If you're looking for your first starter set of golf clubs, or if you're looking to do the same for someone new to the game, there are a several ways to go. You can buy used. You can buy top of the line brand names. You can buy knock-offs, which are well-made clubs from manufactures who don't spend a lot on advertising. Or you can buy a set specifically designed for a beginner. I'd argue this is the way to go.
When you buy used clubs, you can save money. If you're only going to play a couple of times a year, and have no interest in practicing, then going with used clubs makes some sense. But you'll be getting outdated technology and clubs that may not fit your size or be suitable for your swing.
If you buy top-of-the-line, you'll be paying more than necessary. But if you're sure you're going to play and practice a lot, and money is no object and then go with what makes you happy.
With knock-offs, you'll be getting quality clubs at an attractive price. But you'll be much better off buying a beginner package set from these manufacturers. Their beginner sets have incorporated all the design and game-improvement principles appropriate for new golfers. The price can even be less than that of a used set.
Manufacturers typically target their clubs for three types of golfers: high-end sets for the very good, very low handicap golfer; mid-range sets for golfers in the 10-to-18 handicap range; and game-improvement sets appropriate for everybody else. Beginner sets incorporate these game-improvement design principles along with other features in a package that comfortably introduces the new golfer to the game.
The design principles to look for include a titanium driver with a loft of 12 degrees or higher, irons that are offset, perimeter weighted and cavity-backed, and hybrids to replace the three, four and possibly the five iron.
No matter what level of golfer you are, it's important to have a set of clubs that fit your body size and swing characteristics. It's just a lot easier to learn and improve with a set of clubs that fit you. Most off-the-shelf men sets are built for someone around 5' 10". If you're considerably shorter or taller, you'll want a custom fit. On-line merchants offer custom-fit sets for beginners.
An important feature to consider for the beginner, indeed for all golfers, is the shaft, which is made of either steel or graphite. Steel is cheaper and lasts longer and is fine in an iron set for a golfer of average strength and athletic ability. But if you're a woman, elderly, a youngster or suffer from joint problems, graphite shafts with an appropriate flex will help you play better and more comfortably. Most woods and hybrids come with graphite shafts. All shafts come in various levels of flex, from very stiff to very flexible. The harder you swing, the stiffer your shaft should be. Most golf instructors would put a beginner in a very flexible shaft.
Another nice feature in buying a beginner set from an online merchant is you can get everything you need in one package, from woods and irons to wedges and putters, and in a light-weight bag with enough balls and tees to get you playing. You won't have to spend a lot of money, and you'll be set to go.