The loft of a club plays a dominant role in how far a golf ball can travel, the amount of ball speed that can be generated, the spin imparted on the ball and the ultimate trajectory a shot takes. Other than the length of a club, which typically correlates with loft, and any equipment concerns such as playing the proper shaft, loft is pretty much the top consideration when it comes to analytic considerations.
For that reason, loft is extremely important. It's a defining characteristic between each club. When you are deciding between a 6 or a 7-iron, really you are asking yourself "what kind of loft do I need for this shot?"
Put simply, loft is the angle between the clubface and the ground. That angle is measured in degrees of loft.
All other factors being equal, a lower loft equates to more distance, higher potential ball speed, a lower trajectory of a shot and less spin being imparted on the ball.
For instance, the loft of a driver is typically in the area of 8-11 degrees, with a few exceptions. That lower loft is meant to produce a lower launch and less spin because you are trying to hit the ball far and straight with plenty of roll.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are wedges with lofts between 46 and 64 degrees. These clubs are designed to do exactly the opposite; they produce a higher launch and more spin in an effort to get the ball over hazards and stopping quickly.
The higher the number is on the club, the higher the loft is. For instance, a 9-iron will have more loft than a 6-iron. The 9-iron is meant to go higher and shorter than the 6-iron, and the different lofts on each club are the primary reason for this. A 6-iron is also slightly longer than a 9-iron, which enables more speed.
There are 14 clubs in a full set, and each of them go different distances. The gap between each of these clubs is referred to as a yardage gap. This gap is critical because it informs the type of clubs you should have. For instance, if you have a 3-wood that goes 220 yards and your next longest club is a 4-iron that goes 185 yards, you will have a difficult time on shots from 190-210 yards. This could necessitate substituting a club, perhaps to add in a 3-iron, so that the gap is closed.
Yardage gaps vary for each player, but 10 yards — give or take a few yards in either direction — between irons is normal. Drivers and fairway woods naturally have larger gaps.
So if that is a yardage gap, what is a loft gap? That is the gap in loft between each club, and it directly relates to yardage gap.
There is no perfect equation to tell exactly which loft each of your clubs should have and what the gap should be between each club. However, there are some general guidelines to look out for.
Start with your driver. Most amateurs will have something around 8-12 degrees. A 3-wood is roughly 13.5-16.5 degrees. It's likely that if you have a 10-degree driver, your 3-wood will probably be around 14 degrees or so. It depends on what you are using it for, however. If you hit a lot of 3-woods off the tee and want more distance out of it, you may want to go lower. If you want more of an attacking approach club so your shots can be higher and land softer, a higher-lofted club is necessary.
A 5-wood will be about 4 degrees higher than a 3-wood, in that 16-19-degree range.
There is a lot of overlap between higher-lofted fairway woods, hybrids and lower-lofted irons. These clubs all go similar distances and have similar lofts. A hybrid, for example is around 18-22 degrees of loft. It can often take the place of a 2, 3 or 4-iron, which are all very close to each other in loft around 18-22 degrees. You do not need all of these clubs and will have to choose based on the type of shots you want to hit.
With your standard irons, loft gap is smaller with lower lofted irons and then gets slightly wider with shorter irons. A 5-iron will be around 24 degrees of loft and a 6-iron is around 27. Then a 7-iron goes up to 31 degrees and an 8-iron is around 35 degrees. A 9-iron is around 40 degrees and a pitching wedge is 46 degrees.
Wedges vary in loft and come down to personal preference. A lot of gap wedges are 52 degrees with an accompanying 56-degree sand wedge and 60-degree lob wedge. However, it's normal for those lofts to be slightly different depending on what your goals are with filling in certain yardages.
And before you ask — yes, a putter has loft. It's usually in the area of 2-4 degrees.
There are a couple of other important reminders about loft.
One that golfers tend to forget is that lower-lofted clubs increase the potential for sidespin of a ball, while higher-lofted clubs decrease it.
This means that shot shape in either direction is greatly influenced by loft. If you are trying to hit it around a tree by curving the ball one way or another, it will be easier to achieve with a lower-lofted club. Curving a pitching wedge, for example, is very difficult.
This may seem counterintuitive because a higher-lofted club will impart more overall spin on a golf ball. However, a higher-lofted club has a few variables going against it in terms of generating sidespin.
The first is that the club itself is shorter, so you can't generate the same level of speed. And swing speed is necessary to generate sidespin. Also, the swing itself is going to be shorter as a result of this, so there is less time for the club to get out of position.
The second is that the clubface will launch the ball higher and shorter. When the ball interacts with the clubface, it is immediately being put into a state of backspin. This happens less and less the more you go down in loft.
This is most extreme with a driver. Golfers work very hard to reduce sidespin for this club, but it can be difficult to manage.
Each club has a stationary loft. That's just what the loft the club is on its own.
However, there is also something called dynamic loft. This is how the loft changes once it reaches impact.
For instance, a player might be hitting a 52-degree gap wedge but they put their hands far ahead of the ball at impact to effective de-loft the club. Now this 52-degree wedge has turned into a 48-degree wedge.
This has consequences because the ball will probably travel lower and farther than normal if all other variables are equal. This could be beneficial if you are playing into the wind. This even extends into the short game where many players will take higher-lofted wedges and de-loft the club to produce a lower shot that has more backspin.
Dynamic loft is directly related to angle of attack and launch angle. If your launch angle is too low or high relative to the club you are hitting, that can be important information to improve your swing.
Loft is critical in terms of understanding how far each club goes.
It is important to find a balance between how far each club carries because this will allow you to take on any shot with confidence. Loft is one of the main driving forces behind that equation.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different lofts. See what it's like to hit a 12-degree driver, or an 8-degree driver, and compare that to what you normally hit. It's a great exercise in understanding what loft does to a shot. And who knows, you may even enjoy hitting a club with a different loft.
You likely won't need to think too much about loft for a standard set of irons, but there will be a lot of considerations at the top and bottom of your bag.
The ultimate goal is balance. You want to go into every round knowing that you have a shot in the bag for every distance, even if that just means laying up to a certain yardage you like for your next shot.
So keep loft in mind — it's a vital piece of having success in the game.