Historically the “wood” was made of wood (hence the name), but they now come in a variety materials from wood to stainless steel to titanium to graphite and several other materials. They are also generally bigger, in terms of size and volume, than other clubs. Woods are typically long distance clubs meant to be used when distance is more important than accuracy. A driver is a 1 wood and typically has somewhere between 6 and 12 degrees of loft (0 degrees of loft would be perpendicular to the ground). The hosel of a wood is also typically somewhat smaller than the hosel of an iron, .335″ instead of .370″.
1. Wood “woods”
There are two types of wood used, persimmon and maple. Solid heads are usually persimmon. Laminated (plywood) heads are usually maple. Persimmon heads are made by using a sophisticated turning machine, which mills the material into the desired shape. The process is much like making a duplicate key for a lock. The second, and most commonly used wood, is laminated maple. Generally, 1/16 inch veneers of maple are laminated together into a block, much like plywood. Then the veneers are heated and pressurized, and finally turned like the persimmon heads.
While some golfers indicate that persimmon heads have a more solid feel at impact, studies do not support this. Other golfers prefer the laminated maple, reasoning that they last longer.
2. Metal “woods”
Metal woods have become the standard over the last 10 years. There are only a few professional players using persimmon or maple fairway woods and all of the pros use metal drivers now. Metal woods have a number of advantages over wood. Metal woods generally last longer and are less expensive than persimmon or maple woods. Metal woods can be perimeter weighted. Metal woods can be cast from an almost endless list of alloys, depending on the manufacturer's design. Stainless steel and titanium are the most common choices for metal woods.
3. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel heads of many different alloys are available, the most common being 17-4 and 15-5. Stainless steel heads are cast hollow to restrict excessive weight, and may be filled with polyurethane to muffle impact noise. Stainless steel is most commonly used to cast heads with a volume of 250 cc or less.
Titanium is a lightweight metal with a much higher strength-to-weight ratio than standard stainless steel. This allows clubheads to be cast much larger than with steel, supposedly increasing the size of the sweetspot even more. Titanium metal wood heads with volumes exceeding 300 cc are very common today, there are some drivers that exceed 500cc! Titanium can also be forged to make a metal wood clubhead, but this process is significantly more expensive than casting, provides no proven benefits over casting and has a higher probability of breaking at a seam. Some players do report better feel with forged titanium heads, but there are no studies to support this.
5. Other Metals
Maraging steel, copper and tungsten have become popular materials in metal wood heads. Maraging steel is harder than stainless steel or titanium and is frequently used as a face material in metal woods, particularly low profile fairway woods. Tungsten and copper are being added to the sole of many new designs to lower the center of gravity, making it easier to get the ball airborne.
The same materials that are used for shafts are also used to make graphite and composite heads. There are two subtle variances in manufacturing techniques. In one case, the graphite prepreg is mixed with an ABS plastic, and is injection molded into a head. In the second version the prepreg is given an epoxy base and the mixture is compression molded. Graphite heads are manufactured with the same weight as the wood and metal heads, but are generally much larger than conventional heads. Again, this supposedly increases the size of the sweetspot. No tests have proven graphite heads more forgiving or longer than other materials.
Improvements in material science have made ceramic “wood” heads possible. Ceramic heads are molded or cast, similar to the process for casting a metal head. Some ceramics offer a higher strength to weight ratio than steel or titanium, but are most are more brittle. A common complaint about ceramic heads is that they chip, particularly if the ball is struck at the edge of the clubface. Ceramic heads have a very different feel and sound than metal club heads and some players believe ceramic heads are straighter and longer than metal club heads, although there are no studies to support this conclusion. The quality and durability of ceramic clubheads has improved considerably and newer models are less likely to chip.
Driver (1 wood/metal) heads with a displacement volume of greater than 250 cc are generally considered to be oversized. Oversized heads with a volume of as much as 600 cc and even more are now available. Contrary to popular opinion, the sweetspot on oversized heads is no larger than the sweetspot on a standard sized head. However, the consensus is that oversized metal heads are more forgiving than standard sized heads, due to the perimeter weighting inherent in the design. This forgiveness produces a longer and straighter flight trajectory on off-center hits.
When using stainless steel or titanium, the walls of the head must be made thinner to keep the overall weight normal (191-205 grams for a 1 wood). This has caused some metal wood faces to crush or dent. For this reason, some manufacturers are bringing mid-sized metal woods to market, which allows the sweetspot to stay large, yet keeps the walls of the head thick enough to prevent denting. Mid-sized heads fall in the range of 250-300 cc. Heads with a volume of 300 cc or greater are often called “jumbo”.
The type of wood or metal wood you should use can only be determined by what feels right. While metal and graphite heads can offer forgiveness on off-center shots, some purists argue that you lose the feel you receive from true wood heads. Another consideration should be clubhead size. At some point the increased drag of a very large clubhead will begin to limit swingspeed. What that limit will be depends on the individual golfer and is probably more of a concern for players with a swingspeed >105mph. However, this should be taken into account if you are considering a significantly oversized driver.
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