According to the governing bodies of golf, the Royal and Ancient and the United States Golf Association a golfer is allowed to carry a maximum of 14 clubs in their bag.
That’s the short and simple answer but the topic is much deeper and broader than this.
It opens the door to the great debate of which clubs should I have in my bag.
What Clubs Should I Carry?
That will depend on your skill. A pro will carry a very different mix of clubs than a high handicap golfer, a senior golfer, a junior golfer and even a fairly decent amateur.
The following would be considered a “standard set of clubs” but what’s in the bag varies among players.
Standard set of golf clubs
- 3 Wood
- 5 Wood
- 2 iron
- 3 iron
- 4 iron
- 5 iron
- 6 iron
- 7 iron
- 8 iron
- 9 iron
- Pitching Wedge
- Sand Wedge
What 14 clubs do pros carry?
Since only 14 clubs are allowed, professional golfers deliberate this question and usually substitute the 5 wood and 2 iron for a gap wedge and a lob wedge. They’re able to do this because they hit the ball so far. For instance on a 240 – 250 yard par three they can usually hit a 3 or a 4 iron. If they’re more than 250 yards away they can knock down a 3 wood or control a high fade.
They use the gap wedge with a loft of about 50 – 52 degrees to fill in the ranges between their pitching wedge and their sand wedge. A pro golfer will almost certainly add a lob wedge with anywhere from 56 – 64 degrees to their golf bag.
This wedge is used for difficult and delicate chips and from about 100 yards in.
By using this three wedge system the pros are able to “dial in” their shots from about 150 yards in to give them more chances at birdies. And since they hit the ball so far, on even some of the longer par 4s of 450 yards and less they will often times have a wedge approach shot to the green.
Carry the clubs that suit your game
You should carry the golf clubs that suit your golf game and the golf course that you play primarily. For instance if you are a longer hitter and it’s a short course you might not need a bunch of fairway woods and would probably want the gap wedge and lob wedge to help you with the shorter yardage shots.
If you play a longer course then you might want to keep the 5 wood and 2 iron in the golf bag. If your swing speed is slower than average or there is considerable rough on the course then you might need to play with some hybrids instead of longer irons.
For instance a 50 year old golfer might have a 2 hybrid, 3 hybrid and a 4 hybrid instead of these long irons. A good amateur or a pro might carry a hybrid on occasion depending on the greens and the rough.
How to arrange golf clubs in a bag
Arranging a golf bag is fairly straightforward.
Here’s a standard 14 golf club bag set up.
The top of the bag is the side with the shoulder straps.
The longer clubs go on the top and the shorter clubs go on the bottom and the middle length clubs go in the middle.
Except for the putter which also goes in the top compartment.
This means the driver, fairway woods and the putter are in the top compartment.
Next are the middle compartments with the long to middle irons (2-7 iron).
Finally the short irons (8 – PW) and all sand wedges are in the bottom compartment.
Most golf bags these days are slightly taller on the top side to allow for this arrangement.
Why doesn’t the putter go in the bottom section since it is the shortest club?
Since it is used the most frequently it needs to be found the easiest. It gets differentiated by length being in the top compartment and is easily found.
It is also kept away from the other irons in the bag and therefore doesn’t get beat up with nicks due to all the banging around due to jostling and such.
Arranging other golf equipment in a golf bag
Arranging clubs is a bit of a science but where and how you put everything else into your bag is a matter of preference. Normally there is a large compartment on the side for rain and wind gear.
Bags and pockets on the top side of the bag are normally dedicated to golf balls, tees, ball markers, divot repair tools and gloves.
Other compartments hold car keys, cell phones, wallets, band aids, bug spray, sunscreen, etc
Minimum number of clubs in a golf bag
There is no minimum number of clubs allowed in a golf bag so theoretically you could just use one club.
Would you even need a bag if this were the case?
Does the putter count in the 14 clubs?
Yes, the putter counts as one of the 14 clubs in your bag.
Can you carry 2 putters in your bag?
Yes, you can carry 2 putters in your bag. In fact you could carry 0 to 14 putters in your bag, just as long as you don’t exceed 14 total clubs allowed in your golf bag.
Phil Mickelson once carried two drivers in his bag during the US Open. He had one driver for a draw and one driver for a fade. It just depended on which hole he was on and how the tee markers were set up.
Why only 14 clubs in a golf bag?
Imagine golf without this rule?
Let’s go back to the early 1900’s before the 14 club rule was introduced.
Before 1938 golfers could carry as many clubs as they wanted. It was starting to get ridiculous when golfers were showing up with 35 or more clubs.
Caddies were complaining. Golf bags were getting extremely heavy.
Poorer golfers were complaining. They couldn’t afford so many golf clubs.
Golf purists were complaining. Golf was more about the number of clubs you owned rather than the golfer’s skill.
Every day players were complaining. Play was slowing down as golfers were overwhelmed with club selection decisions on every shot.
In 1935 the USGA polled the golfers in the U.S. Open to determine how many clubs they carried. On average the pros and amateurs were carrying 18 clubs.
A standard set of clubs at the time was 4 woods, 9 irons and a putter.
The Royal and Ancient (R&A) and United States Golf Association governing bodies announced in 1936 that beginning in 1938 all golfers would be limited to a maximum of 14 clubs.
This would give golfers 2 years to determine which clubs to use.
Can you carry more than 14 clubs?
The short answer is no. The number of clubs allowed in a golf bag is 14.
According to the rules of golf a player must not start a round with more than 14 clubs or have more than 14 clubs during play.
What if I have more than 14 golf clubs in my bag?
If the player started with more than 14 clubs then they can remove any club(s) they choose to get back to the 14 club limit.
If they added clubs during play then the added clubs must be the ones removed upon.
What penalty is there for carrying too many clubs?
The penalties for violating this rule are pretty severe. In stroke play it is a two stroke penalty for each hole played, with a maximum of 4 penalty strokes.
In match play it is loss of hole(s) played with a maximum of loss of two holes.
The most famous case of a golfer having too many clubs occurred when Ian Woosnam was stroked two strokes for having too many clubs in his bag during the 2001 British Open. He lost the tournament by 1 stroke.
Can you change golf clubs during play?
Yes you can, but only under very specific circumstances. The general rule about changing clubs during a round of golf is this is not allowed. You can replace a damaged club in very limited circumstances.
How do I replace a damaged golf club?
You can replace a club that is damaged during a round (even if the round has been stopped) if the club is damaged by an outside influence or natural forces or by any person other than the player or his/her caddie.
Imagine the beverage cart accidentally runs over your putter.
In this instance you could replace the club with any club. But the damaged club would have to be taken out of play by declaring it out of play.
You can’t replace the club with someone else’s club who is playing on the course, you can’t unreasonably delay play and you can’t build a club from parts carried by anyone playing the round.
In this case, you could call back to the pro shop and have them drive a putter out to you.
Confusing? Yes. In a friendly match just borrow a club.
In a tournament. Best to know this rule.
How do I take clubs out of play?
This is a tricky one and could result in disqualification if not followed properly. The procedure is similar to taking a golf ball out of play.
During the round
If a player discovers an extra club or excess clubs in their bag during a round then the player should declare it as an extra or take action such as placing it upside down in their bag. And it must not be used again. Violation of this rule is disqualification.
Before the round
If a player discovers shortly before starting a round that he/she has more than the number of clubs allowed then the player should try and leave it behind. If this is not possible because of the location of the first tee, the player’s car, etc then declare it not in use and don’t use it.
However, and there is always a however in the rules of golf.
“If a player deliberately brings more than 14 clubs to his or her first teeing area and starts a round
without leaving the excess clubs behind, this option is not allowed.”
Meaning strokes added in stroke play and holes lost in match play.
If you ever have questions about this rule it is best to search the rules of golf.
Can you use your partner’s golf clubs?
No, you may not use your playing partner’s clubs. And your playing partner may not use your clubs.
Do golfers need their own clubs?
Yes, golfers need their own clubs. You don’t want to be one of those people that are consistently borrowing clubs. Most golf courses will rent clubs to you for a fee. After a few rounds of golf it will be more economical to purchase your own clubs.
How many clubs in a Sunday golf bag
A Sunday bag is a very small bag that only holds a few clubs. It is meant for walking and lightening the load.
It’s also a great bag for a beginner.
A good mix for this type of bag is a fairway wood, a putter, a long iron, a mid iron and pitching wedge. You can always add more or different types of clubs to your bag based on personal preference.
Do clubs really matter in golf?
This question gets asked a lot. The short answer is yes. To the pros, clubs are fitted to their swing speed, swing type, body shape and stance. Pros spend a day or two at a club making facility sampling all the products and getting fitted to the exact weight, lie and dimensions. Their equipment is top of the line and current.
Can a pro still play great with a borrowed set of old clubs? Absolutely, but not as great.
For struggling golfers and beginners, golf clubs won’t matter as much. The higher your handicap the less the golf equipment really matters.