I can sum up my advice to first-time golf club buyers this way: When shopping for your first set of clubs, it is generally better to underspend than to overspend. After all, once you know that you'll be a longterm golfer, you'll have plenty of time to upgrade - if you think it's necessary - later on.
What factors should you consider before buying your first set of golf clubs? Here are some things to keep in mind when you start shopping for your very first golf set.
Identify Your Golf Goals
Decide on your goals before you go shopping, because identifying realistic goals will make shopping much easier. For example, if you are taking up the game just so you can play twice a year with your brother-in-law, there's no need to spend much time, effort or money on picking out clubs. If you are wildly enthusiastic about golf and plan on playing every chance you get, your sights might be set higher.
Honestly Assess Your Levels of Interest and Dedication
Before you can determine how much you're willing to spend, and on what caliber of clubs, you must honestly assess your dedication. Will you be practicing much? Are you willing to take golf lessons? If you answer "no" or "probably not," then cheaper clubs might be the way to go. Answering "yes" could be a sign that you're not aiming too high if you want something more expensive.
New vs. Used
If you're unsure of your dedication to golf, or if you have a history of taking up a hobby only to drop it later, used clubs might be a good choice. They'll be much cheaper, of course, than new. And because they'll be so much cheaper, they can be easily replaced later.
Set Your Budget
Golf clubs can be very expensive. How much you are willing to spend might be tied to how dedicated to the game you think you'll be. On the other hand, if you have plenty of money to spend and want top-of-the-line equipment, go for it. A good option for many beginners, however, is looking for an inexpensive first set. That way, if you don't follow through with the game, you haven't wasted much money.
Understanding Shaft Options
Two basics of golf shafts that beginners should most pay attention to are shaft composition (steel or graphite) and shaft flex (how much the shaft bends during the swing). Graphite is lighter and can help generate swing speed; steel is more durable and cheaper. Women and seniors will most likely benefit from graphite shafts with a softer flex. Younger, stronger men might go with regular or stiff shafts, but keep in mind that most teaching pros say many golfers use shafts that are too stiff.
What About a Clubfitting?
If your first set of clubs is going to be a new one, you might consider a clubfitting. Many teaching pros do an in-depth clubfitting that lasts 30-45 minutes. If you don't do that, then being measured in a pro shop to make sure the clubs you choose are well-suited to your body type can't hurt. The standard, off-the-shelf length for golf clubs corresponds to a male who is 5-foot-10. If you are around that size, then standard will probably work just fine. If much shorter or taller, get fitted.
The Clubs Can Make Golf Easier
There's no substitute for a good golf swing. But brand new golfers can make it easier on themselves by choosing clubs that are geared to higher-handicappers (also known as "game improvement clubs"). Choose irons that are perimeter weighted and cavity-backed. Look at "hybrid" sets, where the long irons (3-, 4- and sometimes 5-irons) are replaced by hybrid clubs. Get a driver with more loft, not less. Pay no attention at all to what the Tour players are using. Focus on clubs with low centers of gravity and high moments of intertia.
Ask Around and Shop Around
Ask your friends who golf for their recommendations. Walk into a pro shop and ask for advice. Ask your friendly neighborhood golf pro. What would they recommend for someone like you? It's a great way to get ideas. When you're finally ready to shop, make sure to shop around. Price and selection can vary from one pro shop (or department store, or garage sale, or whatever) to another. Identify your price range and stick to clubs you can afford.