. These are the opposite of 4-woods and have even less loft, typically 13.5 degrees, and are only recommended for skilled golfers.
Since there is even less loft, they’re harder to hit, especially off the fairway. Plus, carrying a strong 3W might leave a huge yardage gap in your bag.
What About Hybrids?
You might be thinking, where do hybrids fit in the mix?
Hybrids are a game improvement club that have changed the sport for many players. Hybrids are extremely versatile clubs and come in all types of sizes, shapes, and lofts. Heck, you can even play a full set of hybrid irons to replace some or all of your irons.
These are important clubs especially with mid-handicappers (or high handicap golfers) as they’re easier to hit. The design of the club will let you feel confident hitting almost any type of shot.
I think hybrids and fairway woods go hand in hand. Having a mix and getting rid of hard to hit long irons is key to scoring well and making the game a little bit easier.
Remember, even good players struggle with longer clubs so by having more loft and a bit shorter shaft can make a huge difference. Also, don’t forget to check out our guide on how to hit hybrids here.
Go here to read our article on the 5 wood vs 3 Hybrid debate.
FAQs about Fairway Woods
Do you have additional questions about finding the right fairway woods for your golf bag setup? If so, we have answers below to help you create the best setup for your game.
Is it better to have a 3-wood or 5-wood?
It depends on the golfer. Some players will benefit from carrying a 3W while others will benefit more from having a 5 wood. And some golfers will have both in the bag.
If you’re looking for a driver alternative, a 3 wood is likely the best option. But again, this is personal preference between the two clubs.
Is it easier to hit a 3-wood or 5-wood?
For the everyday golfer, a 5 wood is easier to hit. Thanks to increased loft it’s easier to get the ball airborne even if the average distance isn’t as much as a 3 wood.
Want more tips on hitting your 3 wood? Click here to read our full guide so you can learn how to hit a 3-wood once and for all.
Does a 3-wood hit further than a 5-wood?
If both are struck well with solid contact the 3 wood will go further than a 5 wood. Thanks to a more piercing ball flight and other factors mentioned above, a 3W will give you more distance.
What is a 5-wood used for?
A 5-wood is a very versatile club and used in all types of situations.
With 18 or 19 degrees of loft, it makes it easier to hit off the fairway than a 3 wood and can be used from the rough too. Unless it’s really sitting down in a bad lie, a 5 wood can help you escape the rough.
Not to mention, a 5 wood can be used for bump and run type shots around the green too. The one thing the 5 wood is not good for is punch shots.
Due to the high loft and clubhead design, a 5 wood is meant to get the ball in the air. So it’s not the best shot to hit when you need to keep it under tree branches or flight it down into the wind.
Should you carry a 3 wood and 5 wood?
It depends on the player. Beginner players would benefit from having more fairway woods and hybrids and fewer wedges.
For more skilled golfers, I don’t think it’s the best use of your 14 clubs. They’re so similar in terms of design, loft, and distance that it makes sense to have different clubs.
Traditionally, the average golfer had a set of golf clubs consisting of driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, 3-PW, SW, LW, and putter. But times have changed; everything from the golf ball to each golf club is easier to hit, even with a slower swing speed.
Which is why I don’t think it’s the best approach for some golfers as they go nearly the same distance. For example, instead of carrying two woods that nearly serve the same purpose, try one of these combinations instead.
- 3 fairway wood and 7W
- 4 fairway wood and 7W
- 4 fairway wood and driving iron
- 3 fairway wood and 4 or 5 hybrid
Having one of these combinations will ensure you don’t have a large gap in your distances. Plus, only having one fairway wood and carrying a hybrid or utility iron allows you to hit other types of shots that you can’t hit with high lofted fairway woods.
For example, if you’re in the semi rough, a hybrid club might be the better club than most fairway woods. Or, if you have a bare lie and need all the assistance you can get.
Before buying anything new, I suggest using a launch monitor to track your current distances. Hit 10-15 balls with the 3W and 5W to calculate the average distance. Then, figure out how far your next longest club goes (hybrid, 3 iron, or whatever else you carry) to see what distance you need to find.
Should you play the same shafts in fairway woods as drivers?
This is a great question as shafts have a big impact on total distance, trajectory, and launch angle. It’s best to play the same shaft flex in your fairway woods as your driver. But the one thing you want to likely change is the weight of the shaft.
For example, let’s say you play a 60-gram driver shaft. With your fairway woods, you want to use maybe a 70-gram shaft in your 3 or 5 wood and possibly 80 grams in your hybrids. This will help you with a tighter shot dispersion and get to know your game more.
If you play three different clubs, with different shafts, and different weights, it’s hard to always “know your misses.” There are a lot more variables and makes it harder to identify if you have a swing issue that needs to be fixed or the club isn’t suited for your game.
Avoid steel shafts, even if you’re an avid golfer, as they’re harder to get the ball airborne and might lose distance too.
Do pros carry high lofted fairway woods?
Yes, even professional golfers like playing golf with different clubs like a 3 wood or 5 wood. These clubs aren’t just for high handicap golfers anymore.
Due to the shorter shaft length, shaft weight, and extra loft, they’re great to hit on long par 5s. Or, if they need to lay up from the tee box on short par 4s.
Some golfers even carry a 7 wood too. Remember, regardless of your skill level, it’s best to play clubs that are right for your swing and give you the most confidence.
What are the best fairway woods?
Ready to buy a new fairway wood to replace or add to your current set of golf clubs?
Here are a few of our favorite fairway wood options:
- Callaway Rogue ST Max – They have three models; a low spin, the MAX (great for the average golfer), and the Max-D which has a built-in draw bias.
- TaylorMade Stealth – Choose the Stealth Plus for a lower spin fairway wood or the Stealth Fairway for higher launch.
- Titleist TSi – Choose from 13.5-18 degrees of loft in a great looking fairway wood that comes in multiple head options.
Also, don’t forget to read our full guide to the best fairway woods here. Finally, make sure to spend plenty of time on the driving range with your new golf club before taking it out to the course.
Final Thoughts on 3 Wood vs. 5 Wood
So, what should the average male golfer carry?
A 3W and 5W both have their own advantages and disadvantages.
For beginner players, it might make sense to have a 3 wood and 5 wood. Especially if you fear hitting the driver and need a longer club off the tee.
For an advanced golfer, I would not recommend having both clubs in the bag as it’s not the best use of your 14 clubs in my opinion. It’d be better to add in a 7W, hybrid, or utility iron (depending on which one you like the most) for more versatility in your bag.
Remember, 3 woods have longer shafts, have low spin, and you need more speed to hit consistently well. While a 5 wood will go a bit higher but shorter distance, and is easier to hit from the fairway or rough.