Graphite vs. Steel Shafts: Which is right for your golf game?

When choosing golf clubs, there are quite a few decisions that you must make as a golfer. I know that for me, just getting past the brand is difficult enough. Then I have to consider the shaft, the flex, the grip style, custom fitting options, and more. The process is overwhelming, and sometimes I just want to know if graphite or steel is better.

I’ve put together a guide to help you understand the difference between graphite and steel shafts and which one will be the best for your game. Sometimes the answers are not as straightforward as you may like, but there are some facts that you should be made aware of. 

Difference Between Graphite and Steel Shafts

The major difference between graphite and steel shafts is their composition. Graphite golf shafts are made with composite shafts built to be lighter and offer different performance levels than other materials. Sheel shafts are stable, sturdy, and workable and can make the game easier for certain players. 

The composition of these golf shafts will lead to different performance attributes. Understanding how they perform can make your decision about which golf shaft you need quite a bit easier. Here are a few categories where the graphite and steel shafts will differ. 

Shaft Weight

Typically speaking, graphite shafts are lighter than steel shafts. 

Some new steel shafts on the market will rival the graphite when it comes to speed, but for the most part, if you need a lightweight golf shaft, you will want to go with graphite. 

Lightweight golf shafts help players that need extra swing speed. With the graphite shafts being a bit easier to swing, you can gain extra speed and hit the ball with more force. The name of the game for equipment in today’s golf world is ball speed. 

One great thing about graphite shafts is that you can also get them in heavier weights. Even though most golfers assume that steel golf shafts will be the only heavy choice on the market, this is not the case. 

Golfers need to consider how the weight of the shaft impacts them on the first hole and the eighteenth hole. It’s great that you can swing a heavy golf shaft at a club fitting, but can you play 18 holes of golf and still swing it well? 

Ball Flight 

The ball flight of your golf shot will be impacted by the type of golf shaft that you use. Graphite shafts allow for a higher ball flight, where steel shafts create a slightly lower, more controlled flight. 

It’s a great thing to hit the ball high; a higher launch typically leads to more carry and longer shots. The only problem with the higher ball flight is that it can be challenging to control this ball flight for fast swing speed players. 

When you get the ball on too high of a launch angle and the vertical launch is a bit much, you can start to lose both distance and control. Many mid to high handicap golfers struggle to get the ball up in the air. Without this launch, shots tend to run through the green, making it difficult to be an accurate player. 

The lower handicap player typically likes to control ball flight and hit high and low shots on demand. Steel golf shafts are a better choice for being able to control the flight of your golf ball. 

Shaft Flex 

Both graphite and steel golf shafts are offered in a variety of flexes. At the real stiff end of the spectrum, you will see the extra stiff shaft, and the senior and lady’s shafts will be on the more flexible side of things. 

The complicated thing about golf club flex is that it can vary from one manufacturer to another. A Fujikura Stiff shaft may be a bit different than a True Temper stiff. This is partly why custom club fitting has gotten so much more popular. 

As a general rule, a regular steel shaft will play a little stiffer than a regular graphite shaft. Part of this has to do with other factors like weight and kick point. However, don’t be surprised if you change flexes when you move from graphite to a steel golf shaft. 

The flex of the club that you play should directly correspond to your swing speed. The faster you can swing the club, the stiffer the golf shaft that you should be playing. 

Related: Stiff or Regular Flex: What Shaft to Play?

Should I Play Graphite or Stiff Shafts? 

Now that you understand the differences between the graphite and steel golf shafts let’s look at which one will be the best for your game. Certain golfers are going to fit into the graphite and steel category very clearly. 

Who Should Play Graphite Shafts? 

Golfers that play graphite shafts typically do it to get extra ball speed. However, there are other reasons to think about using graphite shafts. Here are a few of the players that fit in this category the best. 

  • Golfers who have slower swing speeds
  • High handicappers and beginners that need more forgiveness 
  • Players that struggle with launching their golf shots 
  • Junior golfers and many women golfers 
  • Those with arthritis who struggle with vibration at impact 
  • Golfers who feel as though the distance is the main priority in their golf game 
  • Any golfer that feels fatigued at the end of the round 

Who Should Play Steel Shafts? 

Steel shafts tend to be more popular among lower handicap golfers. The steel shaft allows for quite a bit of control and precision in the shots that are hit. Here are some of the players that are going to benefit most from using steel shafts in their golf clubs 

  • Strong golfers and athletes
  • Players with lots of club head speed
  • Better players than want more feel and feedback in their swing
  • The golfers that like to work the ball left and right 
  • Players that want to control the ball flight and launch 
  • Those that worry more about precision and accuracy than distance
  • Golfers that have a hard time controlling the spin and direction of their golf shots 

Should Beginner or High Handicapper Use Graphite or Steel Shafts? 

There is a misconception in the world of golf that all beginners and high handicappers need to use graphite golf shafts. This is not true. 

Many beginner golf sets are made with graphite shafts to help golfers get more forgiveness, extra club head speed, and easier launch of their shots. However, this does not mean that the graphite shafts are the best option for all golfers. 

If you have a fast swing speed and have no issues with the launch, the graphite shaft could make it harder to control golf shots. For instance, one issue I often see is a very athletic person who plays other sports to take up golf. 

If this person comes into the game and chooses a flexible graphite shaft, they will have almost no ability to create consistency in their game, The golf shot side spin rate will be terrible, and these are the people who often think they are bad golf. In reality, the equipment is just not a good fit for the game. 

If you are an athletic beginner, go after the ball, and have played other sports, try a steel shaft at first as it is what you will end up with as your game progresses. 

Which Golf Clubs Need Graphite Shafts

Throughout this guide, I have been talking about graphite shafts and steel shafts across an entire set of clubs. However, most golfers have a mix of both graphite and steel in their golf club sets. Let’s take a look at which clubs make sense to have in graphite and which should be steel shafted.

Woods

All woods should be graphite shafts. Fastening swinging players can go with heavier graphite shafts in stiffer shafts, but they still should be graphite shafts. 

The only way to get the club head speed and distance that you desire with your woods is to use a lightweight club that you can swing fast. In addition, the woods are longer than the irons. If you put this much steel in a wood, the result will be challenging to swing. 

For a few years, golf companies put out some steel-shafted drivers as budget-conscious golf clubs; at this point, they are tough to find and should be left alone. Graphite shafts should be placed in fairway woods and hybrids as well. 

Irons

Irons can be both graphite and steel, and it does not matter if you have a mix of graphite woods and steel irons. When choosing between graphite and steel shafts, the irons are the most difficult decision to make. 

Since these clubs will make up most of your golf set, you must be careful as to what you choose and that it is a good fit for your golf game. 

Wedges

The wedges are where people tend to make mistakes related to golf shafts. If you have a complete set of graphite shafted irons and then your wedges switch to the heavy wedge flex stock steel shafts, you may have a bit of a disconnect in your golf club set. 

For the most part, if you swing with graphite shafts in your irons, you will want to put graphite shafts in your wedges. The graphite shafted wedges are becoming more popular, and companies like Cleveland and Callaway will offer graphite as a stock option. 

When you hit with a wedge, you will want control, which is why so many people stick with steel. However, to get out of a bunker or put spin on a shot, you also need a good amount of clubhead speed. If the steel shafted club shaft makes that too difficult, then graphite is a better choice. 

Putters

Most golf putters are sold with steel shafts. Recently Odyssey released their entire line of Stroke Lab putters that have a shaft that is partly graphite and partly steel. This is a unique addition to golf equipment and the first time we have seen putter shafts explored in this way. 

In the past, the putter club head, face insert, and grip were really all that mattered, but the addition of the Stroke Lab putters to the market has made many wonder if the putter shaft is just as important as the others. 

For the most part, if your putter is steel, don’t feel the need to run out and get a graphite shaft. Think about the different shaft options that you have the next time you replace your putter. 

Do Pro Golfers Use Graphite Shafts? 

Pro golfers use graphite shafts in the drivers, wood, hybrids, and sometimes even their long irons. Most of the players on the PGA Tour have so much swing speed and require feedback from their iron shafts that only steel is going to benefit these players. 

A few have experimented with graphite shafted irons for a while, but for the most part, steel ends up being the golf shaft of choice. Just because the pros need steel for their strength and power does not mean that all amateur golfers should follow suit. 

Conclusion: What Is Better Graphite or Steel? 

In the end, I can’t say that graphite or steel shafts are better. I think having a combination of options in your bag that works specifically for your swing speed and ball flight preferences is essential. There is no right or wrong golf shaft in the game. When you look at the number of golf shaft options offered by each manufacturer, there is so much technology out there.

Getting a golf shaft that is custom to your golf swing capabilities, strengths and weaknesses is more accessible than it ever has been. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shaft materials and specifications; it could pay big dividends in your game. Most importantly, knowing the differences between graphite and steel makes you much more equipped for this purchasing decision.

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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