I'm sure you'll agree that drivers are hard to hit straight.
And sometimes we need a little help from the fairways on those long approach shots.
That's where a forgiving 3 wood steps in to give you a safe "go-to" shot on tight holes off the tee and that extra reach when you're just out of range of the green.
I love the confidence I have on tree- or water-lined par 4's, short par 4's and long approaches - all thanks to my trusty 3 wood.
But I don't use or recommend an 'official' 3 wood and I really think this concept will absolutely revolutionize your game.
As great as traditional 14 or 15 degree 3 woods are, they're tough as hell to hit for most people so I have a slightly different take on what the best or most forgiving 3 wood is.
The most forgiving 3 wood is not a 3 wood!
From my experience, I very strongly urge you to get a 3 wood with a loft of 16 or 17 degrees, which is essentially a 4 wood.
And I'm not just spinning you a line. I put my money where my mouth is and I've gamed a 16-17 degree four wood for the last 10 years.
It's my go to club off the tee and approaches over 220 yards. It's simply MUCH easier to hit than anything with lower loft. I've hit 13 to 15 degree 3 woods, and nothing so far seems to be worth the time, when compared to how easy it is to get a 17 degree wood airborne.
This setup will benefit you a lot more than a 14 or 15 degree 3 wood. You'll see more carry and have way more fun hitting a higher lofted 3 wood than with the standard loft of 15 degrees. Often the higher loft will get you MORE distance than a lower lofted 3 wood.
Why, you ask? Well, for average swing speeds, more loft means it's easier to get the ball off the naked turf in the fairway and into the air to carry longer distances. Higher lofted woods are the most forgiving fairway woods in a similar way a pitching wedge has a higher loft than a 4 iron and is easier to hit.
If you swing at a faster swing speed (100 mph+) PROFESSIONAL LEVEL though, feel free to try 15 degree 3 woods.
Most Forgiving 3 Wood
- Cleveland Turbo HB Launcher (best fairway wood for all golfers)
- Cobra RadSpeed (super distance and easy to hit for ANYONE)
- Callaway Epic Max (large club head with shallow face for confident looks)
- Taylormade SIM 2 MAX (best for mid to high handicappers)
- PING G425 (most forgiving fairway wood around)
- Titleist TS2 (best for mid handicappers looking to go single figures)
- Srixon ZX (low spin, long carry)
Best looking fairway wood of the year
Not really a big name on the tip of anyone's tongue, but Cleveland ranges are some of the most forgiving woods. wedges and irons on the market.
The hallmark of Cleveland clubs is the lack of fiddly adjustability. They make simple clubs for the every day golfer who doesn't get their equipment for free and want something that will help their game for real.
From the top, at address, the club looks like a PING wood. As always, the Cleveland woods have minimal face decal which means your eye is not distracted when sitting at address.
If you have trouble with the lower lofted clubs where they tend to slice, or block out to the right, the Cleveland is a tonic for that. It's a draw-bias club, tending to pull the ball more left. Because there is no adjustability in the hosel, Cleveland saved weight to put elsewhere to get the ball airborne even easier.
It's a very basic point-and-shoot club and as always with Cleveland, is maximum forgiveness for almost any golfer looking to get a fairway wood that doesn't feel like a mission to hit.
Most forgiving 3 wood for massive distance
Cobra keep bringing out better and better clubs with more forgiveness and distance. But this one also just looks so good from the top at address.
The best part about the newer range is they've got 4 different size and shape heads for different performance which means you can choose the most forgiving model easily. They positioned the 23 grams they saved with the redesign in different positions on the clubhead for different requirements of each golfer.
Think about which model you would prefer. Do you want more right to left ball flight? The DRAW head is best. If you want a straight shooter, the standard RADSPEED model is all you need. It's best to avoid the Tour and Big Tour models.
Of course with the added forgiveness, you're able to swing freer and getting through the turf better means more distance. The rails on the bottom of the club help glide through every kind of turf. To really benefit from the club, you should decide on which loft you want. Are you looking for less loft or quite a bit more, for more forgiveness?
If you've never tried a Cobra Fairway wood, you need to.
Easy to hit point-and-shoot weapon
A Callaway Epic Max fairway wood is so forgiving. Some Callaway fairway metals may not LOOK forgiving at address, but even I have to admit, when you hit it, it is forgiving.
Which is why I game a Callaway Epic fairway metal. If you have a faster swing speed, the 15 degree option is going to be fine, but if you're a little slower, opt for a slightly higher loft.You want to avoid the3+ though. That means it's a strong 3 wood.
What makes the Max a great forgiving option is that the face is shallower than the Speed version. The shallower face always looks much more pleasing behind a golf ball. It's very important because if you look at the fairway wood and feel like you must "help to lift it" then it's not the right club for you.
The Jailbreak technology Callaway has been using for a while has been put into this one too. The technology does add a few yards as I experienced with my Epic 3 wood which goes for miles. But what we're looking for is forgiveness and with a nice face right around the sweet spot, the Epic Max gives you a large surface area to hit the ball.
Changeable weights for different flights
If you're into changing the weights underneath, you can switch them back nd forth for more or less spin or higher or lower ball flights. The range of fairway woods is extensive int he Epic Max range and if you're looking for a REALL secret weapon, the famous Heaven Wood from Callaway (a 7 Wood) is the ultimate and most unspoken-of hero in any golf bag.
One of the best recent Taylormade releases
These are TaylorMade’s most forgiving fairway woods with larger faces to make mis hits less penal.
The Max uses a 190CC head with V Steel in the sole for smoother turf interaction and forgiveness when making contact with the ground.
Where the SIM 2 Max wins for forgiveness is not limited to the strike. The look of the matte finished crown with the much-more-pleasing-on-the-eye chalky grey line helps to align the face. On top of the alignment, the lighter grey color helps to frame the ball without looking intimidating to get the ball airborne.
The range of fairway woods also wins because there are a variety of lofts to choose from and not limited to the standard 15 and 13 degree options.
Pick the HL (High Launch) model
Once again, the higher the loft and launch, the more fun you're going to have on the course. Nobody wants to send those ground balls down the fairway every shot.
Try the 16.5° fairway wood if you need some help getting the ball in the air.
Forgiving fairway woods as good as their drivers
The shape when looking head-on to the face definitely appears to be more of a hybrid shaped face. The sole is much flatter than what you would expect in fairway woods and sits very nicely on the ground behind the ball. This will help getting the ball off tighter lies like fine-grass fairways and of harder pan ground.
It comes in 3, 5 and 7 wood with a 9 wood also included. But you can adjust the loft only 0.6 to 1 degree up or down. Choose wisely.
The club is light but the head is just heavy enough to actually feel it which is important to know where the face is in the swing. This fairway wood will fit most levels of golfer and is right in line with their drivers...easy to hit and high launching.
Low spin high launch for golfers using fairway woods to approach
Srixon are easily the most unspoken-of top brand on the market. Matsuyama won the Masters with them and I play their irons. This fairway wood is excellent for those approaching the par 4 greens with fairway woods.
They are creating some of the best clubs in the market and the ZX range is the improvement on the prior Z785 and Z585 clubs. Srixon don't release new clubs every 6 months like some manufacturers, preferring to actually make impactful changes in their clubs, releasing every couple years.
Even though the ZX fairway wood has some offset to, when you place it at address, the face sits nice and square to the ball. The head has a shiny crown and a more triangular chape than a lot of fairway woods.
Srixon have created a “Rebound Frame” which separates the face from the crown and makes a sort-of ridge across the head, which looks quite close to the PXG and Callaway.
The fairway woods create a low spin number but couple with a high launch to be able to stop on the greens instead of bounding on. This means longer carries that land at a steeper angle of descent for quicker stops.
Great for a go-to club off the tee
This is the first time I can recommend a Titleist wood of any sort. I have never viewed Titleist's clubs as being aimed at the average golfer but this is the first time they've released really easy to hit clubs.
Immediately the face is what stands out. It's decorated simply with white lines across the face. The classic look continues into the clubhead which is a very traditional shape although quite big. This gives it a more "driveresque" feel which covers the ball, giving a dense of confidence.
For the mid handicapper on the cusp of single figures
While this club is forgiving, it's going to need a level of skill of a mid handicapper (15 and under) to hit, as the feedback from off center hits is clear and you'll known when you haven't hit it well. It's very easy to hit off the tee and sometimes can be hit low in the face off the fairways. l.
A lot of other fairway woods for a higher handicap are much more forgiving in terms of mis hits and feedback into your hands. That's why I say this TS2 is for slightly more skilled golfers especially if the driver is a trouble club - this works great off the tee. Once again the 16 or 18 degree loft is going to be ideal for anyone trying to break into the 70's so they can get that all-important go-to club off the tee on tight holes.
3 Wood Buying Guide
Why you need a 3 wood
A lot of press is given to the driver because it's the club everyone wants to hit like Bubba Watson or Dustin Johnson. Drivers take up most of the hype in the marketing campaigns but there is the little brother that should be a superstar too...the 3 wood.
For ordinary golfers like you and me, the 3 wood presents an alternative to a driver. Sometimes we struggle with the driver, slicing it OB or topping it and not even reaching the ladies' tee (embarrassing). But enter the 3 wood and we can use it in so many situations:
- For long par 3's you can't reach with your irons/hybrids
- For long approach shots just outside your hybrid range
- Excellent distance off the tee, often equal to a driver!
- Accurate shots due to increased loft which increases forgiveness
- Reaching par 5's in two shots
- Customization of modern 3 woods means you can adjust settings to suit your needs
Choosing a 3 Wood Loft - How Many Degrees?
My next suggestion is where I might deviate from conventional thought...
I highly and super strongly recommend a 3 wood with 16 or 17 degrees loft for the majority of golfers instead of a 14° or 15° club.
Essentially this is a 4 wood loft. This club is going to benefit the majority of players out there. The extra loft is easier to get the ball up in the air off the fairway and will actually produce far more consistent results than a 14° or 15° club.
Some golfers are very skilled and with their skill level they can get the ball airborne easily with a low lofted 3 wood. While this is good for them, I want to help the average golfer and the most forgiving 3 wood in my opinion is a 4 wood.
What to Expect with 3 Wood Distance
This is a tough question. It all depends on your swing speed, your hitting ability and the loft of the club.
If you're a slower swinger you would benefit more from a higher lofted 3 wood (16°-17°) because you'll get more carry. This will translate into longer shots. The lower lofted 3 woods (14°-15°) will be MUCH more difficult to get travelling in the air and would actually perform too poorly for you. As a slower swinger, you could hit the 16 or 17 degree 3 wood around 180-200 yards.
If you're an average swinger of 80-90mph then you'd also gain more from a 16° or 17° 3 wood. You'll be able to get it to travel 190-215 yards easily. In fact, a higher lofted 3 wood might go FURTHER than a lower lofted.
If you're a faster swinger and want to use a stiff shaft (90-100 mph) then you could benefit from 14° to 17° 3 woods. You have the swing speed but it depends on your reliability. I still suggest selecting from the upper range of lofts. Even lower handicap players prefer a higher lofted 3 wood for ease of use. You could find yourself hitting the club anywhere from 200 to 240 yards.
When to use a 3 wood
When NOT to use a 3 wood
- If you're a slower swinger and/or a higher handicapper then a forgiving 3 wood (higher loft, softer shorter shaft) will help you gain more distance.
- When you want to get close to a green in two shots on a par 5. Hit it only when you know you can reach. Leaving a half shot into a green is never ideal.
- When you're "a long way out" just to advance the ball up there somewhere. This is a big reason golfers have blow-out holes because the 3 wood is not the most forgiving club. If you're 260 yards from a green on a par 4, get it to your favorite distance so you have an easy 3rd shot in. That might mean hitting a 6 iron and then a wedge for those 260 yards.
- When there's water around the green and you're at the edge of your 3 wood range
What's the difference between a 3 wood vs a 3 hybrid?
A 3 wood is the equivalent of a 1 iron. A one iron is impossible for 99% of golfers to hit whereas a 3 wood is actually quite easy.
A 3 hybrid is there to replace a 3 iron. 3 irons are infamous for being difficult to hit for most golfers. The creation of hybrid clubs means that a lot of golf iron sets now start at 5 iron because you're expected to buy a 3 and 4 hybrid separately. A bit cheeky from the manufacturers, but it's clear no one misses their long irons after hitting a hybrid.
- Better from the fairway and tee
- Potentially longer carry
- Lower ball flight
- Rolls much longer
- More forgiving than a driver and long irons
- Difficult from fairway bunkers
- Needs a sweeping swing like a driver
- Better from the rough
- Potentially shorter carry
- Higher ball flight
- Lands softer
- More forgiving than a wood and long iron
- Easier from fairway bunkers
- Best results from a steep swing hitting down on it like an iron
Modern 3 wood design & materials
The heads of the 3 woods are made from steel, titanium and composites. Technology has advanced so much that some 3 woods can be as long as drivers. Henrik Stenson prefers his 3 wood to the driver.
3 woods now all come with a graphite shaft. The shaft length makes a big difference - a longer shaft means more distance while a shorter shaft means more accuracy. Talk to your local club fitter about shortening your shaft length to make the club even more forgiving for you.
A high lofted fairway wood will serve all golfers better than lower lofted woods. The premise is simple. More loft = more forgiveness. As I mentioned in the beginning of this guide, my 17 degree wood is my go-to club and when I have no confidence with the driver, I reach for it in a heartbeat.
What will most surprise you is the extra distance you'll get when increasing the loft especially if your swing is a bit slower. Any of the clubs on this list will serve you well and get you in the right areas of the course more often.