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A test of metal (Or: knowing your golf clubs)

By Staff

Q Titanium Driver

About the minute a person decides to purchase a set of clubs in today's market, they are inevitably overwhelmed with an excess amount of technical information. Some of the information can be easily understood, or at best muddled through, but the remaining technical jargon is not as easily deciphered.

One of the most common questions we hear about is the quality of metals in golf clubs. Everyone wants the best quality set at the best value, and the type of metal may be the deciding factor. You may be shocked to hear titanium is not always the best choice of metal for your woods and irons. The golf industry has tried to convince you titanium is the best quality metal for your value. It may be more expensive, but we will explain why it is not always the best metal to purchase.

What Should I Know About Golf Club Heads?

These are the various metals used in golf club head manufacturing:

  • Zinc

  • Die Cast Aluminums including HST and 6061 Aluminum

  • 304 Stainless Steel

  • Carbon Steel

  • 431 Stainless Steel

  • 17-4 Stainless Steel

  • 6-4 Titanium

  • 15-5 Stainless Steel

  • Beta Titanium

  • Maraging Metal

Each metal has a different level of hardness and playability. Each will offer a different aspect catered to a specific type of golfer.

304 Stainless Steel, Carbon Steel is not as widely used in today's industry. They are the softer Stainless Steels. While they offered the best feel found for irons and woods, they did not create the ball compression and distance favored by golfers today.

Zinc and Aluminum alloys are primarily used in beginner's sets (usually junior sets) and putters. Zinc and Aluminum are generally softer and will not have the long term life of harder metals. Their purpose is to introduce golf at an entry level price, with the recommendation of replacement after a few years. HST Aluminum is a much harder aluminum and is popular in very large entry level drivers. Its light weight allows you to expand the volume but still keep the optimal weighting needed for good club balance. Like the Zinc and Aluminum they offer an inexpensive oversize driver.

431 Stainless Steel is a softer stainless steel commonly used in high quality iron heads. Many iron sets today will be made from this material. 431 stainless steel allows manufactures to create the most forgiving and smoothest feeling iron sets available today.

17-4 and 15-5 Stainless Steel are harder steels found in professional style iron and wood heads. It is less common in iron heads, but popular material for woods. While the harder material will decrease the soft feel found in 431, it makes up for it by creating better ball compression and essentially generating better distance.

Maraging Metal is a stainless steel put through a special hardening process making it the hardest metal in golf. Maraging metal is a popular material for the faceplates in the highest performing woods, although, less common in today's world you usually find it in low profile fairway woods and utility irons.

Titanium is the most expensive material used in building golf club heads. Its combination of light weight and excellent strength allows manufactures to expand the cc of a driver without giving up any strength. Being able to expand the head size in woods has dramatically changed the golfing landscape. Larger heads equal larger sweet spots, much better control, and distance. Titanium head construction usually consists of a 6-4 Titanium body and a Beta Titanium face plate.

Do not confuse Ti-Alloy with Titanium. Ti-Alloy products are Aluminum products with trace elements of Titanium. Ti-Alloy attempts to take advantage of the Titanium name. Ti-Alloy products are among the least expensive and are meant only as an inexpensive price point alternative. Other materials include ceramics, graphite and plastics, with Graphite/Titanium heads becoming increasingly popular.

So, according to its undeniable qualities, why not own all Titanium heads?

Simple. While the technology works in the larger driver heads today, the favorable aspects found in those oversize drivers have yet to successfully translate into the smaller fairway woods and irons. The aim for choosing the right clubs should include targeting the right metal. Most of us need all the help on the links as we can get, and the right metal choice for our clubs can be crucial. Here's a good rule of thumb:

1. Softer Zinc and Aluminum heads are great inexpensive game entry clubs. As your game improves you will likely need to upgrade.

2. 431 Stainless Steel and 17-4 Stainless Steel is about the best metal for irons, lies are easily adjusted, feel is improved and forgiveness is better.

3. 17-4 Stainless Steel and 15-5 Stainless Steel is about the only option for fairway woods since it is structurally stronger and creates more ball compression and in the end, better distance. 17-4 also works well in iron sets.

4. Maraging Metal is less common, but is the highest performing stainless steel in the game. Maraging Metal is primarily used in the face plates of those clubs.

5. Nothing matches the aspects Titanium gives you in drivers. Distance, feel, and accuracy just can't be matched by stainless steel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Re: 17-4 Stainless steel

    Stig Pettersson wrote on: Jun 2, 2013

    When you talk about 17-4 Stainless, do you mean the phase hardening 17-4 PH?
    Best regards


      • RE: Re: 17-4 Stainless steel

        Allen Rlndfuss wrote on: Nov 14, 2017

        I have several maraging clubs,but is hip steel the same or is it different?


  • Great article.

    Wm Tipton wrote on: Dec 7, 2011

    Great to finally understand about the metal in my irons.
    I got some new wedges made of 431 SS and I noticed after a few games that they are definitely softer metal than the rest of my irons that Ive had for 14 years without a single 'ding' on them.
    Id be ready to get rid of these new wedges at this point without having read this article thinking they were made of just metal or something.
    Thanks for the information.


      • RE: Great article.

        Dizzle wrote on: Jul 22, 2012

        I think 17-4 SS is the best because it lasts much longer. I think all clubs should be made of it but it must be cheaper to make them with alloys - like aluminum to make clubs is a bunch of junk. I guess you never know if you get a good make iron with good hard steel you should keep them. The best irons I have seen in a long time is some old MacGregor oversized irons they say "Stainless" on them and you cant make a scratch on them if you ran them over with your car. THOSE are the ones I like.


  • need help playing better with my buddies

    Nick wrote on: May 20, 2005

    My wife has taken up the game of golf in the past month or so. This is great but the only thing is I play very well (by my standards)with her but can not seem to get those great rounds with my male golf buddies. My wife seems to thinks its cause I'm more relaxed and not worried about beating her. This makes since but how do make myself relax and play better with the guys? I shot an 86 last week.....with my wife


      • RE: need help playing better with my buddies

        Charlie wrote on: Aug 18, 2011

        Buy Pings and things will get better. No joke.


      • RE: need help playing better with my buddies

        kevin beirth wrote on: Feb 5, 2009

        each time your golfing buddys hit the ball, tel your self they've hit 2 shot for each one they've actually hit.dont worry about counting your own score, tell one of your friends to count for you at the start of the round.tell your self it just another bad round so dont bother TRYING.i tell my self all my friends are 36 handicapser.best of luck.


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