Whether you are planning to upgrade your driver or buying your first big stick some simple rules should be considered, including one or two vital ones so easy to overlook.
Buying a cheap brand from a high street retailer, a golf discount store, or even an auction site might seem a more economical move but in today's hi-tech world of golf equipment, if possible we recommend visiting a professional facility to get yourself properly fitted.
It matters not whether you've been a player for two months or 20 years, having your golf swing checked out by a PGA-accredited professional will lead to some good advice.
Shop around for a driver that initially gives you good feedback in terms of looks, a consistent strike and accuracy, then get yourself properly custom fitted. Most retailers will knock off the cost of a fitting (around £40-£50) from the purchase price among their stock or they will build it in to the price of the club.
Even if it's into a net or simulator, rather than a booth that opens up on to the range, the fitting professionals have access to monitoring equipment that will quickly identify not only the flex and length of shaft to get the most from your physique and action but will nominate the loft (usually between 9.5 and 12 degrees) you need to maximise the launch and trajectory that will give you both distance and accuracy.
5 golf driver buying tips
(numbers correlate with picture on right)
1. LOFT - Get the right loft dependant on your ability and natural ball flight
2. GRIP - Find a grip that fits you and feels comfortable
3. LIE - Choose a lie suitbale to your hanicap and game
4. SHAFT - The shaft you need depends on your swing speed
5. CLUBHEAD SHAPE - Get a club you like the look of so you feel confident over the ball
Golf driver head shapes
Buying a new driver needn't necessarily be based on instant attraction, that could be fatally flawed, but it’s important you find a shape your like.
There are generally two or even three styles for sale: traditional pear-shaped, tapered or square - the latter being a phenomenon that lasted for a couple of years before it was discovered that while the shape tended to generate accuracy, technology didn't allow for comparable distance.
A club may have been recommended to you by a fellow golfer or one of the staff in a local golf shop but if it doesn't fit the eye at address, no amount of addressing it, waggling it or hitting balls on the practice range will convince you it's right for your game. The club has to sit there and beg for you to open your shoulders and hit it with confidence.
Drivers today have deep-faced clubheads which are 12cm (4in) in width and with the maximum cubic capacity of 460cc - compared to those of only a decade ago which were around 250cc - mostly with shiny white surfaces like the Adams Speedline Super S or black surfaces, like the PING G25.
If you're a new golfer, look for a clubhead that will instil confidence - encouraging solid contact every time. The more proficient you get, the less need to own the biggest clubhead.
Other factors to consider are the material, face shape, face angle and the alignment aid. Weight should also feed into your decision as you need to get a head weight that suits your swing. If you're someone that is concerned with what your clubs look like in the bag, you may also want to know what the driver headcover looks like.
If looks and size matter, address a teed up ball, so half the ball sits above the face of the club addressed on the ground. Ask the pro to tape up the face and top of the club head to avoid possible premature scrapes and scuffs on the head and allow you to hit some practice shots to get used to the look and feel of the clubhead.
Driver loft selection
Tour pros tend to use drivers with minimum loft of 7.5-degrees. But we don't recommend this for the amateur who's unable to strike each shot in the same spot with the same swing path every time. We're often asked 'should I get a driver loft of 9.5 or 10.5' and the answer is it depends on your swing. Are you a beginner or seasoned pro? What is your plane and swing path?
Single figure golfers can get away with lofts from 8-10.5 degrees, indeed many should consider 11-12.5 degree (HL) options.
Less able golfers can safely sacrifice a little distance for more accuracy by also considering higher lofts - less likely to end up as a severe cut slice.
A custom fitting will allow you to compare lofts and you can adjust your loft to suit your swing. On some drivers you can change the loft manually to suit your game such as the Nike VRS Covert.
Driver lie angle
A custom fitting will also ensure the perfect lie - the relationship of the sole of the club to the ground - which is flat at address to deliver more clubface to the ball at impact. Drivers held with the shaft low and the toe of the club pointing upward severely reduces the area of forgiveness. A fitting will allow you to decide whether you need a flat, upright or standard lie and you can adjust your lie to suit your swing.The Callaway FT Optiforce allows golfers to change the lie at home in minutes.
Some drivers are also ‘toed-in’ two or three degrees, which means that at address the flat of the clubface points slightly to the left (for a right-hander). It's hardly detectable to the naked eye, with some clubs but acts as an anti-slice device to help keep the ball on target.
The shaft of a club is one of the most underrated parts of the golf club and there are hundreds for sale so you can't moan about not having enough selection. So often people look at a clubhead, give it a hit and go straight to the check-out without even considering the shaft.
Getting the right flex for your shaft is critical. While there is no specific formula for choosing the right shaft for you, at least with modern adjustable and interchangeable drivers, fitters can narrow down a few options and screw in and lock them in until you find the most appropriate.
It's down to trial and error but, as a rule, a regular graphite shaft will suit the average golfer with a moderate swing speed. Usually, the stronger the golfer, the faster speed is generated and therefore the stiffer the shaft needed to keep the clubface square at impact.
Stiff, Firm, Regular, Senior and Ladies shafts all feature a different flex, while the comparable ‘kick-points’ depend on whether you prefer a low penetrating flight that's easier to control or one that sails high and may be a tad more difficult to control in the wind. Interchangeable weights in the clubhead, which some brands promote can also effect the efficiency of the shaft to produce a suitable ball flight.
You can also get shafts fitted to make sure you get the right flex and shaft weight but this means you will be looking at a higher price for your shaft. Pure shafts are billed as the ultimate shaft fitting process but again you'll have to pay for the privelege. If you want to make sure you have the right length use a shaft length calculator.
Golf driver grip tips
The grip on a driver solely depends on personal preference and the size of your hands.
When you hold the club in your left hand (for a right-hander) your fingers should wrap round so the tips barely touch the soft fleshy part of your palm below the thumb. If the tips of your fingers make an impression, get your pro to wrap more tape under the handle or fit a fatter grip.
Getting the right grip size is crucial as if you have the wrong size then your pressure on the club may be wrong which will create probolems in your swing.
There are a wide range of brands available, some rubber only, some a combination of cord and rubber, some tactile soft rubber and others leather. Brands such as Black Widow and Lamkin offer top-of-the-range grips and it's best to give a variety a go to chose one you like. Grip replacement is also important to make sure your get the most out of them.
The grip is the bridge between you and the clubhead and shaft – you want to maximise the feel.
Golf driver price guide
Because the latest drivers have a limited shelf life, prices can tumble within months of their launch and before you know it the ‘next best thing’ is on the shelves at your local shop.
You can buy a new modern driver for between £60 and £100 or pay as much as £400. The choice is yours but maybe give our 'premium v budget driver test' a read to help. You could also have a look through our 'six of the best: drivers under £100' or 'six of the best: premium drivers'. In order to get a feel about driver price take a look at a price list which will allow you to do a price comparison and will act as your price guide.
The cheaper end will buy you a driver with a fixed shaft with limitations on flex and loft but more than adequate for the improving golfer prepared to work on the game.
For the latest technology with replaceable weights, adjustable face angles and interchangeable shafts, complete with a wrench for making your own do-it-yourself tweaks to launch angle, trajectory and spin, you can pay between £250 and £400 and it will come complete with a wrench and a handbook to show you how to make adjustments to maximise your ball flight.
Buyer's guide summary
We recommend you try a handful of different clubhead shapes on the range before you get fitted or consider a purchase.
Perhaps even get a second opinion from a golfer who's a better player and, perhaps, a better judge than you are of what might suit your swing as well as your pocket.
And don't be brow-beaten into accepting a product that really doesn't suit your eye or your pocket.
Stand over the ball with the clubhead at address and not only feel confident you can strike it consistently but that it's ball flight matches your expectations. It's not always about distance but consistent achievable distance, forgiveness and accuracy.
A good driver that gives you good value for money, keeps you in play will provide an excellent foundation for your game.
What driver do the professionals use?
Pros are sponsered and change their clubs all the time because they're paid to. However, it's still interesting to see which big stick the best in the world are using and if your pockets are deep enough to buy something similar and you're still hitting it 200-yard your really have no excuse!
TIger Woods - Nike Victory Red
Phil Mickelson - Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme (although he is currently not using a driver, instead employing a Callaway X Hot 3 Deep fairway wood)
Bubba Watson - PING G25
Fred Couples - TaylorMade R9
Luke Donald - TaylorMade R1
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