Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. Yesterday, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.

The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”

There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.

“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.

“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”


17 thoughts on “Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

  1. Amen. “Metal woods” is almost as annoying as saying a putt will break from “left to right,” of course, if it is breaking to the right, from which other direction would it break? Perhaps the club terminology should go back to the use of “spoons” and ” mashies”, so the composition wouldn’t matter.

  2. I agree wholehearted. This has been sticking in my craw for quite awhile. A 4 wood is a 4 wood. I don’t care if it is made with an allow from Mars. It is all in the loft and shape.

  3. I like the whole spoon, mashie, niblick thing. Gives the clubs character. Remember the knife and the blonde haired dude who hit it like a mashie? 🙂

  4. I’ve played a lot of golf courses across the western states with a lot a different people and have NEVER heard anyone on the course use the term “metals”. It’s always 3 wood, 4 wood, 5 wood. TV talk isn’t reality.

  5. Nope. No can do. 3woods are made from wood, and 3metals from metal. When you say iron it is universally recognized for what it is.

  6. <>

    Sorry, but this is plainly erroneous. If you’ve ever examined an actual fairway club, from say, 1980, you will note that along with the actual tree-grown wooden component, there is a slap of metal screwed to the bottom called the “sole.” In addition, the actual hitting surface is made from epoxy. Therefore, to claim that “3woods are made from wood” is only partially true.

  7. I agree with all that have no patience for those ‘metal’ mouthed talking heads during golf tourneys. A three-wood is a three wood. period, full stop. end.

    But I will forgive all, if they would try to mention Woods only once every other sentence and if, please God, they never let Brent Mussberger near a microphone during a golf tournament — anywhere!!

  8. “Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three.”

    While this demographic makes up a large percentage of wood users, there is a small but present minority who still play wood woods, at least a portion of the time, with the following motivations:

    -Respect for the design/architecture of a classic course designed pre-metal wood
    -Training aid to promote improved precision and strength (smaller, heavier clubs)
    -Simple tactile enjoyment of a solidly struck wood shot.

    Many from this small percentage are actually very very good golfers, as they are willing to sacrifice the distance and forgiveness of 460cc heads. I would say that in general, wood user today have a bi-modal distribution between very good and very bad. And we musn’t forget the hickory contingent – old? ya, I guess…. cheap? nope.

    See for example:

  9. Drives me nuts too. One of the worst offenders of this is Johnny Miller. Today he, without hesitation, referred to it as a 3-metal. A couple years ago before the trend was going, he said in a fluster, “well, he’s got a 3-metal…or 3-wood in his hand… whatever you want to call it.” Now he’s determined to make the change while most others are keeping with “wood.”

  10. Why do commentators call irons “irons” when they aren’t made of iron (they are made of steel) yet they call a fairway wood a “metal” because it isn’t made of wood?

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