Irons vs hybrids vs fairway woods – how to choose the best option for your golf game and course

Should you ditch your long irons in favor of hybrids or fairway woods? This guide to long irons, hybrids, and fairway woods will help you choose the best option for your golf bag.

We’re allowed to carry 14 clubs, but most golfers don’t have a setup that makes the most of those options. Particularly at the top end of the bag, many people have two or more clubs that go similar distances, carry clubs they’re not comfortable hitting, or have large yardage gaps that aren’t covered. If any of those things sound familiar, your golf bag could be improved to make the game easier for you and lower your scores. If you’re just starting out and wondering what clubs to get, check out our guide to the best golf clubs for beginners.

The key to ensuring your golf bag setup is optimized for your game at the top end comes down to choosing between long irons, hybrids, and fairway woods – or the best combination of them. We’ve tested thousands of these clubs over the years, so let’s look at the key differences to help you decide which option is likely to work best for you. We’ll also answer some of the key questions people have when it comes to choosing the right mix of long irons, hybrids, and fairway woods.

Players often use a driving iron on links courses


An iron is typically less forgiving and generates a lower flight than a hybrid or fairway wood of equivalent loft.

Unless you have plenty of swing speed, it can be difficult to generate enough height with long irons, which is one of the main reasons golfers replace them with hybrids and fairway woods. A low flight makes it difficult to carry greenside hazards like bunkers or water, and means even shots that do hit the green are unlikely to stop on the dancefloor.

That low flight does have its advantages, though. The high flight of a hybrid or fairway wood can be difficult to control in windy conditions. A low flighted iron can also be a great option off the tee when the fairways are firm and you get a lot of roll – that’s why you’ll see so many of the best driving irons in play at The Open and tournaments with similar conditions.

Some golfers simply prefer looking down on an iron than a hybrid or fairway wood. We typically hit a lot of iron shots and therefore get comfortable with them, whereas a fairway wood or hybrid that only gets used occasionally can feel disconcerting as they require a slightly different technique.

Golfers who hit down on the ball with a steep angle of attack sometimes struggle to “sweep” a fairway wood or hybrid off the deck and therefore prefer to use an iron.

Whilst many hybrids and fairway woods come with adjustable hosels, almost all long irons are fixed with no adjustability.

Long irons: pros & cons

– Lower flight is good in windy conditions
– Clean and simple look at address
– No technique adaptations required

– Harder to generate height
– Less forgiving
– No adjustability

Formerly seen as the reserve of amateurs, many tour pros now use hybrid golf clubs


Hybrids, sometimes known as rescue clubs, have rocketed in popularity since their emergence in the early 2000s. Designed to be a combination of iron and fairway wood, hence the name ‘hybrid’, these clubs have heads that are larger than an iron but not as big as a fairway wood.        

The head shape means the center of gravity (CG) is located lower and further back than in an iron, which increases forgiveness and makes it easier to launch, something many golfers struggle to do with a long iron.

Whilst originally used to replace long irons, nowadays many of the best hybrid golf clubs are available right down to a 7-iron equivalent loft. Many female tour pros have multiple hybrids in their bags and, given their swing speeds are much closer to amateur golfers, it’s evidence that hybrids can be a great option at ‘normal’ speeds.

If you really love hybrids more than irons, check out the Eleven Golf Hybrids, a full set of hybrids that upset the odds to earn a spot among our pick of the best golf irons.

For many, hybrids offer the best of both worlds. They are more forgiving and easier to launch than long irons. They have smaller heads than fairway woods, which can make them travel through the rough easier. Many golfers find it easier to launch hybrids from the deck without having to worry about the dreaded ‘topped’ shot with a bigger-headed fairway wood. And the ball flight is more versatile; by default a hybrid will fly higher than a long iron and lower than a fairway wood, but accomplished golfers are able to create a variety of different trajectories with them.

Historically, good golfers have often complained that hybrids have a tendency to hook and miss left. This was because the initial target market for hybrids was amateur golfers who struggled to launch irons, most of whom were mid-to-high handicappers who tended to lose shots to the right. Manufacturers therefore ensured hybrids had plenty of offset, helping this type of golfer square the face at impact and find target more often. For better players who squared the face anyway, this resulted in a face pointing left and shots heading the same way.

Today, a wide range of hybrid clubs are available to cater to different types of golfers. While draw-biased models still exist, hybrids aimed at better players are set up to be more neutral, and you’ll find them in the bags of countless tour pros.

Hybrids: pros & cons

– Best mix of iron and fairway wood
– Very versatile
– Can be used to hit different trajectories

– Some golfers find too much draw bias causes left misses
– Less forgiving than fairway woods
– Not as much height on shots as fairway woods

Joaquin Niemann plays with a Ping G425 Max Fairway Wood

Fairway woods

With the largest heads of the three, fairway woods can be more forgiving than irons or hybrids and also tend to produce the highest flights and greatest distances.

Sounds like the best fairway woods offer the best of everything, right? Well, not for everyone.

Some golfers find fairway woods harder to hit off the deck, with the larger head shape making them more likely to ‘top’ the ball. The extra mass can also be harder to get through the rough. And whilst the high flight of a fairway wood can be great, it’s not helpful in windy conditions. That’s why you’ll see many tour pros take a fairway wood out of their bags in favor of a driving iron when playing links courses.

Fairway woods: pros & cons

– Highest flight
– Most forgiving
– Longest distances
– Adjustable

– Not overly versatile
– Some people struggle to hit fairway woods from the deck
– High flight isn’t good in the wind

Madelene Sagstrom uses Callaway Apex UW hybrids

Irons v hybrids v long irons: conclusion

If you’re a skilled golfer with plenty of speed and want a more piercing trajectory, long irons are your best bet.

If you want maximum height, distance, and forgiveness – and don’t struggle to launch them from the deck – fairway woods may be the way to go. Just be aware you may struggle in very windy conditions.

Finally, if you want a nice middle ground between irons and fairway woods, hybrids offer a lot of pros with very few drawbacks.

Hybrids can be a great middle ground between irons and fairway woods

Irons vs hybrids vs fairway woods: FAQs

Do you hit a hybrid like an iron or a fairway wood?

A hybrid’s versatility means you can play it like an iron with a downwards angle of attack or more like a fairway wood with a slightly sweeping turf interaction.

Is a 5 wood easier to hit than a hybrid?

Some golfers find hybrids easier to hit than fairway woods, and others the opposite. If you struggle with topped fairway wood shots, you might prefer the smaller head shape of a hybrid as it can feel easier to get down into the ball.

Should I replace my irons with hybrids?

Every golfer is different, so we’re reluctant to make sweeping statements, but if your swing speed is average or below average and you struggle to get good results with your long irons, it would be well worth testing a couple of hybrid golf clubs to see how you get on.

Do I need a 4-iron and 4-hybrid?

A 4-hybrid is designed to replace a 4-iron, so it would be common practice to remove the iron when adding the hybrid. That said, hybrids will typically fly a little further than the equivalent iron, so it’s worth finding out your yardages and ensuring you have good distance gaps, even if that means carrying two clubs that claim to be equivalent but actually serve different purposes for you.

What hybrid replaces 3-wood?

A standard 3-wood typically has a loft of 14-15° and very few hybrids come in lofts that strong, meaning there isn’t a hybrid that directly replaces a 3-wood. The strongest lofted hybrids tend to start around 17°, which would be closer to a 4- or 5-wood.

Does a 7-wood go further than a 3-hybrid?

A 7-wood and 3-hybrid are likely to have similar lofts and therefore, in principle, hit shots a similar distance. The actual performance will vary from golfer to golfer, though, so it’s important to test them out and check the club you buy delivers the distances you want.

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About the author

Rob McGarr is a freelance writer who produces regular content for Today's Golfer.

Rob McGarr – Contributing Editor

Rob has been a writer and editor for over 15 years, covering all manner of subjects for leading magazines and websites.

He has previously been Features Editor of Today’s Golfer magazine and Digital Editor of, and held roles at FHM, Men’s Running, Golf World, and MAN Magazine.

You can follow him on YouTube where – depending on what day of the week it is – he’ll either be trying his best to get his handicap down to scratch or shoving his clubs in a cupboard, never to be seen again.

Rob is a member at Royal North Devon, England’s oldest golf club, where he plays off a three-handicap.

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