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 when we are at that upper range of our irons or hybrids.
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 helping hundreds of fellow golfers, 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 17 degree four wood for the last 10 years - I play off a single figure handicap now too.
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
- Tour Edge Exotics EXS (best fairway wood for all golfers)
- Cobra F9 Speedback (super distance and easy to hit for ANYONE)
- Callaway Mavrik (large club head feels like a driver)
- Taylormade RBZ Black (best for mid to high handicappers)
- PING G410 (most forgiving driver around)
- Titleist TS2 (best for mid handicappers looking to go single figures)
- Taylormade M4 High Loft (straightest shooter)
Not really a big name on the tip of anyone's tongue, yet Tour Edge Exotic range are some of the finest fairway woods and for many years, Tour Edge have been famous for the fairway woods they produce. The Exotics EXS range come with Mitsubishi shafts which are excellent and
The wide range of weights of shafts (50g, 60g and 70g) help you to pick whether you want some more swing speed (lighter ) or more control (heavier). On top of that, there are five different lofts available. Now if you're a skilled playa, then 13 or 15 degree may be your go-to tee club from now on. But if you're like most people, the 17 and 18 degree option is going to really help you off the tee and the fairways.
The low profile of the club, as well as the white lines contrasting the black simple club head, makes this club easy to align and also easy to hit off the fairways. This is genuinely a FAIRWAY wood and will fly high and handsome as all Tour Edge products do.
Despite appearing to have a low profile, the club face is actually quite deep when looked at head-on. This will be great for those of us who like to hit it off the tee.
Lots of options
The wide range of weights of shafts (50g, 60g and 70g) help you to pick whether you want some more swing speed (lighter ) or more control (heavier).
On top of that, there are five different lofts available. Now if you're a skilled playa, then 13 or 15 degree may be your go-to tee club from now on. But if you're like most people, the 17 and 18 degree option is going to really help you off the tee and the fairways.
You can also switch the two weights in the sole around to experiment with ball flights.
Cobra keep bringing out better and better clubs with more forgiveness and distance. The best part about the newer range is they've reintroduced the Baffler rails under the club. They're two chrome colored rails which are used in a way to get the club through the turf instead of digging which is making their hybrids and fairway woods TOP choices for forgiveness.
Of course with the added forgiveness, you're able to swing freer and getting through the turf better means more distance. 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?
The F9 Speedback lets you change the loft of the face by removing and reinserting the shaft. If you're keen to try a 14 degree, it will also allow you to loft up to 16 degrees. The 5/6 wood option allows you to start at 17 degrees and adjust to 20 degrees. The F9+ (plus) 5/6 option lets you adjust from 16 to 19 degrees which I think is the sweet spot of lofts for amateurs.
Only one thing that isn't great
If you're a stickler for a classic look and shape of a club head at address, you might not enjoy looking down at this. The new range from Cobra has taken a leaf out of the Taylormade and Ping book and have made a crown with some strange shapes on top.
The big difference is that Cobra have kept the crown black compared to Taylormade's white or grey, and Cobra have also put a little logo on the crown whereas the Ping has the same matte top just without a logo.
If you prefer silver and black, you're in luck. The yellow is an option as well as the grey.
Easy to hit point-and-shoot weapon
The 17 degree Callaway Mavrik is right in the sweet spot of being a 4 wood which allows for much better ball flight that will give you more carry as well as a quicker stopping ball when hitting into the greens,. The 15° is a great option if you have a faster swing speed or play off a lower handicap. Slower swingers and mid to high handicappers are going to love the 17° for that extra forgiveness and distance in the air.
The Jailbreak technology from the previous driver to this, the Epic has been put into this one too. The technology does add a few yards as I experienced with my Epic driver. But what we're looking for is forgiveness and with a nice tall face right around the sweet spot, the Rogue gives you a large surface area to hit the ball.
Looks and loft range
The Sub Zero version of this club have a much more classic, smaller head look with fewer decorations. The face is merely lined with a few white lines across the whole face while the standard Rogue has a spider looking decal on the sweet spot.
With a wide range of lofts, there are so many options to look at and if you're convinced by the higher loft being easier to hit, like I am, you'll find a 5 wood and even a 6 wood in there.
Taylormade has a top range and they have a mid-range and for those of us who don't want to spend a fortune on the top range clubs, the mid-range provides equal forgiveness and distance. The RBZ range of Taylormade has been so popular on the golf course, it's hard to find a mid to high handicapper without some model or form of an RBZ in his bag.
They've changed the crown and head color to black from the older versions which were white. That clearly wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
What you find with the RBZ range is the club has no adjustability which is a great feeling for a lot of us who have the FOMO (fear of missing out) where you think about all the settings and which ones will be optimal; always doubting that the ones you're using are even right for you. It's always good to keep that in mind when thinking about buying an adjustable club.
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.
These clubs are great for slower swingers, seniors, beginners and those who don't want to spend much. The bang for the buck is incredible and easily one of the more popular ranges from Taylormade.
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.
Extra loft to get it airborne easier
Taylormade has to be on the list of best 3 woods because Taylormade have expanded on the M2 which were superb and made the M4 even more forgiving with longer distance off more of the club face. They've made the face thinner so it catapults the ball further with less effort. This 'high loft" comes in 16.5° without a sliding weight so it's a simple point and shoot wood to avoid decision paralysis when finding your "ideal" settings.
Most noticeable is the extra distance you get from a shot hit lower in the face and there's no more white all over the crown. The top has a silver piece which offers the same contrast to the black crown for easy alignment, without the blinding white.
Choose the HL - High Loft version for more forgiveness
The M3 by Taylormade is a similar club with similar lofts but you can adjust the lofts as well as move around a little weight on the sole of the club. The M4, featured here, is a set 16.5° and reduces the anxiety that the adjustable lofts and weight plate can introduce to your game. I'm a firm believer in making this game simple but if you like tinkering, then the M3 would be more up your alley. Keep in mind, the M4 is more for the mid handicapper, while the M3 would be for mid to low handicappers.
The M4 however is a great piece of weaponry and goes a little further than the M3 from what I have seen. Club head size is also a little larger than the M3 which gives you that feeling of covering the ball, making it difficult to hit a bad shot.
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.