Golf Bag Buying Guide
Golf Bag Buying Guide: Introduction
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford a caddy for every round you’re going to have to put some thought into the type of bag that you want to use.
Depending upon whether you prefer to walk or ride there are four different options for you to consider.
Golf Bag Types
Pencil or Sunday Bag
This is an extremely lightweight bag usually intended to carry less than a full set (fourteen clubs). Often used for a quick 9 holes after work. Increasingly being offered with dual straps. Some have mini stands to avoid the bag getting wet. You may also find models with full size stands. I used a Callaway pencil bag for many years when sneaking out on a summer evening.
- the lightest possible bag for those that like to carry
- take up little space in your locker or trunk (boot)
- not designed to carry lots of clubs or other equipment
- models with full size stands have a tendency to be unstable
- not too comfortable if you overload
Designed to handle a full set of fourteen clubs and generally having room for numerous accessories such as balls, drinks and clothing. These days most carry bags will come with some form of stand mechanism to save you having to put your bag down on potentially wet grass.
- light enough for those that like to carry
- small enough to fit 3 or 4 sets in most trunks (boots)
- not all stands are equally stable on inclines or in high winds
- awkward to use on ride-on or pull carts due to the stand mechanism
Trolley or Cart Bag
Since these are designed for use on either pull carts or electric trolleys they tend to be slightly larger so you can carry more items on the course. Some manufacturers have developed models designed to ‘lock’ into place on some pull/electric carts.
- designed for use on carts so pockets should be easily accessible
- usually still lightweight and generally small enough that you can fit 3 or 4 sets in a trunk (boot)
- not ideal for carrying (eg. if the course has a cart/trolley ban)
Tour or Staff Bag
The largest style of bag you will see for sale. As the name suggests these are the bags generally used on the professional tours and allow you to carry all the kit you might want onto the course.
- should have room for anything!
- can be very heavy when fully loaded so not the model to use if you like to walk
- storage design means they can be awkward to use on some carts (walk and ride)
- if you don’t have some ‘game’ then you might look a bit silly with a tour bag
What Should I Look For When Buying a Golf Bag?
You can probably pick up a bag from around $100 on one of the discount sites. Current season models from the major manufacturers are likely to set you back between $200 and $400.
Unless you are desperate for some very specific feature or color then I would suggest trying to pick up a discontinued model at a reduced rate. At the end of the day it is only a bag.
Full length dividers. With the exception of pencil bags, these days most bags will feature some level of full-length divider. If you have ever used a bag that didn’t have them then you quickly realise how useful they are. Without dividers a full set of clubs very quickly manage to get jumbled up to the stage where you’re having to fight to get the club out of the bag.
Larger bags will probably feature full length dividers for as many as 8 sections so you shouldn’t have more than 2 clubs in any one section. Assuming you’re going for a larger bag I would try to go for ones with full length dividers for all fourteen clubs. If you’re going for a smaller bag such as a carry bag then you may have to settle for 4, 5 or 6 sections.
I’m old enough to remember the introduction of the double strap and how much easier it made carrying a golf bag. The majority of carry bags, if not all, will now come with some form of dual strap mechanism. Being able to balance the weight of the bag across both shoulders greatly reduces the strain involved when carrying.
The pencil bag with 5 or 6 clubs should still be very manageable though with only a single strap.
Probably the most comfortable dual strap system I’ve encountered was the original Ping Hoofer bag. This was also the first bag that had the stand built into the construction of the bag. Despite having a couple of the more recent Hoofer models I still believe the original Hoofer was the most comfortable and best.
In a full round of eighteen holes you might pick up your bag fifty times. If you are looking at a carry bag then it is important to get a strap that you are comfortable with. Especially while carrying the bag but also in terms of getting the bag on or off.
Not so much of an issue if you are primarily using your bag on some form of cart (pull or electric) or ride-on buggy. It will however play more of a role in your enjoyment of golf if you do tend to carry. If you’re one of those golfers that like to carry around the kitchen sink with them then it’s probably pointless worrying about the weight of the bag. If you are a light packer then try to find a lighter bag as this will help you keep the overall weight that you have to carry as low as possible.
Pockets and Storage
The general rule of thumb is that the larger the bag the more pockets and storage you are going to get.
Someone thinking of buying a pencil bag is unlikely to want masses of storage. This sort of bag is unlikely to be used for competitive golf or in bad weather.
If you are the sort of golfer that plays in all conditions or plays in lots of competitions then you are likely to want to carry more equipment. This means you are going to have to look at larger bags which will have more storage space.
If you tend to play in a hot climate then you might want to find a bag with a cooler pocket where you can store drinks and snacks.
Does the bag have specific storage for an umbrella? If you play most of your golf somewhere sunny then that’s not going to be much of an issue.
Does the bag have some form of hidden pocket so you can store your valuables?
If you are likely to be playing in wet weather then you will also need to consider the quality of the rain hood. Indeed you may even decide to go for one of the waterproof bags.
My own personal preference was just to add a waterproof cover whenever the weather turned inclement. If you did decide to go for a totally waterproof bag then you’ll find it is likely to be significantly more expensive than the non-waterproof variety.
You might be able to find a bag with a waterproof pocket which at least will protect your smartphone and other valuables.
Some bags have started to feature specific attachments or pockets for GPS units or rangefinders. For those of you using the devices that could be a major benefit.
Many bags will offer one or more hooks so that you can attach your towel or other accessories. You might like to carry a ball cleaner, brush or maybe even a number of bag tags.
Many manufacturers also produce a range of bags for ladies. These will tend to be shorter (ladies clubs are shorter than men’s), lighter and in a variety of colours more likely to appeal to women. (Somewhat sexist but I am only reporting the market as it stands)
As with most equipment decisions price is likely to be the overriding factor. Within each of the four main bag categories you will find discontinued models at significantly reduced prices. I would suggest going for one of them that meets most of your requirements rather than paying two or three times as much for a newly released model.
Having the latest greatest golf bag is not going to improve your golf game. You will be better advised to spend that money and effort in other areas.
Depending upon how much golf you play and where you play it, you may end up needing multiple bags. Over my 30 years of playing I’ve always had at least two bags (stand bag and a cart bag) and for a long time had a pencil bag as well.
Who makes the best quality golf bags?
The following is a list in no particular order of manufacturers who would be considered to offer higher quality equipment
What order do you put your golf clubs in your bag?
I would suggest putting your woods in the section of the bag nearest to the strap since this is likely to be the tallest part of the bag. I would then add the irons in descending order of shaft length from left to right. Finally put your wedges in the last row at the shortest side of the bag. You will hopefully have a specific putter well for the shortest club in the bag.