Using a Solid Set Makeup to Play SMART Golf?

Posted by on Apr 3, 2012 in Clubfitting | 2 comments

Everyone who plays this game with even a speck of passion knows that to play your best, you have to play SMART golf.  To most golfers, smart golf is all about course management; knowing when to “go for it” or when to hit the conservative shot.

But playing smart golf isn’t always about studying each hole to know which club to hit when and where to aim it.  It’s also about what complement of clubs you choose to play, something in the world of custom clubfitting which is called being custom fit with the right “Set Makeup.”

Remember, the Rules of Golf say you can only carry 14 “weapons of grass destruction.”  Fortunately they don’t tell you WHAT 14 clubs you can put in your golf bag.  That’s where smart golfers who avail themselves of professional custom clubfitting can gain a lot of game improvement assistance to give themselves a little better shot in their battle against par.

Set Makeup starts with a couple of common sense principles. . .

  • Make it a goal to not put any club in your bag that you cannot hit solid, on-center and in play less than 80% of the time.
  • Make sure each of the 13 tee to green clubs hits the ball a distinctively different distance with reasonably even gaps in distance between.

Now, for more specifics.  What makes any club hard to hit solid, on-center and in play 80% or more of the time?  Please remember this old and true statement about golf clubs; “the longer the length, the less the loft, the heavier the weight and the stiffer the shaft, the harder the club will be to hit.”

Driver:  The driver is the lightest club in your bag.  But it is also the longest and typically has the lowest loft.  If you’re not at the 80%+ level with your driver, go get custom fit for a shorter length and second, go with a little more loft.  If you do, you’ll be knocking at the door of that >80% level for good shots sooner than you think.

Fairway Woods:  Smart golf says the main purpose of the fairway woods is to be your next longest hitting clubs after the driver.  If you are not at the 80% level with your fairway woods, go shorter in length and do not keep trying to hit the low loft of the 3-wood.  Use more loft, like a 4 or 5-wood to become your second longest hitting wood after the driver.

Long and Middle Irons:  It’s great that the golf industry has given us three different options here to find that >80% hitting success level?  But first, throw out your conventional 3-iron, 4-iron and yes, your 5-iron too.  For some of you, add the 6-iron to that list as well.  Modern low lofts on these irons has made them very difficult for the majority of golfers to hit consistently well.  Next, figure out whether you hit a high lofted wood or a hybrid the same distance as if you could hit that conventional 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-iron perfectly, and go with that as your lower loft iron replacement clubs.

Short Irons:  We’ll hope since these are the shortest and most lofted of the full swing clubs, you are not in a conundrum of less than 80% success with these clubs.  If so, you might want to think about changing away from swingweight matching of your irons to MOI matching.  A whole lot of golfers have reported an improvement in accuracy and consistency with their MOI matched sets.

Wedges:  The key to the right wedge set makeup is to first pick the complement of wedges to match best with your type of grass along with the green and sand trap design of your golf course.  The smaller, faster, firmer, higher and more undulating the greens on your course, the more wedges you might want to use.  In addition, choose the sole width and sole bounce angle that best matches the grass and sand conditions on your course.  Longer grass, more moist lush turf, fluffier, loose sand = more bounce sole angle and/or a wider sole.  Thin grass, hardpan, tight packed heavy sand = more narrow sole and or less bounce sole angle.

If you think about professional custom clubfitting for your equipment needs, then you have taken the first step toward playing smart golf!   Hesitate no longer… go and find yourself a custom Clubmaker, and knock on the door of that 80+% level for your shots!


  1. Hi Tom,
    I never thought of set makeup until I took the Advanced Club Repair course at GolfSmith in 1997 where I got a copy of your Practical Clubfitting book. Specifically, this is where I really learned from you about how “Marketing” changed the length and lofts of equipment to give the illusion of hitting the ball farther. The lights went off in my head of why there was a gap wedge.

    When I relay this message to golfers properly, I really get their attention about the advantages of clubfitting … so a belated thanks to you!

    Just curious Tom, have ever thought about designing a modern version of the old specs? I wonder what it it would be like have golfers hit a 1960 spec five iron versus a 2012 spec five iron?

    • Mario

      Good observation because SET MAKEUP can be one of the most powerful changes for a golfer in terms of delivering visible game improvement from their equipment. What with all of the changes in longer length drivers and lower loft clubs that have evolved since the 80s, many golfers do today have several clubs in their bag that they just can’t hit with any level of consistency – especially when you think about what’s happened with lofts of irons. In one of my books, we talk about something called the “24/38 Rule”. Simply that most golfers do not have the swing skills to consistently hit any iron with a loft of 24* or less and a length of 38″ or more. In many of the big companies’ irons today, that means the 3, 4 and 5 iron are on the bad side of that 24/38 level for loft and length. That means some golfers are buying sets of irons in which there are THREE CLUBS THEY CANNOT HIT. Then they have to go out and buy some more clubs, either hybrids or high loft woods, to replace those impossibly difficult to hit irons.

      Anyway, stick a fork in me because I know from your post I am preaching to the choir!! Just echoing what you have learned! And actually we wouldn’t need to design a set with old loft specs – if you want to hit a 60s era 5 iron today, just grab a modern 7iron !!! Put a piece of tape over the number on the sole, take a Sharpie pen and write down a number 5!!!


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