3 Wood vs 5 Wood: Learn The Differences & When to Use
Written by Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.

Updated on December 22, 2023

The 3 Wood and 5 Wood golf clubs are two of the most common fairway woods. 

But does the average golfer need both of these clubs in their bags to be successful? When is the ideal time to use each club?

Let’s dive into how they’re different and when to use each…


The Main Differences Between a 3 and 5 Wood

Though there are a lot of similarities between the 3 Wood and the 5 Wood, these fairway woods do differ in a variety of ways. 

Let’s take a look at some of those differences:

1. Loft

Most 3 woods have 15 degrees of loft while most 5 woods have 18 degrees of loft. This may not sound like that big of a difference, but it has a profound effect on the type of shot a golfer can hit.

Why is loft important? Because it determines how high a golfer can launch the golf ball. More degrees of loft are needed when a golfer needs to hit a higher trajectory shot.

2. Distance

The average male golfer hits a 3 Wood around 215 yards. He hits a 5 Wood about 195 yards.

The average distance difference isn’t nearly as prominent in women golfers. The average woman hits the 3 Wood about 150 yards. She hits the 5 Wood about 135 yards.

So, it’s safe to assume that most golfers will hit their 3-wood anywhere from 10 to 20 yards further than their 5-wood. This is because of the longer shaft length and lower loft of the 3-wood.

Keep in mind though, that the added distance doesn’t mean that the 3-wood is the best choice for all golfers. Being accurate with your fairway wood shots is often more important than sheer distance. What good is more distance if your golf ball ends up out of bounds?

3. Shaft Length

Though both of these fairway woods have what is considered a longer shaft, a 3 wood is typically an inch longer than a 5 wood. Most golf equipment manufacturers make 3-woods between 42 and 43 inches long and 5-woods between 41 and 42 inches long.

Shaft length affects both distance and control. A longer shaft gives the golfer the ability to hit the ball further. However, clubs with shorter shafts usually give the golfer better control and more accuracy.

4. Ball Position During Setup

For a 3 Wood shot, you want to play the golf ball about two inches away from the heel of your front foot. This is similar to how you would hit your driver off the tee (except that with the driver, you position the ball directly off the front heel).

For a 5 Wood shot, you want to play the golf ball about one inch closer to the middle of your stance than the 3 Wood. This will help compensate for the 5-wood’s slightly shorter shaft and will allow you to make solid contact with the ball. 

No matter which fairway wood you choose to use, make sure you are positioning the ball correctly in your stance.


When Golfers Typically Use Each Wood

Best Times to Use a 3-Wood

1. Off The Tee

If you’re struggling to find the fairway with your driver off the tee, the 3-wood may be the solution you are looking for. 

Since the 3-wood has a higher loft angle than the driver, it’ll give you a higher launch off the tee and often a straighter shot. PGA Tour pro Henrik Stenson refers to his 3-wood as “the fairway finder” off the tee.

The shorter shaft of the 3 Wood will also give you more control over the clubhead. Lots of high handicappers find that their slice is not nearly as pronounced when they use a 3 wood off the tee instead of a driver. 

This extra amount of accuracy comes in handy especially when you are playing on tight holes with not a lot of room for error.

2. When You’re in the Fairway on a Reachable Par 5

The 3 wood is the toughest club to hit off the deck, even when you have a nice lie in the fairway. However, a great time to use the 3-wood is when you’re trying to reach the green in two shots on a Par 5 hole. (Only try this shot if you feel comfortable with your 3-wood)

The extra length that a 3-wood provides will give you a better chance of getting home in two shots. This will give you a rare opportunity for an eagle putt. Who doesn’t love more eagles on their scorecard?

3. When You Need a Lower Ball Flight Due to the Wind

When playing golf, you have to be prepared to deal with a wide range of weather conditions. One of which is those annoyingly windy days on the course.

When the wind is whipping, you want to keep the ball flight of your shots much lower. This will keep the wind from having such a dramatic effect on all of your shots on the golf course. Since the 3-wood has a relatively low amount of loft, it’s a great choice for hitting those low stingers that will stay out of those nasty wind gusts.

Best Times to Use a 5 Wood

1. Long Par 3 Holes

Some golf courses have Par 3 holes that are a little on the long side. Some of these holes can be anywhere from 160 to 190 yards. Beginners can have a hard time hitting their long irons this far, so a 5 Wood shot makes more sense.

The extra loft of a 5 Wood helps golfers hit high shots that land softly on the green. This is perfect for a long Par 3. Lots of golfers also feel that the large clubface of the 5-wood makes it much easier to hit than a 3-iron or 4-iron.

2. Out of the Fairway, Especially for Beginners

Since the 3-wood is so difficult to master, most beginners should use the 5-wood anytime they need to hit a long shot from the fairway. The average amateur golfer can get the ball in the air much easier with the 5-wood. Again, this is where that three degrees of extra loft comes in handy!

The higher loft and shorter shaft of the 5-wood allows golfers to hit high, accurate approach shots into the green. Being able to hit shots like that will result in lower scores and a much more enjoyable round of golf. 

3. If You Need to Get Over a Tree

Have you ever found yourself needing to get your golf ball over a tree? This is a great time to hit your 5-wood. In this situation, you can hit your 5-wood out of either the fairway or light rough.

The large face of the 5-wood will cut through the light rough and still leave you with the ability to hit a high enough shot that will clear the tree. Never underestimate the ability of the 5-wood to get you out of trouble on the course.


Which Wood is Easier to Hit for The Average Golfer

Most amateur golfers struggle to get the ball off the ground with their fairway woods. By all accounts, the 5-wood is much easier for the average golfer to hit than the 3-wood. Though both are very forgiving clubs because of their large faces, the extra loft of the 5-wood makes it much easier to get the ball off the ground than the lower lofted 3-wood.

The 5-wood is also easier to control because of its shorter shaft. This results in a lower amount of sidespin, which means golfers are less likely to slice or hook the ball with the 5-wood. More accuracy is always a good thing, especially for mid-handicap golfers.


Do You Really Need Both of These Woods in Your Bag?

This is a tough question because the answer depends on the golfer’s swing speed, skill level, and personal preference. Most PGA Tour golfers will keep both a 3-wood and a 5-wood in their bags during most tournaments. However, most pros will swap out their 5-wood for a 2-iron or a 3-hybrid if the course requires more high trajectory shots.

Beginners and even most average golfers would be best suited to keep a 5-wood and a good hybrid in their bags and leave the 3-wood at home. A 3-wood is a phenomenal club, but it’s also a high-risk high-reward type of golf club. Those types of clubs are best left for single-digit handicappers.

Every golfer is different, so there is no right or wrong answer. If you use the 3-wood and the 5-wood for different purposes and you are comfortable with both clubs, then by all means keep them both in your bag.


What Type of Shaft Should You Choose on Your Fairway Woods?

Did you know that most golfers don’t put a lot of thought into what type of shaft to choose with their fairway woods? This is a huge mistake because shaft flex has a huge impact on both the distance and accuracy of your shots.

Light Shaft vs Heavy Shaft

When it’s time to buy some new fairway woods, make sure you take the time to experiment with different shaft weights. A lighter shaft will normally provide more ball speed and thus more distance. Since most beginners and high handicappers have slower swing speeds, a lighter shaft may help them hit the ball further.

However, a heavier shaft may give golfers more control of their shots. Golfers who are low handicappers with fast swing speeds may prefer a heavier shaft for the solid feel and extra amount of accuracy.

Graphite Shafts vs Steel Shafts

You also need to decide what type of shaft will work best for you. The majority of golfers choose to use graphite shafts with their fairway woods. This is because graphite gives the shaft a lighter feel, which is what most golfers prefer these days.

Graphite has become so popular that most golf equipment manufacturers don’t even offer steel shafts off the shelf anymore. Steel is much heavier than graphite, which usually slows down a golfer’s swing speed. 

One positive thing about steel shafts is that they are usually 20% cheaper than graphite shafts. Interestingly enough, PGA Tour legend Tiger Woods prefers a steel shaft.


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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.