Which golf club should I carry between a 5 wood vs 3 iron?
This is a popular question I receive from high handicap golfers looking to upgrade their equipment. Overall, a 5-wood makes the most sense for less skilled golfers, as it possesses enhanced moment of inertia (MOI) to produce straight, consistent strikes.
However, it is worth owning both clubs to prepare for any golf course or weather conditions. In this post, I zone in on features, benefits, and differences of the clubs in question. By the end you will know when to carry a 5-wood and leave the 3-iron at home.
Table of Contents
Overview of The 5 Wood and 3 Iron
Although a 5-wood and 3-iron carry similar lofts, they are remarkably different golf clubs. A 5-wood features an enlarged crown construction and a lower center of gravity (CG).
The enlarged head produces optimal MOI to keep the clubface square at impact. Therefore, a 5-wood promotes straight, long shots for optimal carry distance.
A 3-iron presents a reduced surface area to strike the golf ball. In addition, they are built to deliver a lower launch angle, suitable for windy conditions and links courses.
Differences Between a 5 Wood and a 3 Iron
The clearest difference between a 5 wood vs 3-iron is the construction of the head. A 5-wood features an enlarged crown design with a wide sweet spot. The increased crown size enabled the engineers to position additional mass in the head for a towering flight and a consistent and forgiving shot.
In addition, the expanded sweet spot helps you maintain ball speed and minimize side spin on heel and toe mishits. Therefore, you produce optimal distance and accuracy.
Conversely, a 3-iron features a blade construction that is higher, but narrower than a 5-wood. This design results in a reduced sweet spot compared to the wood, which can cost you distance and accuracy on off-center strikes.
However, modern game improvement long irons contain perimeter weighting and a low and back CG. This helps you accelerate ball speed on mishits to produce consistent yardage.
The shaft length of these two clubs differs, albeit marginally. However, shaving an inch off your shaft impacts your ball position at address. If it is too far forward for a shorter design, it causes you to hunch over at address. This posture sets you up for an out-to-in swing path prompting an open clubface at contact.
On the contrary, placing the ball too far back in your stance for a longer shaft leaves you limited time to square the face up at impact. Therefore, you generate sidespin that causes a slice, sending your ball into the deep right rough.
The average length of 5-woods with steel shafts ranges from 41.5 to 42 inches. On the other hand, the standard graphite shaft for this club measures 42 to 42.5 inches. The longer length of these clubs means that your ball should sit towards your front foot.
A standard 3-iron with a steel shaft clocks in at 39 inches, while a graphite construction reaches 39.5-inches. The shorter shaft length of a 3-iron requires you to move your ball to the front center of your setup.
The longer shaft length of a 5-wood helps to boost clubhead speed over a 3-iron. Data gathered by Trackman shows that the average swing speed with a 5-wood is 103 mph as opposed to the 3-iron’s 98 mph.
Rapid clubhead velocity increases a golfer’s ability to impart optimal energy onto the ball at impact, leading to accelerated ball speed.
Considering both these clubs carry a loft of 18 to 19 degrees, you would expect a similar launch angle and apex. However, they deliver varying ball flights making them suitable for different weather and golf course layouts.
Trackman found that PGA professionals achieve a maximum height of 31-yards with a 5-wood. This trumps the 3-iron apex of 27 yards.
Therefore, a 5-wood towers the ball flight of a 3 iron, making it suitable for well-manicured courses and clear conditions. The higher trajectory helps you boost carry distance which helps on fairways that deliver limited roll. Plus, the flight encourages a soft landing to stop your ball rapidly on tight greens and landing zones.
On the contrary, a 3-iron works on firm turf that promotes roll. In addition, the low launch is welcome in windy conditions, where you strive to fly the ball under the breeze.
Although the above statistics represent PGA Tour Pros and not amateurs, the results are similar. Whether you are low, mid, or high handicappers, you probably launch a 5-wood higher than a 3-iron.
Remaining with the Trackman data, we turn to carry distance. The golf launch monitor giant discovered that professionals hit a 5-wood farther than a 3-iron. On average, a PGA Tour player sends their 5-wood 230-yards. Unfortunately, there is no indication whether that includes fairway, rough, and tee shots.
In addition, their data suggests that a 3-iron carries 212-yards on average. As a result, the iron travels 18-yards less than its fairway wood nemesis.
In 2018, another golf data provider Arccos released statistics on fairway woods vs hybrids vs irons for average golfers. They broke down the results by handicap category. Overall, their findings complemented those of Trackman except for low handicapper golfers.
In their case, they found that superior amateurs send their 3-iron tee shots farther than a 5-wood. The difference is 7-yards. A possible explanation for this result is that these players generate excess backspin rpm with 5-wood tee shots, leading to a marginal loss of carry distance.
Despite this finding, mid handicappers and those with high handicaps produce increased yardage with the fairway wood over an iron.
I mentioned that the high ball flight of a 5-wood shot tends to restrict your roll upon landing. That means your golf ball stops rapidly and does not gain extra yards on the floor. Reduced roll is the difference between driving a par 4 green or putting yourself in position to reach a par 5 in 2.
On the other hand, the low launch of a 3-iron propels the ball forward after it hits the ground. This helps you achieve extra distance. Especially if your ball catches the correct slope, it can run for yards.
Which Club Typically Hits Further?
Based on the data gathered from Trackman and Arccos, it is evident that a 5-wood hits further off the tee and the deck.
The Trackman report does not state whether their stats are for shots from the tee or off the deck. Nonetheless, they learned that PGA Tour players carry a 5-wood 230-yards on average. This exceeds the average 3-iron result of 212-yards.
Which Club is Considered Easier to Hit?
The enhanced MOI of a 5-wood, coupled with its low CG and expanded sweet spot, make it easier to hit. Especially for beginners with slower swing speed. Players in this bracket generally struggle to consistently get their ball into the air, making the 3-iron a tough partner.
Do You Need Both Clubs in Your Bag?
It is unnecessary to carry both clubs in your bag, as they carry similar lofts. Adding the two leaves you with fewer slots for wedges, which I prefer more than long clubs.
Despite my view on carrying both in your bag, I believe you should own a 5-wood and 3-iron. You want the option of a 3-iron for days where heavy wind is forecast, or you are playing a links course. The low launching nature of the iron helps you keep the ball out of the breeze and promote maximum forward roll.
How to Figure Out Which Club is Right for You
My first suggestion for amateurs is to get fitted. Visiting a professional fitter provides detailed insight into your swing to help you identify the best option.
Of course, this increases your start-up costs. I have compiled a checklist below for those looking to keep their expenses to a minimum.
I spoke about the clubhead speed advantages of a longer shaft. Since a 5-wood has a taller construction, it makes sense that you produce accelerated swing speed. The downside of a long shaft is that it is difficult to control. This can lead to inaccurate strikes, reducing your smash factor, ball speed, and distance.
You may find that the shorter shaft of a 3-iron increases your control over the golf club. As a result, it might be easier for you to find the center of the clubface.
What ball flight do you desire? Are you looking for a high-flying shot that lands softly? Or is a low-flying shot with maximum roll more up your alley? Your answer to this question can guide your decision on which club is best for you.
Golfers seeking towering ball flight and soft landing on approach should stick to the 5-wood. The low CG and high MOI encourage straight, high golf shots for a consistent long game. On the contrary, a 3-iron is better for those who prefer low trajectory and additional roll upon landing.
If you only have the budget for one of these clubs, I urge you to factor in the weather forecast. Obviously, every day brings about different conditions. However, you should think about the typical conditions at your golf course.
Areas with constant wind do not favor the high launching 5-wood. Instead, the low-flying 3-iron keeps your ball below the breeze to maximize distance in these conditions.
Home Course Design
Finally, the layout of your home course should guide your decision. Don’t add a 3-iron to your bag if the greens are narrow and demand a soft landing. On the contrary, the towering flight of a 5-wood will cost you total distance on firm, windy links courses.
Related Reading: If a long iron is not on your radar, you may prefer learning how fairway woods compare to high launching hybrids. Read our review on the 5-wood vs 3-hybrid.