How Many Clubs in a Golf Bag

United States Golf Association (USGA) rules lay out specific guidelines for the number of clubs allowed in the same golf bag. So how many clubs in a golf bag is legal? Rule 4.1b tells us a maximum of 14 clubs can be in your bag during a round.

How Many Clubs in a Golf Bag

Can you carry less clubs?

Some people only have 12 clubs. Other people might remove their three-wood and carry fewer clubs than allowed. This is because they know if it’s in the bag, they’re going to hit it—and they shouldn’t be hitting it. No matter your reason, it is perfectly legal to carry less than 14 clubs allowed.

For a beginner, it is actually advisable to carry fewer than 14 clubs. While you’re starting to learn the game, it is easier to develop good habits using the same few clubs over and over.  The alternative would be using a different club for every shot. In the latter scenario, top instructors will tell you it is easy to lose focus on the things you have been working on. Instead, you fixate on small things that will become second nature as you improve. Learn your swing and then add in your 12th, 13th, and 14th clubs.

Is there a club minimum?

Technically, there is no minimum number of clubs required. But in reality, how many golf clubs are needed to play a round? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask, but the real answer is one. All you really need is something to hit the ball with.

In reality, the minimum number of clubs needed is five. This includes a driver, putter, 5-iron, 7-iron, and wedge. That breakdown is by no means the law, but covers what you need. A driver and putter are automatics. The irons combo provides something for longer, medium, and short distance.

When you talk about the perfect number of clubs in a golf bag, there is no consensus. Everyone likes their own combination, and will likely change their answer from time to time. Since the rules allow 14, most people carry 14.

What is the penalty for carrying more clubs?

Penalties for carrying more than 14 clubs vary based on the type of round or tournament you’re playing in. Even if it’s an honest mistake, there is always a penalty for having too many clubs in your bag.

When you notice there are more than 14 clubs in your bag, you must announce it to everyone you are playing with. At this point, penalties are assessed and the club(s) need to be “removed” from your bag.

If you knowingly use more than 14 clubs, it is a disqualification. One thing most people don’t realize is that the offending club can be any club in your bag. If you want to remove a fairway wood, you can. If you want to remove an iron, you can. You get to decide whatever the extra club is.

Removing the club can be as simple as turning it upside down and putting it back in your own bag. You can also have someone else carry it. As long as your opponent or playing partner is aware, you’re in the clear. After all, golf is a game of integrity.

Stroke Play

If you have extra clubs in your bag and realize it on the first hole, it is a two-stroke penalty. If you don’t realize it until the second hole or later, the maximum penalty is four strokes.

Basically, the rule is that it is a two stroke penalty per hole that you are in violation for. The penalty stroke limit is capped as a four stroke penalty, even if you realize it after more than two holes. Woody Austin was famously penalized for having too many clubs in his bag during the 2013 PGA Championship.

For scoring purposes, you add two strokes to each of the first two holes.

Match Play

Match play has slightly different rules. For each hole played by a golfer with more clubs than allowed, there is a match adjustment. This adjustment is capped at two holes, assuming the violation was for more than one hole.

This can be a bit confusing, so let’s look at an example. Your opponent started the round with 15 clubs and you realize it on the third hole. You finish the match 1 down. With the hole adjustment, you win the match 1 up.

If the violation is for the first hole only, the penalty is only a one-hole adjustment.

What is the best club breakdown?

The best combination of clubs is different for a skilled player than a beginner. Players at different skill levels have different needs. Lesser skilled players tend to opt for clubs that help with distance. Experienced golfers prefer clubs that assist with precision.

Beginners

A real question for novice golfers is how many golf clubs can help with getting their ball to the green. If you pick out the right clubs, the answer is all of them. Beginners want to carry forgiving clubs that generate distance more than anything else.

An ideal setup for a beginner golfer is:

  • Driver
  • 3 wood, 5 wood
  • 3, 4, & 5 hybrids
  • 6 iron, 7 iron, 8 iron, 9 iron
  • Pitching wedge
  • Gap wedge
  • Sand wedge
  • Putter

Skilled

The players that love their wedges (maybe a bit too much) carry a pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge. Carrying four wedges generally means sacrificing a club or two used for long distance shots. If you’re a long hitter, this something you can afford to do.

We won’t do a full breakdown of what’s best for experienced golfers because those who fit this category know their game best. In general, it will include more long irons, fewer woods and hybrid clubs, and one more wedge.

Who decided how many clubs in a golf bag?

There are two major governing bodies of golf in the world. For North America, it’s the USGA. For the rest of the world, it’s the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The R&A has been the leader in rules and everything else related to golf since 1754.

These governing bodies introduced the 14 golf clubs allowed limit in 1936, going into effect in 1938. This rule curbed the rising number of golf clubs per bag once steel shafts became common.

New materials, new problems

Before this time, golf clubs used hickory shafts. As technology improved, players added steel shafted clubs without removing hickory shafted clubs. It seemingly became a race to see how many clubs golf bags could handle. Once golfers began carrying 25+ clubs, the R&A and USGA decided something needed to change and introduced a penalty for carrying more than 14 clubs.

Since a standard set included four woods, nine irons, and a putter, the 14-club rule made sense for the two governing bodies.

Are rules about how many golf clubs in a bag different for professionals?

Whether you’re dealing with professional golfers or amateur golfers, deciding how many clubs in a golf bag is the same process. PGA Tour golfers are subject to the exact same rules as common golfers with only 14 golf clubs allowed.

Can you carry two of the same club?

Yes, you can carry more than one of the same club. The rules of golf provide a maximum number, but includes no restriction of the makeup of your bag. If you want to carry 14 8 irons, go right ahead. We don’t know why you would, but there’s no rules against it.

When pros carry more than one of the same club, it’s for a reason. If your buddy is carrying two of the same club, it might be for a reason, but probably not as good as one offered by a pro.

Phil Mickelson has carried more than one driver a few different times. Phil carried two drivers for part of the 2006 season with great success, including victories at the BellSouth Classic and Masters. His rationale was that one driver was for draws and the other cuts. Unless you’re playing for as high of stakes as Phil Mickelson, we recommend sticking to one of each club.

Another place you might see a player with two of the same club is on the green. Some golfers carry a left- and right-handed putter, and others prefer one for long putts and another for short putts. Adam Scott doubled his putter count from one to two, using both for parts of the same round during the 2018 season.

What happens if I break a golf club?

When you damage or break a club, you can replace it without penalty. There are a few restrictions about how the damage occurred though if you want to add one in its place.

A club damaged by outside forces such as a swing means you can replace it with an additional club. Breaking a club through some form of abuse such as a throw or bending it over your knee means it cannot be replaced.

Before a recent rule change using a damaged club resulted in disqualification. Today, you are permitted to use a damaged club if you want. This comes into play mostly for bent shafts.

About The Author

Writers of Independent Golf Reviews
Independent Golf Reviews has tested and reviewed 1000+ golf products over the past 10 years. We use our experience and expertise to give golfers an unbiased insight on the market. 
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