In 2017, I was playing in a competition at a local golf club. I was playing well and was on course to shoot a competitive score. That was until I realised that my bag had more clubs that my playing partner’s. I then asked that fateful question: how many golf clubs can you have in your bag? My partner gave his best guess but the reality was neither of us knew. I then went to the bar in the clubhouse and asked around to see and again, people were not sure. As it turned out my 69 net-score was about to be ruined by a penalty for carrying too many clubs. So, after a little research, I now know the answer to the question which all golfers need to know before heading out on the course.
Under rule 4.1b the maximum number of clubs you can have in your bag is 14. If you start a round with less than 14 clubs, you can add additional clubs to your bag so long as it does not cause unnecessary delays and is not taken from another player on the course. You are not allowed to replace damaged clubs unless the damage was caused by natural forces or by a person who is not (1) the player or (2) the player’s caddie. You are not allowed, under rule 4.1b(2), to share clubs with another player on the course.
What happens if you have too many clubs?
If you are playing strokeplay, you will receive a 2-stroke penalty up to a maximum of 4-strokes. You should mark these penalties on holes 1 and 2 on your scorecard.
If you are playing match play the score is revised by deducting one hole for each hole where a breach happened, with a maximum deduction of two holes in the round. For example, if you are playing the third hole and win it to go 3-up – the penalty will return the score to 1-up.
The penalty for breaching rule 4.1 applies based on when the player becomes aware of the breach. If the player becomes aware of the breach while playing the hole then the penalty is applied at the end of the hole being played. In match play, the player must complete the hole, apply the result of that hole to the match score and then apply the penalty to adjust the match score. If the player becomes aware of the breach between two holes then the penalty is applied as of the end of the hole just completed, not the next hole.
What do you do if you realise you have too many clubs?
When you become aware, during a round, that you have more than 14 clubs you must immediately take an action that clearly indicates each club that is being taken out of play.
This may be done either by:
- Declaring this to the opponent in match play or the marker or another player in the group in stroke play, or
- Taking some other clear action (such as turning the club upside down in the bag, placing it on the floor of the golf cart or giving the club to another person).
Once this is done you must not make a stroke for the rest of the round with any club taken out of play. You cannot swap clubs or replace the club which has been put out of play.
Has a pro ever carried too many clubs?
If you think that I am the only person stupid enough to be found in breach of this rule; you would be wrong. There have been countless incidents of this happening over the years. Below are two of the most famous.
In 2001, Ian Woosnam was in contention at the Open. He had just holed a superb shot at the first to take a share of the lead. This joy was short-lived when his caddie, Myles Byrne, infamously said to Woosnam, “There’s too many clubs in the bag”. Woosnam immediately informed the match referee and a penalty. Not only did he lose two shots but more crucially his composure and £218,334 in prize money that subsequently cost him a ninth appearance in Europe’s Ryder Cup team. The story goes that Woosnam had been trying out two drivers on the driving range before his round began and Bryne had failed to remove one of them from his bag. Woosnam ended up finishing tied 3rd.
On some level, having lost out on a $15 bar voucher, I can feel Woosnam’s pain.
In 2013, Woody Austin was given a 4-stroke penalty at the PGA Championship after realizing he had 15 clubs in his bag while on the third hole. Austin would go on to miss the cut by one shot.
What clubs should I carry?
Deciding which clubs you should carry is the most important decision you will make pre-round. Below is a general guide and it should be read as such and nothing more. You know your own game better than me. If you are a high handicapper and rip it off the tee with a driver, use it. Equally if, like me, you prefer lots of wedges then make sure you allow room for them. Honestly, you can read too much on the internet about which clubs you should carry. The advice few seem to say is that you should get down to your local driving range, figure out what your best clubs are and then go from there. If you are a beginner, don’t be afraid to pack a club which you are not great with because the only way you will get better is through practising with that club.
What clubs should a high handicapper carry
As a high handicapper, you probably struggle with a driver off the tee. Now, we all love to think we can rip it 300 yards but the majority of us can’t (frustratingly my brother Ned, who runs this blog with me, carries it about 310 compared to my 220).
If this is you, consider dropping the driver and using a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee. These clubs are easier to hit and offer greater control off the tee. You can’t birdie a hole of the tee, but you can certainly make it impossible to do so. You should also do away with the long irons and carry hybrids instead. A hybrid is a lot easier to hit with control and will add yardage to your bag for those long par 5’s. As a general rule a high handicapper would be best suited to carry:
- 4, 5 and 6 hybrids
- 7, 8 and 9 irons
- Pitching wedge
- Sand wedge
What clubs should a mid handicapper carry?
Mid-handicappers may be better off hitting a 3-wood off tees with tight fairways. However, they will have more success than beginners with the driver so it is worth carrying for those rounds when your swing is feeling good. A mid-handicapper is typically better within a 100-yards. Therefore it is advisable to carry a lob wedge.
- 4 and 5 hybrids
- 6, 7, 8 and 9 irons
- Pitching wedge
- Sand wedge
What clubs should a low handicapper carry?
Low-handicappers and scratch golfers will probably want an extra wedge rather than a hybrid or 3-wood. This will provide you with added accuracy for those all-important approach shots. If you are low-handicapper then it is likely you have your game in great order and know it much better than I (or anyone else) could so you should go with what you know. If you are a low handicapper looking to get to scratch but find yourself just short of the mark then definitely pick up an extra wedge for your bag. Having a 5-foot put rather than a 15-foot put will save you more shots than a hybrid in the bag would.
- 3-wood or 2 hybrid
- 3-iron through 9-iron
- Pitching wedge
- Gap wedge
- Sand wedge
- Lob wedge
Conclusion: how many golf clubs can you have in your bag?
Under the current rules of golf, you can have 14 golf clubs in your bag. Getting this wrong can be costly. If you were wondering, I have never come close to winning another club championship; just like Woosy never got his hands on the elusive claret jug. Having read this article, this is a fate that (hopefully!) you will not share.