Let's start the whole-club section with the length of the club. The reason is that, in addition to being an important characteristic itself, it affects all the other whole-club characteristics. That means that, if your fitting shows a golfer to need anything but "normal" length, you will have to do something out of "normal" to get the right lie angle, swingweight, and flex.

What it is and Why we care

The length of the golf club is selected primarily to match:
  • The height and swing plane of the golfer.
  • The length the golfer can "handle", and still make reliable contact.
First, let's look qualitatively at what length does. Then we'll get to the fitting, where we determine the right length for the specific golfer.
  • A longer club will hit the ball further for some golfers, up to some point of diminishing returns. This is a benefit of length.

    The factors of length that affect distance include:

    • If a longer club can be swung at the same angular speed as a shorter one, then the clubhead speed will be greater with the longer one. The speeds will be in the same proportion as the lengths. But this depends on being able to maintain the same angular speed, which is hardly guaranteed. In order to increase the likelihood that you can maintain angular speed...

    • Use lighter components, so you're not putting on "swingweight". We'll better quantify this in a subsequent chapter. For now, let's just say that if you keep the swingweight constant as you lengthen the club, you will likely see longer shots. You can only do this by selecting lighter clubheads and/or shafts, because swingweight increases with length if the components are not lighter.
    • If you simply lengthen the club with the same components, the swingweight will increase. This may still give you longer drives; it depends strongly on how you swing the club. A smooth "swinger" may not gain any distance at all from a longer club. A less-smooth "hitter" may pick up some distance. (I've done some mathematical analysis that predicts this. Experiments reported in Golfsmith's Clubmaker magazine confirm it.)
    • Of course, accuracy is an issue. If you can't hit the ball squarely with the longer club, you may actually lose distance.

  • A longer club will be less accurate beyond some point. This is a problem with length.

    It is harder to put the ball in the middle of the sweet spot as you have to stand further from the ball and swing a longer tool at it. This is less serious for a driver, which is normally used only if the ball is sitting up on a tee, than for the other clubs. Where a swing must be precise in order to hit the ball cleanly, the clubmaker should think twice before adding length unnecessarily. The approach of Player and Woosnam, and the 48-inch driver of Rocky Thompson, may work for an experienced professional but can produce very erratic results for a novice.

  • A longer club plays as if its lie is more upright. (Actually, it causes a flatter swing plane for the same lie.) We'll cover this aspect in the section on lie angle.

  • A longer club feels more head-heavy. We'll cover this aspect in the section on swingweight.

  • Length interacts in a complex way with flex. We'll cover this aspect in the section on flex.

So ultimately, a proper club length is one that is as long as the golfer can consistently hit in the longer clubs (to maximize distance). This must be balanced with the need to get a proper lie angle, swingweight, and flex, all of which are also affected by length.

Measuring Length

What exactly is the length of a golf club?

Traditionally, the length of a club has been defined as the distance from the butt of the club to the point where the shaft (or its extension) intersects the base of the sole. Frankly, I have a lot of trouble with using this as a working definition, because:

  • To be useful, length must somehow be related to the sole right under the "sweet spot", because that's where the club strikes the ground.
  • Length Because clubheads vary markedly in their "camber" or "rocker" (the curve of the sole), the intersection of the shaft and the sole may be right near the ground or considerably above it. Consider the accompanying diagram:

For the no-rocker sole, the intersection of shaft and sole is right on the ground. But for the high-rocker sole, the intersection is considerably above the ground. So the high-rocker sole is a shorter club by definition, even though it is effectively the same length.

A more reasonable -- and more modern definition -- is the distance from the butt to the point where the shaft would meets the ground, if the club were soled in a normal address and the shaft were extended to the ground.

Measuring club length Golfsmith now recommends an even more reasonable definition -- reasonable because it is easier to measure. They take the measure as described above, EXCEPT that the measure is along the heel of the hosel instead of the centerline of the shaft. So you can measure the club as in the accompanying diagram.

Golfsmith and the other major clubmaking suppliers offer devices that make it easy to measure a club using this definition. They consist of a ruler with a hinged straightedge at the "0" end. Lay the club along the ruler with the sole against the hinged straightedge. Adust the straightedge so it is parallel to the grooves. Now the edge of the butt indicates the length of the club on the ruler.

As an alternative way of measuring, I keep around my workshop an old 5-iron and an old driver (both with very little rocker) that I have measured carefully so I know exactly how long they are. When I need to measure an iron, I take the "standard" five iron and lay it on my workbench with the blade hanging over the edge and the shaft perpendicular to the edge. Then I lay the iron to be measured next to it. I use a ruler to connect the soles of the two clubs directly beneath their sweet spots, and slide the clubs around until the ruler is parallel to the edge. (That is, the soles under the sweet spots are the same distance from the edge.) Then I measure the butt of the unknown club by comparison with the butt of the "standard" club.

When I measure a wood, I use the "standard" driver instead of the "standard" 5-iron.

Last modified Dec 27, 1998