Drivers aren’t the only faces getting faster.
Our annual review of the best fairway woods in the game…
TIGHT LIES & TIGHT LIES Ti
HOT: The original Tight Lies idea was to flip the shape of the fairway wood upside down: More face area and weight low make it easier to launch the ball high. Now Adams is upgrading its low-profile technology by adding distance. Slots are cut through the crown and sole to help the face flex for more ball speed. But the biggest improvement might be the aesthetics. Unlike past years, the crown opening is filled with a flexible epoxy, neatly hidden.
NOT: The paint job is primer-like.
COMMENTS: (L) It doesn’t feel too light. You sense you’re powering through the ball at impact. Great confidence regardless of the lie. (M) As the jockey Red Pollard said about Seabiscuit, “Though he be but little, he is fierce”.
BIG BERTHA ALPHA 815HOT: OK, so adjustability isn’t your first thought when looking for a fairway wood. Callaway, however, makes a case for it with this compact head. There’s an eight-way adjustable hosel and two sole weights: three and 30 grams. Moving the weights around can change trajectory and forgiveness. There are also three stock heads (14, 16 and 18 degrees), whose loft can be adjusted from minus-1 to plus-2 degrees.
NOT: With only 2 degrees between each head, there’s potential for confusing overlap.
COMMENTS: (L) The compact head lets you work it out of some scary lies. (M) A little intimidating for me. But I kept hitting beautiful, positive shots.
HOT: Rather than having one fairway wood that can be adjusted, this model offers different heads for different needs. In addition to three face heights in the Standard, Pro and 3Deep models, the range accommodates 10 lofts, including the only stock 11-wood from a major manufacturer. Callaway also improved its face technology from last year’s X2 Hot. Like its predecessor, the face wraps around the crown and sole to enhance ball speed. But this is a lighter variation, freeing up weight to help reduce spin.
NOT: The face graphics seem overdone.
COMMENTS: (L) Easy to launch, even the 14-degree version. (H) It produces a woody, powerful thump.
HOT: Anyone who has ever hit a thin shot with a fairway wood (everyone) is the focus of Mizuno’s wave-structured sole. The undulating shape on the bottom is designed to increase distance when you make contact low on the face. Saved weight from a thinned crown is repositioned to reduce spin for more distance. Each of the three heads can be adjusted eight ways, so the total range of lofts runs from 13 to 23 degrees.
NOT: The 3-wood seems a little oversize.
COMMENTS: (L) Pretty much anywhere on the face will give you a good result. A very pleasing, flush sensation at impact. (M) A low-frequency thud at impact, like it means business. Shots travelled out there where they ought to be.
HOT: Like the driver, the fairway wood has crown protrusions called turbulators. But they’re not the source of extra distance here. It’s Ping’s use of a thin, strong steel face insert and a large hitting area that give shots more velocity. All three adjustable heads get smaller as the loft increases to control trajectory. Those turbulators? They do serve as a striking alignment aid.
NOT: The 3-wood would be easier to use if the standard loft started at 15 degrees.
COMMENTS: (L) I can get this up or knock it down a little if I want. (M) The turbulators are mean-looking, like they’re going to kill the ball. Despite that, the feel at impact is baby soft.
HOT: Because fairway woods are no easier to hit straight than drivers, the R15 has a similar sliding-weight channel as the driver. The weight, a hefty 25 grams, can shift to either side to calm your hook or slice. But the channel also has the benefit of creating extra flexibility low on the face. Each loft can be tweaked 2 degrees in either direction, meaning a 3HL loft (16.5 degrees) can be turned into anything from a strong 3-wood to a strong 5-wood.
NOT: The 5-wood is about the size of some of the company’s hybrids.
COMMENTS: (L) Easy to get in the air with a very high flight. (M) The low-profile look gives you confidence that you can get it off the ground easily.
HOT: The visuals are still classic Titleist, but the fairway woods now come with the technology of its new drivers. Specifically, we’re talking about that narrow channel in the sole. It’s thinner and closer to the face than on the drivers, but its function is similar: to reduce spin and enhance ball speed for more distance. There also are 16 settings on the two adjustable head shapes, including the more-compact and flatter-trajectory 915Fd.
NOT: It doesn’t affect performance, but cleaning debris out of the sole slot (a tee is too big) is tedious.
COMMENTS: (L) I felt like I got a little boost off the deck. (M) The sound and feel are sublime – solid, stable, forceful.
BIG BERTHA V SERIES
HOT: If this club looks vaguely familiar, what you’re seeing is a modern take on Callaway’s user-friendly Warbird sole. That, and the company is bringing back the Heavenwood, a 7-wood with a longer-than-standard shaft to produce more ball speed and to launch the ball higher. However, it’s not only a throwback. The modern touches include less weight and aerodynamic shaping. The idea is that the same effort will produce more clubhead speed and more distance.
NOT: We’d like the Heaven-wood better if the shaft were slightly shorter.
COMMENTS: (L) Definitely has an extra gear. (M) It’s the point-and-shoot camera of golf clubs. Produces a consistent high trajectory. The turf interaction was superb.
HOT: If you want the face to flex, it involves more than making it thin. First, you need high-strength steel, which Cobra uses in a larger area of the face than before. Adding a feature to enhance face flexibility also helps: Cobra uses a thin indented ring around the perimeter of the face that’s designed to make mis-hits fly farther. The two adjustable head styles include the more-forgiving, higher-launching Fly-Z and the compact, spin-reducing Fly-Z+.
NOT: High-lofted fairway woods with 43-inch shafts should be a special offering, not standard.
COMMENTS: (L) An aggressive thwack will tell your foursome you drilled one. (M) A classic, compact shape. It distributes the mass nicely for a balanced feel.
HOT: Although the compact Flex version is adjustable and the more-forgiving Speed isn’t, both use a channel in the sole to make the face flex for distance. What’s unique about this channel is the cavity behind it. The support beams within the cavity are designed to focus all the flexing close to the face. The average-golfer-friendly Speed is larger than last year’s Covert 2.0, and the crown slopes more to help shots launch higher.
NOT: Just two lofts on the more affordable Speed isn’t nearly enough.
COMMENTS: (L) It has that fist-into-palm sound that makes you feel like you’re pounding it out there. Impressive off a tee. (M) It produced a good baby draw for me.
HOT: Wilson unveils its lightest fairway woods ever. Fuelled by a 49-gram shaft, the club is designed to be easier to swing fast with the same effort. But it’s not all about weight. There’s also a thin, high-strength steel face that produces more flex on centre strikes as well as toe and heel mis-hits.
NOT: Players who need lightweight fairway woods would likely want a higher-loft option, too.
COMMENTS: (L) One of the easier fairway woods to swing. (M) The lightness is great. I’m able to control it and get the ball up in the air quickly.
(L) Low-Handicapper | (M) Middle-Handicapper | (H) High-Handicapper