From coast to coast, the golf bug is about to spread like an epidemic. The Masters is just a few weeks away, and its accompanying teary reminiscences of Amen Corner and The Shot Heard 'Round the World will let us know it's time to dust off our clubs.

Duffers everywhere are simultaneously preparing for another year of cursing the Scottish, who are generally credited for giving us this addictive, bewildering, infuriating and completely lovable game.

You might not play the driver with the hottest face or the ball with the thinnest cover, but there's nothing like stocking your bag anew each year with the best equipment. Because as anyone from Pebble Beach to Buhl Farm will tell you, if you're going to spend four to nine hours swinging a set of metal and graphite sticks 60 to 160 times, you might as well look sharp doing it.

Today we look at irons and drivers. Tune in to The Good Life for future installments on wedges, putters, fairway woods and hybrids, as well as balls, bags, shoes, gloves and just about everything else golfers need (and don't).

They're Not Really Made of Iron

Most conversations about which weapons to put in your bag start with the driver. Let's begin with the irons. Good iron play can do a lot of things for your game, whether that's putting you in the middle of the fairway off the tee, getting you out of the woods and back into the fairway, or letting you stick it next to the pin with laser-like accuracy.

A standard set of off-the-rack irons consists of eight clubs, starting with the 3-iron and getting shorter and more lofted through the pitching wedge.

If you really want to impress (or anger) your playing partners, show up with a top-end set of Honmas. These fine implements, made in Japan, can set you back more than $20,000, but they have gold and platinum in them, giving you plenty of currency to recoup your investment via wagers with friends and associates.

Of course, you don't have to go quite that high to get an exquisite set of irons. If you call yourself a player, and by that I mean a handicap below 5, get outfitted with Titleist's forged 695MBs. With a steel shaft, the suggested retail price is $135 a club, and for graphite, it's $150. That means you'll pay $1080 to $1200 for the standard three-iron through pitching wedge set.

Titleist Blade

Be aware that these clubs are traditional blades. They're beautiful, but suitable only for those with skills or those who want to give the impression that they have skills. Blades used to be your only choice, but with the advent of cavity-back design, they're becoming much less common, even among members of the PGA Tour.

Titleist CB

For the same price but with more forgiveness, check out the Titleist 695CB (CB for "cavity-back"). You won't go wrong with these. Not only will you draw plenty of compliments, you'll feel important and be less likely to wrap one around a tree after your next shank.

By no means is Titleist, a division of Fortune Brands, the only option. Another to consider is Callaway Golf's Fusion irons, priced at $1280 to $1520, or the company's X-Tours, which retail for $1280.

Alternatively, you can set yourself up with some Mizunos in the $800 to $900 range. Then there's Nike's blades and Pro Combo Tour clubs going for $900 to $1000 and Cleveland Golf's CG1 blades or CG2 cavity-back model, each of which sell for just under a grand.

Science at Its Best

Now let's consider the most mysterious, most simultaneously loved and hated club: the driver.

Today's drivers have helped turn countless golfers into amateur physicists and mechanical engineers. Find another hobby in which product makers try to impress potential customers by filling ad copy with terms like "moment of inertia," "coefficient of restitution" and "vertical-gear effect."

The driver is capable of producing shots that are utterly hideous -- those banana balls seen at local courses -- and others that are truly awe-inspiring -- those 300-plus yarders routinely hit by guys like John Daly.

You probably already know you aren't likely to find many persimmon drivers these days, but if retro is your thing, there's Louisville Golf, which offers several true woods, ranging from $119 to $369.

The Thumper

The cheapest model is Louisville's tribute to a time when men sported knickers and ties and women played in ankle-length skirts. So if you want to pay homage to giants like Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazan, fire up the 1932 Ford and head to the course with Louisville's Classic '30s reproduction in your bag.

Also quaint are the sizes. The biggest drivers Louisville makes are the Thumper and Thumper FS, both of which have heads of 285 cubic centimeters. Today, most driver heads are around the size of a Yugo. (All right, Yugos weren't that big.)

When choosing something a little more modern, drivers of 400cc, 425cc and up to the legal limit of 460cc are the norm. Feel a bit like showing off? Whip that head cover off a $2,000 Majesty driver from Maruman Golf. Maybe you won't outdrive your playing partners, but you should at least gain valuable psych-out points in the preround betting. For the most part, expect to shell out at least $300 to $400 for the big stick.

The TM r7
One of this year's hot items will be the TaylorMade r7 425cc Quad TP driver, retailing for $799.99 on . The regular r7 460 goes for half that price. Both drivers, like others in the TaylorMade line, feature a set of movable weights that are meant to help a player vary the flight characteristics of the ball.

TaylorMade's movable-weight system set the golf world on fire in 2005, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the day might come when they're standard on just about any driver you find. Just try not to lose the torque wrench.


Playing like Tiger Woods is basically impossible, but playing with what Tiger plays isn't. This year, golf's No. 1 player is carrying Nike's new SasQuatch 460cc driver. The garden-variety model of this beast can be had for $299.99, but there's really no need to settle for that when you can have the SasQuatch Tour Driver with a Diamana shaft for $529.99. The pricier SasQuatch has a taller face height, isn't as wide and is designed to produce a lower ball flight that bores through the air.

Callaway, whose contracted pros include Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam, counters with the Fusion FT-3 with a suggested sticker price of $500. The company's X460 or Big Bertha Titanium 454 can be yours for a recommended $375. Cobra's speed-tuned 460 and Ping's G5 can be found online for $299.99, and Cleveland's new HiBore Titanium is priced at just under $400.

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