3 Wood vs. 5 Wood: Which Should You Use?

Some of the most difficult decisions on a golf course have to do with selecting the proper club. If you are just starting in golf, you’ve probably wondered what the differences were between a 3 wood and a 5 wood. Which one of these woods should you carry in your bag?

The goal of this article is to explain the differences between the 3 wood and 5 wood. I will also cover some questions related to each of these important clubs. After reading this, you should have the knowledge needed to decide if you should carry a 3 wood, 5 wood, or both of these fairway woods in your bag for your next round of golf.

What’s the difference between a 3 wood and 5 wood?

1. Loft

If you put a 3 wood in one hand and a 5 wood in the other, you’ll immediately notice the difference in the loft by looking at the shape of each clubface. Most 3 woods have a loft of 15-18 degrees, while most 5 woods are lofted a bit higher at 20-22 degrees. Many beginner golfers find that the extra loft of the 5 wood makes it easier for them to get the ball in the air. This is key for rookie golfers because topping the ball is super frustrating!

2. Shaft Length

The 3 wood shaft length is normally around 42-43 inches. The 5 wood is slightly shorter at 41-42 inches. For most golfers, the shorter shaft length of the 5 wood makes for better accuracy. The shorter shaft lengthed 5 wood is easier to swing and control, but you sacrifice some distance.

Related: Driver Shaft Length 101: What You Should Know

3. Distance

The average male golfer hits a 3 wood about 180 yards. That same golfer would hit a 5 wood about 170 yards. The difference in distance is similar on the PGA Tour.  

According to Trackman’s stats from 2019, the average pro hits a 3 wood 243 yards and a 5 wood 230 yards. The 3 wood typically carries 10-15 yards further than the 5 wood because of the decreased loft and longer shaft length.


Should I buy a 3 wood or 5 wood?

This question comes down to each golfer’s experience level and personal preference. First, test out both the 3 wood and 5 wood at the driving range if possible. Don’t just blindly buy a 3 wood because that’s what your buddies use!  

Hit both clubs from the tee and off the mat. After practicing with both clubs for quite a while, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Which club am I more comfortable swinging?
  2. Which club provides me with more accuracy (fewer hooks and slices)?
  3. Which club was I able to get the ball in the air more frequently and avoid topping it?
  4. Which club provided me with the best distance on average?

Now, check your answers to see whether the 3 wood or the 5 wood had the most answers. That is the club you should buy! 

Also, here’s some more information about which club you should buy based on each experience level.

Beginner

If you are just starting in the game, you can’t go wrong with a 5 wood. Most rookie-level golfers tend to top the ball when hitting their 3 wood, and it is one of the most difficult clubs in the bag to hit. Hitting the 3 wood well requires the golfer to master sweeping the ball off the deck and catching it cleanly each time.

On the other hand, a 5 wood is more forgiving when you happen to mishit the ball. The higher loft of the 5 wood will make it easier for you to get the ball in the air from the fairway. The shorter shaft length makes the 5 wood easier to control and will lead to less slicing and hooking.

Intermediate

If you have been golfing for a few years and are comfortable with your swing, opt for the 3 wood because of its versatility. A 3 wood will give you a few more yards of distance, and you can also hit it off the tee when you are struggling to find the fairway with your driver. Also, the 3 wood will give you the ability to hit lower shots on those annoyingly windy days out on the course!

Advanced

If you are an advanced golfer with a low handicap, you could buy both the 3 wood and the 5 wood. You don’t have to keep both in your bag at the same time. Both woods are handy to have at your disposal, depending on what type of golf course you are playing.  As an advanced golfer, you never want to limit yourself to just one type of fairway wood.

If the course you are playing is long and wide open, keep the 3 wood in your bag that day. If you are playing a shorter course but with many hazards and tight fairways, carry the 5 wood for that round. Tailoring the golf clubs in your bag to the type of golf course you are playing will help you shoot your best possible score.


Is a 3 wood or 5 wood easier to hit?

A 5 wood is hands down easier to hit than a 3 wood.  As a general rule of thumb, the longer the club is, the more difficult it is to master. The 5 wood is usually about an inch shorter in shaft length than the 3 wood. This makes it easier to make a nice, smooth swing.

Most beginner golfers struggle to get the ball off the ground when they are just starting to learn the game. This is especially true when hitting woods out of the fairway. A 5 wood typically has 4-5 degrees of more loft than a 3 wood, so that’s another reason why it’s easier to hit.

How does a 5 wood compare to a 3 hybrid as far as distance?

An experienced golfer with a fast swing speed may see very little yardage distance between a 5 wood and 3 hybrid. Many studies show that a 5 wood will only travel about six yards longer than a 3 hybrid. This makes sense because most 3 hybrids have 21-24 degrees of loft, while most 5 woods are in the 20-22 range.

What other club is equivalent to a 5 wood?

There are a few different golf clubs that could replace a 5 wood in your bag. Most golfers that don’t care for a 5 wood opt for a 3 iron instead because of the similar distance. There are also a couple of different hybrids that can be used instead of the 5 wood.  

You could also substitute a 2 hybrid or a 3 hybrid instead of a 5 wood. I carry a 3 hybrid with 19 degrees of loft in my bag instead of a 5 wood. I love the 3 hybrid because it provides a good bit of distance but has more forgiveness than my 5 wood.

Most PGA Tour players will carry either a 5 wood, 2 iron, or a 17-18 degrees 3-hybrid. Pros constantly change what clubs they carry based on what course they are playing that particular week.


Best Situations to Hit a 3 wood instead of a 5 wood

1. Off the Tee on Par 4 and Par 5 Holes

It is not uncommon for golfers to often have fits with their driver. It’s the longest club in the bag and has the lowest amount of loft. Both of these factors can make it difficult to control at times.

If you have a hard time finding the fairway with your driver, tee off with your 3 wood instead. It is slightly shorter than your driver but will still provide you with plenty of distance off the tee. The 3 wood is a better choice than the 5 wood if you’re looking for a driver replacement. While teeing off with a 5 wood may be okay, on most holes, the increased loft will make you sacrifice too much distance.

2. You’re Trying to Reach the Green in 2 on a Par 5

If you are playing a Par 5 hole and trying to get home in two shots, stick with the 3 wood. Most of the time, a 5 wood won’t provide quite enough yardage to reach the green. Bust out the 3 wood, strike the ball well, and make your friends jealous when you sink that rare eagle putt!

3. If the Conditions are Super Windy

Let’s say it’s one of those dreadful windy days with gusts up to 30 miles an hour. You’re in the fairway on a Par 5 or a long Par 4. Stick with the 3 wood because the higher lofted 5 wood will travel too high and will be affected by the wind too much. Being able to keep the ball low will pay huge dividends for you when playing in windy conditions.


Best Situations to Hit a 5 wood instead of a 3 wood

1. If Your Second Shot is from the Rough

Let’s say your drive rolls just outside the fairway and into the light rough. This is a perfect time to hit your 5 wood instead of your 3 wood. The extra loft from the 5 wood will help you knock the ball out of the rough.  

Most of the time, hitting a 3 wood requires a nearly perfect lie, which rarely happens in the rough. If you choose to hit the 3 wood instead of the 5 wood out of the rough, you have a greater risk of topping the ball or whiffing completely (OUCH!).

2. A Long Par 3 Hole

You know those pesky Par 3 holes that are around 200 yards or more in distance. For medium to high handicappers, it is a tall order to hit an iron that far. A 5 wood is your best choice in this situation. 

A 5 wood is a great choice for this tee shot on a long Par 3 because it will travel the right distance if you strike it solidly. Also, a well-struck 5 wood shot should provide enough height to stick on the green without rolling off of it.

3. You’re Playing a Hole with a Tight Fairway

If you’re playing on a hole with a tight fairway, consider choosing a 5 wood instead of a 3 wood. Let’s say there is a water hazard on your left, a row of trees to the right, and a skinny fairway down the center. Accuracy is your premium concern on this tee box, so opt for the 5 wood to give you a better chance of landing it in the fairway. Smile at your buddy from the fairway as he is over in the trees struggling to find the ball he sliced with his driver (haha)!

Wrapping It Up

Both the 3 wood and 5 wood are valuable clubs for golfers to keep in their arsenal. Each club offers its unique advantages and possible drawbacks. If you’re just starting to take up golf, be sure to try both the 3 wood and 5 wood out on the driving range a few times before deciding on which one to purchase in your set of clubs.

With hybrids making a meteoric rise in popularity over the last few years, most beginner and intermediate golfers now only carry one fairway wood in their bag. A 3 wood is best for overall distance, while a 5 wood provides a bit better accuracy.  

Though most golfers are tempted to choose the 3 wood because of its longer distance, that doesn’t automatically make it the right choice for every golfer. Sometimes the safer, more accurate club is the best choice. Like so many other things in golf, your fairway wood of choice should be based mostly on your comfort level. Until next time, thanks for reading, and best of luck on the links!

Joe Morelli

Joe's been playing golf for 25 years, starting as a junior golfer in his early teens. He loves getting out on the links with his dad and friends -- whether an early weekend foursome or his weekday, afternoon league.

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