Different golf shafts don’t deviate in terms of design.
Just about every manufacturer makes their clubs so that one day, someone can use them in PGA events and on television. That’s the goal, anyway.
But there are a few differences that you should be aware of. One of those is the shaft construction, and it comes down to two main materials: graphite, or steel.
Graphite is a dense mineral that requires over 75,000 PSI to make, right in the earth’s crust. Steel is the mixture of iron with other metallic elements, creating a refined alloy that’s used in everything from cars to the bones of skyscrapers.
Both sound pretty impressive, but let’s discuss their application in golf club shafts.
Do Graphite Shafts Makes a Difference?
They do if you have a back, arm, or shoulder problem.
Graphite weighs less than steel, but since there are regulations to follow, manufacturers will still make the golf club shafts with the same diameters and lengths regardless of the material.
Essentially, you can pick up a steel club, then a graphite club, and feel a difference in the weight, but not in the length or overall size.
Based on the average swing, you can knock your ball an additional five or so yards with a graphite ball, and a few extra yards up in the air.
Last but not least, there’s a little something called vibration transference. When your club collides with the ball, vibrations spike up the shaft from the two materials colliding. It’s not a big deal… unless you mishit. That’s when it really counts.
Graphite is better than steel with vibration transference. Fewer vibrations are going to rattle your hands, and while that is undeniably good, there is one downside to it if you’re a seasoned player.
When the club collides with the ball, you can feel the vibration in a steel shaft, and it tells you things. You can tell if you’ve actually hit the ball forward, and you remember that feeling next time.
You can sort of tell what’s going to happen to the ball before it lands, and this is just something that graphite shafts – by design – don’t transmit to the golfer.
So yes, graphite does make a difference, but unless you’re looking for a more lightweight club to help with a shoulder problem, the additional yardage isn’t enough of a benefit to really justify seeking them out over steel.
Especially when I get into more details about the pricing later on.
Can You Replace Steel Shafts with Graphite?
You can replace steel shafts with graphite shafts in some instances.
Look at the details of your steel golf clubs, and see if you can find information about the cast. If you see the term “Forged” or “Full Cast” anywhere on your club, then you can’t switch the heads out.
This has a plus and a minus. It means that your clubs are made of one solid, forged piece of metal. It’s similar to when you see a pocket knife with the term “Full Tang,” which means that’s just one big piece of metal.
This makes the club stronger, and with proper care, it will last longer. It does make bending the shaft a bigger problem though, and even while it’s harder to do, it’s not impossible.
On a forged steel golf club, you cannot change the head to a graphite one. Not unless you’re a professional welder and you want to tackle that very egregious task.
On golf clubs that are not forged, light work will still be included, but you can replace the steel shafts with graphite.
You will have to heat the clubhead and remove it, and you may have to buy a new grip. It’s a little involved, but completely doable.
Steel Will Last Longer With Frewer Repairs
As we talked about, a forged steel golf club is designed to last for absolute ages.
Maintaining them, and not being overly rough with them, means that your driver can last longer than the recommended 3-5 years. The same can’t be said for non-forged steel shafts.
While they can withstand a lot of damage, they’re roughly as strong as graphite shafts. That is until the coating or enamel comes off.
Steel is steel, through and through – you can’t fake it. Graphite is durable, but it needs a coating of an epoxy resin or some sort of film to protect it. Once that seal is broken, chipping is more than a possibility. It’s inevitable.
Think of it like this: steel can take chips and dings along the way, but it’s not as flexible, so bending is a bigger problem.
Graphite is more flexible, meaning it won’t break from mishits, but one chip and the whole structural integrity of the thing is compromised.
This article is basically a list of trade-offs. Every time it seems like I’m voting for one over the other, we’re flipping the script. Corrosion is a problem with steel, not so much with graphite.
When it Comes to Corrosion
Steel is metal, and metal is prone to rust. It’s a very real thing that could happen if you aren’t careful.
You shouldn’t bring your steel clubs out to the course on rainy days, you shouldn’t leave them in damp golf bags even for short drives on the way home, and you really shouldn’t store them anywhere with even slight humidity in your home.
It’s a lot to consider. When you look at graphite and its epoxy coating, there’s no risk of corrosion.
Once that external barrier is broken, graphite is structurally unsound, but it’s not going to rust on you if you decide to finish the last five holes in an eighteen-hole kind of day, just because it started to rain.
Now, you have to weigh those options. Do you have a cool and dry place to store your steel clubs? Will you be able to call it quits when it starts raining?
In my experience, thanks to modern forecasting, rainy days don’t rank high on that list, but you still have to keep it in mind.
Notice I said steel. Stainless steel is a different ballpark entirely, and of course, it’s more expensive.
Stainless steel builds up a layer on its surface, regardless of its shape, called chromium. It’s what gives it that fantastic look, the shiny edge to it, and what protects it from corrosion.
Chromium is a few molecules thick – it’s what’s known as a passive layer. So long as this is intact, corrosion will be slower than maple syrup sliding down a glacier.
It really prevents rust damage from messing up your clubs. Stainless steel is also often stronger than standard steel thanks to its unique alloy composition.
Stainless steel reigns supreme, then graphite, then standard steel.
Finally, the Price Difference
Graphite is more expensive than steel, and oftentimes, 5-10% more expensive than stainless steel.
Despite being pricier, most people don’t understand how corrosion works, so they go with the choice that promises to never rust. It’s a fair point.
The main selling point is the difference in vibrations. I enjoy the vibrations that come through from steel clubs, because it lets me know how I’ve hit the ball, and after a while, a learning pattern develops.
I know what’s going to happen when I hit the ball based on the feedback.
Despite that, steel is also in more abundance today than it was in the 1980s when you could often find graphite shafts for much cheaper. It was new, they were fairly fragile, and the coatings weren’t as sophisticated as they are today.
Cost is the biggest difference between these two types because everything else averages out in terms of benefits and drawbacks.
There are fairly big differences between graphite and steel, but it’s hard to truly pick one over the other when they both provide excellent cases.
I have steel shafts for all of my clubs, including my wedge. That’s for feedback reasons. I think that either way you go, you’re looking at an excellent solution when it comes time to replace your golf club shafts.
Your Club, Your Way
At the end of the day, graphite and steel have equal advantages.
If you were using graphite golf club shafts back in the 80s before they perfected these hard composites, then you wouldn’t be quite so lucky.
Both types have also bridged the gap in the price – you don’t have to hemorrhage a ton of money on steel clubs like you used to, thanks to online retail shopping.
Either way, let it boil down to preference. Personally, I enjoy the feel of a steel shaft over graphite.
I don’t mishit often, and when I do it’s definitely a difference, but I’ve become accustomed to feeling the vibrations to tell me if I’ve done something wrong before the ball even lands.