This post is not: what I think the best equipment out there is.
This post is: how to get the most appropriate equipment for your game.
One thing about golf is that it offers more equipment options that any other sport. If you play softball, for example, you need a bat and a glove, and even a novice could find ones that fit after a few minutes of looking at the local sporting goods store.
Golf? There are enough different clubs and balls out there to confuse even an experienced golfer. Here's how to find the equipment that is best for you.
Let's say you're just taking up the game. Borrow a set of clubs. Hunt the thrift stores to find a set with a bag. It doesn't matter that much, really, what you come up with, but get a few woods, some irons, and a putter. Go to the local variety store and buy some golf balls that cost about $15 a dozen. That will be all you need to start playing golf to see if you like it.
If after a few months you think golf is here to stay, then you definitely need better equipment. You could buy a set of used golf clubs from a pro shop or second-hand sporting goods store, or you could buy a new set. The used option would be cheaper, about half the price of a new set, and would be satisfactory until you decided to make a commitment to golf as your pastime of choice.
If you decide to go new, stick with the major manufacturers. The quality of their clubs is guaranteed. Other manufacturers make what are called "knock-offs," which are clubs designed only to look like a major brand. Their playability and durability are poor, and they are a waste of your money.
About half the name brand clubs sold over the Internet are counterfeit, according to one pro shop owner I talked to. Buy from a pro shop or a reputable sorting goods store.
Also, have a fitting when you buy new clubs.
As for golf balls, there's no reason to play one of the high-end balls that professionals play. It takes a much higher swing speed than the large majority of recreational golfers have to take advantage of the ball's design. Stick with a ball in the $25/dozen range.
Golf balls come in three basic types: distance, accuracy, and spin. A distance ball will go farther, but only 5-7 yards at best. Accuracy balls spin less and thus go straighter, but they won't cure your slice. Spin balls, also called tour balls, stop faster (run less) on the green, but their higher spin rate might exacerbate your slice.
Buy a box of three of each kind of ball, play a round with each, and stick with the one you like the best. That's really the only way to decide.
So far, you have a set of irons and some golf balls. You still need a putter, some wedges, and a driver (maybe). First, the putter.
About one-third of your shots will be played with this club, so you should definitely get one fitted when you buy it. There are so many design schemes, the only thing you can do is try one of each to see which one feels best in your hands, gives you confidence over the ball, and is easiest to swing. Appearance is important here. If the appearance of a putter is distracting, don't buy it.
You should have a sand wedge in the 54- to 56-degree range. This club is designed not only for escaping bunkers, but for pitching onto the green from shorter distances.
The question of how many wedges you should carry is the subject of another article, but a sand wedge, in addition to the pitching wedge that comes with your set of irons, will be enough for most golfers.
Now, the driver. Most recreational golfers should not have one. This is a difficult club to hit, and it creates more problems than it solves.
Instead, buy a 14-degree fairway wood and use that off the tee. You will get all the distance you need, and hit the ball into many more fairways than you ever will with a driver, at least until you become a very good player.
My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.