3 Wood vs. 3 Iron: How to Pick The Right Club for You
Written by Brittany Olizarowicz

Britt O has been playing golf since the age of 7. Almost 30 years later, she still loves the game, has played competitively on every level, and spent a good portion of her life as a Class A PGA Professional. Britt currently resides in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children. Current Handicap: 1

Updated on December 22, 2023

The 3 wood and the 3 iron are two of the more difficult clubs for amateur golfers to hit. For many players, they can serve the same purpose of advancing the ball down the fairway with plenty of forward roll and spin.

Have you found yourself caught between whether to carry a 3 wood or 3 iron? How about understanding the difference between a 3 wood and a 3 iron?

I’ll fill you in on all of this and give you some insight as to what I would put in my golf bag.

 

Overview of The 3 Wood and 3 Iron

To determine the differences between the 3 wood and the 3 iron, we first need to look at what these clubs are and what purpose they could serve in your golf bag.

3 Wood

The 3 wood is the lowest loft wood (before you get to the driver). Most golfers have a 3 wood with 15 degrees of loft, although golf club adjustability has made it easier to switch that to 16 and 14 degrees when needed.

With a 3 wood, you can hit shots off the fairway or from a tee (as a replacement for a driver).

The 3 wood is a low lofted fairway wood with a more penetrating ball flight than other fairway woods.

One of the downsides of the 3 wood is the longer length of the shaft. Expect to work a little harder to square this club up when you take a swing. In addition, with the lower loft, hitting the 3 wood off the deck requires a bit more effort.

3 Iron

The 3 iron is a long iron. Most golfers no longer have irons lower than the 3 iron, but there was a time when a 2 iron or even a 1 iron were produced. Today, they are much harder to find.

With a 3 iron, you have a more thin profile head, with a lower loft, usually around 19 degrees.

The 3 iron has grooves on the face like any other iron in the bag, so expect to get a decent amount of spin when the ball stops on the green (not as much spin as a wedge).

The 3 iron is long as far as length is concerned, a few inches longer than a wedge or a 9 iron.

Swinging longer clubs can cause some issues for amateur golfers, so be aware of this as you play.

 

3 iron distance

Differences Between a 3 Wood and a 3 Iron

Aside from the fact that one of these clubs is a wood and the other is an iron, there are some other differences that are worth mentioning between the 3 wood and the 3 iron.

Length/Distance

The 3 iron has a loft of about 19 degrees, and the 3 wood is about 15 degrees. Therefore the 3 wood should go further than the 3 iron, and for most people, it does.

The 3 iron distance is more likely to be the same as your 5 wood, which has about the same amount of loft as a 3 iron.

However, distance is all about swing speed and the centeredness of the strike. If you don’t hit the 3 wood in the center or have a hard time with turf interaction and your fairway woods, expect to lose quite a bit of distance on this shot.

The same can be said for a 3 iron. Average distances for a 3 iron and a 3 wood can vary based on skill level.

Difficulty to Hit

The 3 wood and the 3 iron are both not the easiest clubs in the bag to hit. As golf technology has improved in the last few years, we have seen golf clubs come to the market with much more forgiveness than in previous years.

If you struggle with launch or even slicing the ball, the newest 3 wood and even 3 iron models will be easier to hit.

Amateur golfers are much more likely to have a 3 wood in their bag than a 3 iron. The modern game improvement set of golf clubs doesn’t even have the option to purchase a 3 iron.

Many players have moved to hybrids and woods to replace the longer irons, and that trend has left it difficult to even find a game improvement style 3 iron.

Ball Flight

A 3 iron and a 3 wood will both have a lower, more penetrating ball flight than something like a 4 hybrid or even a 5 wood.

Center of gravity improvements have made it easier to launch certain 3 woods. When there is adjustability in the club head, and weight can be moved around, expect it to be easier to get a little extra height on the 3 wood.

If you hit your 3 iron or 3 wood low, that’s not a bad thing. Just make sure you are still reaching a peak height that allows maximum distance. If the ball stays too low to the ground, you won’t actually be capitalizing on your golf shots.

Forgiveness

The 3 wood and the 3 iron are equally forgiving if you compare player’s models. When comparing a game improvement style 3 wood to a player’s 3 iron, you see much more forgiveness from the 3 wood.

Forgiveness comes down more to the specific model in this situation than it does the 3 wood vs. 3 iron debate.

Shaft

A 3 iron can have a steel or a graphite shaft, while 3 woods have graphite shafts. Clubs with graphite shafts are usually a bit lighter, making it easy to generate clubhead speed.

The shaft you choose in your 3 wood or 3 iron should match your clubhead speed and playing ability, but keep in mind that the 3 wood will come standard with graphite.

 

Which Club Typically Hits Further?

The 3 wood should go further than the 3 iron. With a little less loft, a club head likely designed to promote distance, and a bit more length in the club itself, the chance of hitting a 3 wood further than the 3 iron is quite high.

 

Which Club is Considered Easier to Hit?

Some golfers would put up an argument with me on this one, but I find the 3 wood to be the easier club to hit. For starters, this fairway wood can be used on a tee as a replacement for a driver, making it easier to learn to hit.

In addition, the modern 3 wood has a very large clubhead and sweet spot size.

Since the release of the hybrid golf clubs, rescue clubs, and the utility iron, we see less and less forgiving 3 irons make it to the market. If forgiveness is your main concern, the 3 hybrid will likely be a better club selection for your game.

 

Do You Need Both Clubs in Your Bag?

The problem with having both a 3 wood and a 3 iron in the golf bag is that we only have room for 14 clubs. So your set has to be loft gapped to accommodate your needs as a player.

If having both the 3 wood and the 3 iron requires you to lose a wedge or creates a gap between the longest iron and the fairway wood, it may not be worth it. Long approach shots are important to be prepared for, but you will be more likely to have a use for wedges and short irons than a club for a long approach.

 

How to Figure Out Which Club is Right for You

If you still find yourself stuck between whether the 3 wood or the 3 iron is the better club selection, here are a few considerations you should take…

Swing Speed

The higher your swing speed, the easier it is to hit a 3 iron solid. The 3 iron is a longer and less forgiving iron and slower swing speeds often struggle to maximize distance with this club in their hands.

Although slower swing speed players may struggle with the 3 wood for the same reason, the lower center of gravity should help with a higher launch and a bit more distance.

Handicap

Lower handicap golfers tend to look for more workability in a club than a higher handicap golfer. High handicappers want distance and consistency, and it could be easier to find that with the 3 wood than the 3 iron.

In addition, the lower handicapper may sometimes look for a lower ball flight or higher ball flight.

The 3 iron can be easier to work with when trying to alternate the ball flight. The 3 wood has less control but a better chance of long distance.

Personal Preference

Some golfers do better with irons than they do with fairway woods. This can be due to the way a club looks at setup or the swing plane that you normally swing on. Personal preference should always come into play when choosing a club.

One of the most interesting things that golf club fitters find is that players will often see that their numbers are perfect for a specific club type or model, but when they look down at it, they just don’t like it.

I know I have a much easier time looking down at a 3 wood and feeling confident than I do looking down at a 3 iron. That thinner 3 iron blade makes it look more difficult to hit out of a  less-than-ideal lie, and my personal preference is to carry the 3 wood because of this.

The Gap In Your Bag

Lastly, you must decide between the 3 wood vs. 3 iron to fill the gap in your bag. If you have a large gap between the driver and your longest iron, the 3 wood is usually the best choice. If you have a fairway wood that you like and the gap is more between the irons and the fairway wood, then the 3 iron is a good option to consider.

Going for a loft gapping session or working with a portable launch monitor can show you the holes in your golf setup and ensure you will find the right club to replace it.

 

2 Comments

  1. Bob says:

    Thanks, I am an amateur high handicap, post back surgery golfer. Hit a five iron pretty well, a 3-wood used to be my go-to club but since surgery it stinks. Will stick with what I have and not try to find a 3-iron!

    1. August Noble says:

      Glad we could help steer you in the right direction 🙂

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Brittany Olizarowicz

Britt O has been playing golf since the age of 7. Almost 30 years later, she still loves the game, has played competitively on every level, and spent a good portion of her life as a Class A PGA Professional. Britt currently resides in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children. Current Handicap: 1