Woods are the longest and largest clubs carried by golfers and are designed to provide the most distance on shots. Being able to effectively use woods will make your approach shots easier and increase your overall game. Understanding each wood will help you spend more time on the fairway and less time in the rough.
The first woods were fashioned out of hardwoods, generally persimmon. However since the creation of the first successful metal wood in 1979, dubbed by manufacturer Taylor Made as the "Pittsburgh Persimmon", woods are seldom manufactured out of hardwoods. Today, woods are largely hollow and typically made of titanium, steel, or composite materials like carbon fiber. For this reason, some golfers now refer to woods as "metalwoods" or even "metals". However, most golfers continue to use the traditional name of woods to describe these clubs.
The driver is designed for tee shots and is the longest club in a golfer's bag. It also has the least amount of loft, somewhere between 7-11 degrees is standard. Sometimes still referred to as the 1-wood, drivers come with a variety of options. Shafts can be more or less flexible to allow for increased speed, and club faces can be angled slightly in order to be more forgiving on misplaced swings.
The other woods carried, generally the 3 and 5-woods, are known as fairway woods. While these may be used by some players for tee shots on shorter holes, they are made for long shots off the fairway. They are especially useful for the second shot of par-5 holes when you need more distance than your long irons provide. Fairway woods have more loft than drivers, and also have a slimmer clubhead in order to hit a ball from directly off the ground. In generally, a 3-wood should provide more distance while a 5-wood allows for more loft.
Hybrid clubs are not technically woods but use aspects of woods in their design. Hybrid clubs are essentially a combination of a fairway wood and a long iron. Hybrids are increasingly replacing long irons for their ease of use. Hybrid clubs use the flatter lofted face of an iron and combine it with the hollow head of a wood to allow for farther lofted shots. Hybrids are often used from the rough and in other difficult situations, lending hybrid clubs the nickname of "rescue clubs".