Why are Golf Clubs Different Lengths? Part II of II

For someone new to the game, they may not know that custom golf clubs come in all different golf lengths within the same set. When asked why to a fellow golfer, many may just shrug their shoulder or scratch their head and simply say, “Because that’s the way they are and have been so for a long, long time”. While tradition is an integral part of this game, there must have been a rhyme and reason why our golfing forefathers made each club a different length.

There are two different reasons for varying the length of the clubs. The first of which is the distance one hit each club. Two of the key components to distance are primarily the loft of the club, while a secondary is its length. One might reason if all the clubs were the same length, then it might be easier to replicate each shot. While that might be true, the potential length that one may hit each club would be compressed throughout the set. As a club is longer (as well as lighter), then it can be swung faster up to a limit. The increased length provides greater leverage and speed to hit the ball further if solid contact is to be made. Shorter clubs are designed not for length, but rather precision. One analogy could be made that someone that does a lot of repair around the house might have a drawer full of different length screwdrivers. Each length is used for a specific application. A short, stubby screwdriver is used when one wants to get close to their work, while a longer screwdriver might be used for more leverage it to get to a hard to reach place.

In a typical set of golf club irons (#3-9, PW and SW) the length can vary by 3.5” (see how length is measured). But this only tells part of the story. In order to hit the ball with the center of the sole touching the ground just before impact then the distance of the ball outward from your wrists will be 4.5” further away on a #3-iron than a sand wedge (SW). In addition, the height of wrist from the ground will be approximately 1.55” higher on the #3-iron than the SW. The change in length from one club to the next is small and may not be noticeable, but throughout the set it is.

The secondary reason for different lengths is to accommodate the size (or dimensions) of the golfer. While this may sound simplistic it is often not practiced by manufacturers. To understand this statement, let us look at purchasing golf shoes. Let’s say we want a Men’s Nike shoe. In one particular model it might be made in 30 different sizes if you include shoe width (medium and wide) into the fold. For a pair of ladies shoes, there may be another 17 different sizes to choose from. However, if you were to buy a set of golf clubs off of the rack, you are basically going to have two different lengths to choose from; Men’s or Ladies standard.

It becomes obvious that manufacturers know that not all people are the same size. Some of those same companies go to get lengths in producing and providing the proper instruction for fitting the correct sized shoe or even golf glove, yet only offer two options for their stock length (although many manufacturer’s can allow for customized lengths). The key difference is your foot size or hand size is fixed and your height is not. That is to say that a glove or shoe should be a tight fit and be comfortable, while a golfer’s height can be adjusted based upon how much tilt (spine angle) occurs at the waist, how far the person’s feet are apart, how much flex or bend in the knees occurs or how far away the player’s arms are away from the body (arm angle). The human body is truly amazing as it can adapt.

The reason for a two different length model by manufacturers is somewhat based on statistics, like the average height of an average male and female. The average woman’s height in the U.S. is approximately 5’ 5” (165.1cm), with about 68% between 5’ 2” and 5’ 7”. The average male is approximately 5’ 10” (177.8cm) with nearly 68% between 5’6” and 5’ 11”. Because of this limited range manufacturers can build to one specified length and fit conceivably 2/3 of the population of each gender and limit inventories. The third of the remaining golfers can be custom fit to different lengths than standard.

The difference in the club length is typically 1” shorter for women’s than men’s because of the height differential. Length may also vary in the same model from steel to graphite, with graphite-shafted irons being potentially ½” longer to create a specific swingweight. In the following example, we want to show different models in proportion. The first of which is a 5’10” (177.8cm) male (blue model) with a 38” steel-shafted #5-iron.

If the club was returned to impact with the center of the sole touching the ground and the hosel / shaft at a 60° angle from the ground line it would form a triangle, where the heel of the club would be 19.00” outward of butt end of the shaft. In addition, the butt end would be 32.91” above the ground line, which would coincide with the wrists of the golfer if the club was held at the end of grip. It is important to remember that this may not be the position of the club or golfer at address. There are a number of dynamic factors that have an influence from the starting address position to the final
angles at impact.

Now, let us use a proportionate model, but that is a 6’ 4” (193cm)
male. In order to use the same length club and bring the club into the same sole centered position, then it would look like the following diagram in green. The importance of having the center of the sole of the club is to provide the proper lie angle. We will leave this discussion for another article when the contact is made on the heel or toe of the club’s sole.

In order for the taller person to have the wrists at the same height off of the ground and the heel of the club outward from the butt of the golf shaft, then the player’s angles need to change. It could be just one, like arm angle, or in tandem such as the arm angle, spine angle and knee flex. Remember, the club did not change length; the golfer adapted to the length of the club. In this case the green model has tilted more at the waist and the arm angle is
closer to the body effectively shortening the player’s height.

Many lady golfers will use graphite-shafted irons more so than men will to help decrease weight for feel and to increase their swing speed for greater distance. As mentioned before, ladies golf clubs are typically 1” shorter than men’s, but graphite shaft clubs tend to be ½” longer to obtain a normal swingweight or heft to the club. The next diagram will illustrate a proportionate model (in pink) that stands 5’ 5” (165.1cm) and uses a 37.5” #5-iron. Again, the center of the sole contacts the ground to form the triangle where the heel of the club would be 18.75” outward of butt end of the shaft and the butt end would be 32.48” above the ground line.

In order to be in this final position at impact, the model must have a more upright pine angle and the arms are reaching outward and more upward relative to the other two models. Even though the pink and green models represent an 11” difference in physical height, it shows how they can use a club that is only ½” different in its length.

In some cases, the standard length of a ladies or men’s club may not be in a position that feels comfortable and put’s that person in an athletic posture to be able to return the clubhead with a positive impact location (both on the center of the face and center of the sole). For instance, the person could be very tall or short compared to the average person, disproportionate arm length, overweight or possibly a well-endowed woman. In those cases, we need different length golf clubs. What length is best for you? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula and may require some experimentation on the player’s part or go through a thorough fitting.

7 comments

  1. [...] You are at the range and drop a ball on the ground (or place it on a tee). You grab a custom golf club randomly out of your golf bag and then try to hit the ball with club. It could be any club. Plus it simply doesn’t matter if the golf club is 32” or 48” since you only intent is to hit the back of the ball with the front of the face. The first in a sequence of things you do is set the clubhead behind the ball and then stand … continued [...]

  2. Pat From Tampa says:

    Pardon me, but that’s a bunch of hooey. :) The grips are long enough on clubs that we can choke up (grip down on the shaft) a couple inches if more precision is needed. Look at Anthony Kim’s grip if you need proof. What is mainly needed is more CONSISTENCY, which will only be achieved by keeping the swing plane and stance as identical as possible, swing after swing. All irons in a set should be the same length…period. I’ve been playing for 50 years and I’m soon going to be getting a set re-shafted so all the heads have the same lie angle and the shafts are the same length, shafted to the length of my current four iron. After all, what sense does it make that a sand wedge (which actually has to hit LOWER, down into the sand in traps, to get the ball airborne), is the shortest club in the set? Say WHAT??? :)

  3. Tim says:

    Hey Pat…I just read (i do not own..yet!) about the 1 iron golf system that have all irons same length…makes sense to me.

  4. [...] 2”, the person might have been suggested a ½” longer club, but due to his lower WTF position standard length golf clubs may be fit [...]

  5. Andrew says:

    I work in a retail golf shop and have recently been asked about the 1 iron golf system. I love how companies such as these prey on the average golfer, using the customers lack of club knowledge and common cliches to dupe them. The progression of length throughout the golf set serves a purpose, such as distance differences for one. Why would I carry “or purchase” a set of clubs that will not have enough seperation to choose from. Keep in mind, if this actually was working…. TOUR PLAYERS WOULD USE IT. I don’t often compare the amateur to tour players, but in the sense that if every golf club being the same lenght was better, wouldn’t everybody do it (i.e.- hybrids work for both players).

    For all golfers in Pat’s case that have given in to this notion…. 1)take a lesson 2)get fit for golf clubs 3)PRACTICE

    I also hear about how people have been “playing for 50 years” and have developed a keen knowledge of the golf club. NICE TRY. I’ve been driving a car for quite awhile now, yet wouldn’t have the audacity to say I know all about them. Quit believing everything you read online and hear on the golf course.

  6. Rick Bevers says:

    Some research found that all clubs were once the same length when the hickory shafts were individually fitted and expensive. The present lengths were made so at least a few would fit anyone when cheaper mass produced steel shafts made individual fitting too expensive.

    Pros probably learned on the normal shaft lengths and don’t want to mess with success. Few golfers could learn to play with an $800 set of same length clubs.

    The simplest way to see if same length clubs work for an average person seems to be to buy +1 for 7-8 and +2 for 9-PW. If your game improves, great.

  7. Martin Kulesza says:

    As a brand new player I found a set of Pinhawk same length irons which retail for less than 200usd – how many lessons is that. Please check your facts. They are designed to and and do provide distance gaps. From what I understand for a standard length set lengthening the more lofted clubs will throw off their swing weights and effect the distance gapping for the set. As for the pros I would agree if they have always used multi-length irons why would they switch. Maybe if single length irons were available to kids we would see them on the tour? It makes sense manufacturers prefer multi-length irons unless they want to switch to selling Sm/36″ Md/37″ Lg/38″ Xl/39″ length sets? Though Short, Regular, Tall and Extra Tall might be a better label.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>