If you are new to the game, the last thing you want is to break the rules inadvertently. It makes you look a complete rookie, and you don’t want to look a fool before you even start. You might even feel you cannot ask the question, ‘how many golf clubs can you have in your bag?’ without looking a bit dumb. Never fear; we are here to answer this question in all the detail you will need.
This is the sort of thing you need to get right. Mistakes on the fundamental rules of golf will wreck your confidence and spoil your enjoyment of the game. On top of that, let me assure you, taking out too many clubs will not make you any friends.
The number of clubs in a golf bag
Golf is about knowing the rules, and the maximum number of golf clubs is 14. This rule means you cannot change the clubs in a round. As there isn’t a minimum number of clubs allowed in a golf game, you can carry less than 14 clubs if you want, but once you have made your choice, you cannot change once the round has started. The 14 clubs you begin with will be the 14 clubs you finish with.
There is a very good reason for this rule: golf club technology is now so good, and golf clubs are now powerful at getting that ball where you want it. If you could take as many clubs as you wanted, it could all become too easy. Having this rule means that there is a level playing field for all players.
The rule has been in place (with some refinements) since 1938. As steel clubs became popular, players were bringing up to 35 clubs onto the course. Something had to change before caddies died under the weight and the golf course disappeared under mountains of woods and irons. So, the ‘only 14 clubs in a bag’ rule were introduced.
Even today, not everyone likes it. We have heard some shocking stories of skulduggery and sharp practice. Our favorite is a player who claimed that he did not have an extra club as his extra putter was strapped to the edge of his bag. He had the nerve to complain when his partner objected and insisted on a penalty for carrying the extra club. Not in the spirit of the game at all!
The rule means you have another thing to think about. You need to know your game and your course and select the clubs that will enable you to play at your very best.
We have talked elsewhere about illegal or non-conforming clubs, so in this article, we are assuming that the clubs you will be selecting to put in your bag are within the rules of the game.
The important rule: 4.4
The relevant rule here is 4.4. This is the one that stipulates that you are allowed to carry no more than 14 clubs in your bag at any time. Here is the rule as it appears on the R&A site
“a. Selection and Addition of Clubs
The player must not start a stipulated round with more than fourteen clubs. He is limited to the clubs thus selected for that round, except that if he started with fewer than fourteen clubs, he may add any number, provided his total number does not exceed fourteen.
The addition of a club or clubs must not unduly delay play (Rule 6-7), and the player must not add or borrow any club selected for play by any other person playing on the course or by assembling components carried by or for the player during the stipulated round*.
- Partners May Share Clubs
Partners may share clubs, provided that the total number of clubs carried by the partners, so sharing does not exceed fourteen.”
*A ‘stipulated round’ is playing the 18 holes of the course in the right order.
Penalties for breaking the rules
If you break the rule by carrying more than 14 clubs, you will be penalized. Here is what the United State Golf Association (USGA) says
“Penalty for Breach of Rule 4-4a or b Regardless of Number of Excess Clubs Carried:
Match play – At the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered, the state of the match is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred; maximum deduction per round – Two holes.
Stroke play – Two strokes for each hole at which any breach occurred; maximum penalty per round – Four strokes (two strokes at each of the first two holes at which any breach occurred).
Match play or stroke play – If a breach is discovered between the play of two holes, it is deemed to have been discovered during play of the hole just completed, and the penalty for a breach of Rule 4-4a or b does not apply to the next hole.”
What 14 clubs should you choose?
Many players use more than 14 clubs when practicing. This means when it comes to playing a round, they have to make a choice. So, what are the best 14 clubs for your golf bag?
Two things matter: your skill level and the course. Try to get to know the course as well as you can. How many long pars? How many bunkers? Sand?
Before we go through a list, just one other thought, especially if you are a beginner, don’t get too hung up on having to have 14 clubs. It can be good advice to go out there with just a couple of your favorite clubs once in a while and see how you do. I’m not suggesting that you limit yourself long-term in this way, but freeing yourself from that big bag of clubs once in a while can feel liberating and get you concentrating on your basic skill.
More important than the course is your skill level. Start with what your most versatile club is (probably a wood or a hybrid). Clubs that make you nervous every time you take them out of the bag should be left out. Practice with them on the practice range until they earn their place. Then you will need clubs to get you out of the rough: a sand wedge and a gap wedge.
Obviously, a putter, you could putt with any of your other clubs but always take the chance to get familiar with a putter which feels right for you. You will be making a lot of putts, so choose the right tool for the job.
But you do not have to carry a driver if you don’t feel comfortable with it yet. Take the longest club you feel comfortable with that you know you can hit good shots with. Do not worry about what others say; you know what is right for your game at this stage. There is nothing worse than carrying around clubs you do not use. Unless you are a real expert, leave the long irons out. Bring hybrids instead.
Here is a list of the clubs a beginner might use. It is just a guide. Adapt it in light of the information above.
- 4 and 5 hybrids
- 6, 7, 8, and 9 irons
- Pitching wedge
- Sand wedge
Organizing your golf bag
When you are out on the course, the last thing you want is to be scrabbling about in your bag for the club you need. It looks as if you are a complete rookie who doesn’t know what you are doing. You don’t want that. You want to look cool and in control. Organize your clubs so you know exactly where to lay your hands on the one you want. Here is a nice little video by ehowsports which will show you how it’s done.
If you order your clubs in this way, they will be nicely balanced and easy to get to.
In the midsection, put your short clubs at the front, put your irons, shorter to the left, longer to the right, and put your woods at the top of the bag. Your putter goes in with the woods (some golf bags have an outside putter pocket, which means the putter is easy to get to, but it can get chipped more easily).
This makes sense to me, logical and simple. But if you have another way, that is fine. The important thing is to find a system that suits you and stick to it; then, you will always remember where that driver or sand wedge is.
How many golf clubs can you have in your bag?
So that’s it. Your 14 golf clubs are sorted. Let us know if this was helpful to you and what you find works best for you. If you find you manage better with fewer clubs, how does that work for you? What is the club you cannot do without? Have you ever been caught out with 15 clubs?