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Graphite vs Steel Shafts

Graphite vs Steel Shafts: How to Decide

If you want to play better golf, you need to play the right shafts. As you’ll learn today, that might mean swapping to lighter weights in graphite shafts. It’s time to drop the ego and use shafts that are right for your game.

Let’s face it, golf isn’t getting any easier and playing stiff, heavy, steel shafts isn’t helping most players. Especially everyday amateurs who only get out a few times per month and rarely practice. Yet, despite the mountain of data that shows the benefits of playing graphite, some golfers just won’t make the switch. 

Here’s a fact that might help you finally drop the stigma of using graphite once and for all. Bryson DeChambeau, the longest hitter on the PGA Tour in 2021 (before switching to LIV Golf), uses graphite shaft irons. Not only does he hit bombs with his driver, but he also hits his irons insanely long too.

Needless to say, if the longest hitter uses graphite shafts, maybe you could benefit too. If you’ve thought about switching and weighing the pros/cons of graphite vs. steel shafts, this article will give you all the information you need.

Graphite vs. Steel Shafts 

Picking the right shaft for your irons, woods, and wedges has a massive impact on your ball flight and overall performance. Far too many golfers spend all their time and energy picking the right clubhead and settle for a generic shaft.

I would argue that playing the correct shaft is just as important as the clubheads themselves.

Do not settle for any old golf shafts… especially if you’re a mid to low handicap golfer. The littlest things can make the biggest difference in your ball striking, confidence, and overall performance.

Let’s break down the type of golf shafts available and see which one is right for your game.

Steel Shafts

Before getting into all things about steel shafts, don’t forget that golfers originally played with wooden shafts. Old-school shafts were ash or apple and hickory shafts became the rave soon after. 

BC Golf House found that, “Around 1820 clubmakers introduced hickory for making golf shafts. This wood proved to be more durable than the ash, apple, and beech wood that were being used. The process to make a golf shaft began by fastening a one inch square piece of hickory about four feet long in a lathe.

Soon the spinning rectangular piece became a round spindle about ¾ inch in diameter. Finally, the clubmaker  tapered one end to fit into the clubhead hosel.”

This type of shaft was used for a century before clubmakers found the next great invention – steel iron shafts. 

History

Did you know that the steel golf shaft has been around for nearly 100 years? While the original players of this sport used wooden shafts (which most of us can’t even imagine playing with), the R&A legalized the switch in 1929. 

According to Golf College“Around 1925 the steel shaft was introduced in the United States, although blacksmiths had experimented with them since the late 1890’s. The R&A finally legalized the use of steel shafted clubs after the Prince of Wales used them on the Old Course at St Andrews in 1929.”

Golfers found that switching from wooden shafts to steel helped improve accuracy, distance, and durability. 

Benefits 

The biggest benefit for steel shafts for most golfers is that you feel more vibrations with each swing. You get more immediate feedback on the shot, which helps you alter your setup or swing to hit your desired shot. But beginners won’t enjoy the vibrations if they hit it badly, especially in cold weather.

Another big benefit to steel is that they’re heavier, which means a tighter shot dispersion. Essentially, your misses are in a smaller window than when you play lighter, graphite shafts. Steel shafts can weigh 1.5 to 2X what graphite shafts weigh, which also makes it easier to hit knockdown shots for optimal control.

Graphite or Steel Shafts

They’re also usually cheaper than graphite shafts as they cost less to produce. If you’re looking to save money, steel is usually the way to go. Plus, they’re more durable and rarely, if ever, do you need to replace. 

Overall, steel shafts are better for more advanced golfers with high swing speeds and a consistent overall swing. But as you’ll see in the next section, even some of the top guys in the world are now using graphite shaft irons. 

Weight and Flex 

Steel shafts are heavier than graphite and tend to weigh 120 grams or more per shaft. There are some lighter options now in the 100-110 gram range and some go as high as 140 grams. 

The flex of steel shaft varies from regular to X-stiff and changes from manufacturer to manufacturer. Go here to learn more about regular vs stiff shaft flex and if you have a slower swing speed the senior flex shaft.

Steel Shafts Today 

In today’s modern golf era, technology continues to change and innovate at a rapid pace. Despite steel being used for nearly a century, it’s still very common to see players using them on the golf course.

Most high handicappers should avoid steel shafts entirely as they’re too heavy and hard to hit. According to Golf.com“Tim Briand of True Spec Golf, approximately 75% of players he fits have the wrong shafts in their irons, the majority of which are too heavy and too stiff.”

But mid to lower handicap golfers prefer steel in their irons to help with control. 

Professional golfers pretty much all play steel shafts in their irons with a few exceptions. They are the most consistent players on the planet and benefit from steel shafts as it helps with shot shaping and distance control. 

Regardless of handicap, pretty much every golfer now plays graphite shafts in their woods though. 

Graphite Shafts 

Now that you have a better understanding of steel shafts, let’s get into all things graphite. 

History

According to the same Golf College article, “In 1973 the graphite shaft was introduced which provided more rigidity, lightness and increased strength over the steel shafts. The more modern graphite shafts are manufactured with different materials to improve performance, such as boron to reduce twisting.”

While players were quick to make the switch from wooden to steel, the switch from steel to graphite wasn’t quite as fast. Heck, I still remember Tiger Woods in the early 2000s swinging a steel shafted driver and making it look easy (he was also the longest hitter of any PGA Tour player). 

But eventually, pros and amateurs saw the light and started to switch to graphite. Now, graphite is more common for everyday golfers while professionals tend to only use them in their woods. 

Benefits 

So, why did so many people make the switch from steel to graphite shafts? Because there are a ton of benefits – all of which make this complex game a little easier. 

The first reason graphite shafts became popular was because they were so much lighter than steel irons. It’s not uncommon for steel shafts to weigh twice as much as graphite shafts. Heavier weights are harder to swing faster!

For a lot of golfers, switching to a lighter graphite shaft instantly added distance thanks to a faster swing speed. Since the club is significantly lighter, it’s much easier to swing faster and increase total distance (especially for high handicap golfers)

The second benefit of a graphite shaft is that you tend to get a higher ball flight. This will help with longer clubs and overall, make it easier to hold the green more often.

Another unlikely benefit is that graphite shafts are simply easier on your joints. That’s right, there are health benefits aside from increased swing speed.

According to Golf.com“A lot of graphite products perform like steel but offer some hidden benefits like vibration-reducing technology that’ll reduce wear and tear on your joints during those lengthy practice sessions. 

I realize there’s a stigma attached to graphite, but you need to stop thinking of them as a product for your grandpa.” They even mentioned that Bryson DeChambeau and Abraham Ancer use graphite shafts in their irons. 

Weight and Flex 

Graphite shafts are much lighter than steel and can range from 50-90 grams. There are a lot more customization options with flex, color, shaft tip, and more. 

Since these shafts are so much lighter than steel, they are best for everyday golfers, senior players, and women. 

Multi-Material Shafts 

While most golfers should play graphite shafts for a variety of reasons, there is now a new option known as multi-material shafts. These use multiple materials/composite materials for a truly custom shaft. You get the best of both worlds with these as the majority of the shaft is steel, while the tip is graphite. 

With a partly steel, partly graphite shaft you get the control of steel and the distance of graphite. Plus, they have built-in vibration-reducing technology to avoid any unwanted vibrations. It’s truly a win-win and something that I could see gaining popularity in the future for low handicap golfers. 

Picking the Right Shaft: Graphite or Steel?

Now that you have all this information, let’s talk about how to make sure your shafts are setting you up for success. 

Woods vs. Irons

For starters, you want to think about shafts for your woods, irons, and wedges. It’s not uncommon for all of them to be different weights and possibly different manufacturers. However, the flex of the shaft typically doesn’t change much. 

For example, here’s my bag setup to show how the shaft weight changes depending on the club. I use graphite golf shafts in my woods, steel shaft irons, and steel shaft wedges.

  • Driver: 70 grams 
  • 3-Wood: 80 grams
  • Hybrid: 90 grams
  • Utility iron: 90 grams
  • 5-GW: 115 grams (steel shaft)
  • SW & LW: 120 grams (steel shaft) 

Your driver should be your lightest club in the bag, typically between 45-75 grams depending on skill level and swing speed. Your fairway woods will typically be slightly heavier (as you can see, my 3-wood is 10 grams more) and work your way up to irons.

Picking your wood shafts are pretty straightforward compared to irons as pretty much every golfer plays graphite shafts. But with irons, you need to decide if graphite, steel, or possibly a multi-material shaft is right for you. 

Finally, don’t forget to check your wedge shafts too. It’s not uncommon to have your wedges as the heaviest shafts in your bag. A heavier wedge shaft makes it easier to flight shots down and take off distance when you’re between clubs. 

Finding the Right Shaft Flex 

Deciding between graphite and steel is one thing, but figuring out the flex of the shaft is another issue. There are tons of different options for shaft stiffness and it ultimately depends on your swing speed. The faster you swing the golf club (aka more club head speed), the more flex you need vs. slower swing speeds need more flex.

To find the right flex, it’s common to hit a golf ball with your driver to monitor carry distance, ball speed, clubhead speed, and other data factors. Here’s a breakdown based on amateur golfers from Golf.com.

  • Ladies flex: >72mph
  • Light flex (senior flex): 72-83mph
  • Regular flex: 84-96mph
  • Stiff flex: 97-104mph
  • Extra Stiff (X-stiff) flex: 105mph
  • Tour-Stiff (TX) flex: 110+mph

Read our article on when you need a stiff shaft.

Professional Fitting

As you can tell, there is a lot that goes into finding the right golf equipment for your game. If you feel overwhelmed by this process or don’t have your own launch monitor, it’s not a bad idea to do a custom fitting. This usually lasts 1-2 hours where you hit your clubs vs. new clubs and different shafts to see distance, spin, accuracy, and tons more metrics. 

Custom fittings don’t cost that much ($100-$300 depending on the type of fitting/number of clubs) and are worth it. Remember, the wrong golf shaft or wrong shaft material can make a big difference in your game. Make golf easier by playing the right golf clubs!

Go here to read our full article on club fitting.

FAQs About Graphite or Steel Shafts

Still have questions about the best shafts for your game? Keep reading to learn even more about picking the right shafts for better golf. 

Is it better to have steel or graphite shafts?

It’s best to play shafts that match your skill level and swing speed. Some players will benefit greatly from playing graphite shafts while others need to play steel shafts. 

Do graphite shafts make a difference?

Yes, graphite shafts make a huge difference in your game. Switching from steel to graphite iron shafts can help you add distance, hit it higher, and increase your swing speed. While graphite shafts cost more, they’re a great investment in your game.

Do pro golfers use graphite shafts?

Pro golfers tend to use a graphite shaft only in their driver, fairway woods, hybrids, and possibly some utility irons. Composite shafts help with hard to hit clubs like long irons, which even the best players in the world struggle with at times.

These players tend to use heavier graphite shafts than most everyday golfers and ones that are much stiffer too. The majority of PGA Tour and LIV golfers swing X-stiff or even TX (which is a special, Tour Stiff shaft).

Since steel shafts tend to provide more feedback, most PGA Tour players opt for them in their wedges and irons.

Does Tiger Woods use steel or graphite shafts?

Tiger now uses both steel and graphite shafts. He uses steel shafts in his irons and wedges with graphite shafts in his woods like most professionals. His fast swing speed allows him to play incredibly stiff shafts too.

But I can still remember Tiger in his prime swinging heavy steel shafts not only in his 3 wood but also his driver. In 2004 he finally made the switch from steel to graphite in his driver.

Not only did he hit a steel shafted driver, he hit it extremely hard and was the longest hitter on tour. Most players in today’s modern game of golf can’t even comprehend doing that today. 

However, Tiger was also one of the first players to start making golf workouts a normal part of the game. That being said, we don’t recommend swinging steel shafted woods anymore. It only makes the game more challenging and isn’t necessary with new technology. 

When should I switch to graphite shafts?

It depends on your swing speed, current clubs, trajectory, and more. Most golfers would benefit from playing graphite shafts as they’re lighter, easier to hit, and tend to produce a higher ball flight. In the past, graphite shafts weren’t as accurate but as technology has evolved, you’re not sacrificing much now.

There’s no specific time to switch – for example, saying you’re 60 years old then you need to get graphite iron shafts. Instead, it’s about monitoring your swing, score, and ultimately your golf goals

Some players can swing steel shafts their entire life while others prefer graphite from a younger age. There’s a lot of personal preference when it comes to picking the right shaft so do what’s best for your game, no one else.

Graphite or steel shafts with an injury?

Golf injuries are no joke. If you’re suffering from a back injury or have a lot of stiffness from golf, graphite shafts are the way to go. Adding these into each golf club will help you alleviate injury as they don’t provide as much vibrations up the shaft. This will help your wrists, hands, shoulders, and elbows.

Lighter weight shafts might help even more if you have a back or neck injury too.

How long do graphite shafts last?

Graphite iron shafts don’t tend to last as long as steel shafts since they’re much lighter but that doesn’t mean you’ll need to replace them often. For example, I’ve played the same shaft in my driver for years and play or practice 3-4X a week! 

What about the putter shaft? Are they steel or graphite shafts?

Most putter shafts are steel shafts but now there are graphite options too. Here’s what GolfWeek said about graphites shafts in putters.

“According to brands that make graphite putter shafts, the advantage they can have over their steel counterparts is versatility.

A typical steel putter weighs about 125 grams and to create one that is more flexible, manufacturers typically need to make the walls thinner, which also makes the shaft lighter. Conversely, to make a steel shaft stiffer, they need to make the walls of the shaft thicker, which adds more weight.”

Since graphite shafts are much lighter, companies can layer the shaft at different angles to change stiffness but maintain the same weight. Plus, graphite shafts can help minimize face twisting and get the golf ball rolling at your target more often. It’s something to consider if you feel like your putter itself is great but need to get out of a putting slump.

The only downside is that graphite shafts cost substantially more than a normal steel putting shaft.

Do graphite shafts increase distance? 

Yes, a graphite iron shaft should increase distance, sometimes substantially for certain types of players. Golfers hit graphite shafts so much further than steel because they are so much lighter. 

It’s not uncommon for graphite irons to weigh half the amount of steel golf clubs. Lighter shafts are easier to swing faster, which leads to more clubhead speed, which corresponds to more total distance. 

Final Thoughts on Graphite or Steel Shafts

Thankfully golf manufacturers are constantly finding ways to make this challenging game a little easier with better shafts. Now, there are more options than ever when it comes to swinging the right shaft for your golf game. 

Most everyday golfers will benefit from using graphite shafts.

Don’t play the wrong golf shaft anymore. It’s time to ditch the stigma of using graphite and instead, playing shafts that make golf easier. Don’t forget, some of the best players in the world with insanely high swing speeds choose graphite too. 

If you’re still debating graphite or steel, this quote from Andrew Tursky, a senior equipment editor for Golf.com said it best, “I’ll go as far as saying that more than 50 percent of golfers would find better performance and a more pleasurable experience by switching to graphite. Composite shaft companies have made huge strides in creating iron shafts that mimic the dispersion of steel shafts, but provide more height, speed and better feel.”

Pretty much every type of golfer should play graphite shafts in their driver and fairway wood. But don’t forget, there are tons of different types of shafts as flex, weight, shaft length and tip flex all factor in too. If you’re a committed golfer, sometimes it’s worth doing a professional fitting or at least testing out different shafts with a launch monitor. 

When buying a new club or set of clubs, always make sure the shafts are right for your swing! 

Make sure to read our article on the best golf shafts next.