How Many Golf Clubs Can I Carry? Best to Know
When playing in a competition under the rules of golf the maximum number of clubs you would be allowed is 14.
Otherwise, you can carry as many clubs as you wish or are able to fit in your golf bag.
The Rules of Golf
Rule 4 deals with players’ equipment and Rule 4.1b states that a player shall not start a round with more than 14 clubs or have more than 14 clubs during a round.
Penalty for Breach
Once you realize you have more than 14 clubs in your bag you will have to assess a penalty on yourself. The penalty is different depending on whether you are playing strokeplay or matchplay.
In strokeplay, you would have a two-stroke penalty for every hole where you had extra clubs in your bag. This is limited however to a maximum of four penalty strokes.
In match play, your penalty would be a loss of hole. Again this is limited to 2 holes.
Probably the most famous occasion where this rule was breached would be the 2001 Open Championship. Ian Woosnam, who was in contention at the time, discovered an extra driver still in his bag on the 2nd tee. The two-stroke penalty cost him approximately $200,000. We will never know whether it actually cost him his chance of an Open Championship.
Once you have discovered a breach then you must select a club or clubs to remove from your bag. Since you probably won’t want to leave them on the course you do have the option of declaring them out of play. In a competition, you should inform your marker of your intention to declare the clubs out of play and then place them upside down in your golf bag. Make sure that you do not use them again during the round as you will incur further penalties.
Limits on the Type of Club
As long as the club conforms to the rules of golf then there are no limitations on the number of a particular club that you carry. Some people may carry a left-handed club to use when escaping from a situation where their normal stroke is not possible. Phil Mickelson carried two drivers at the Masters Tournament and in a few other PGA Tour events. The drivers were set up differently to achieve different results. One was designed for long hitting the other as a fairway finder.
Can I Share Clubs?
The rules allow you to share clubs with your playing partner in fourball or foursomes (alternate shot). However, the total number of clubs allowed between both players would be 14 so you would be restricting yourselves quite a lot.
Can I Replace a Damaged Club?
Assuming the damage to the golf club was caused by an outside agency, you can replace the damaged club. You should not unduly delay play in doing so.
What Can I do if I Break a Club?
The majority of rules dealing with damaged or broken clubs rely on not ‘unduly delaying play’. Ordinary golfers will not be able to do much. Tour pros have the advantage of equipment manufacturers trucks on-site to repair clubs, amateurs do not. If a golfer breaks a club then they can carry on using it or attempt to repair it providing they don’t delay play.
Can I Add Clubs During a Round?
Providing you started with fewer than 14 clubs then you are able to add clubs to your bag during the round as long as you aren’t unduly delaying to play.
Why is The Limit 14?
A limit of 14 clubs was introduced simply because some players were starting to carry a ridiculous number of golf clubs. Each club was designed to play a particular shot.
During the 1920s steel-shafted clubs became available. Initially, professionals were reticent about the advantages of steel-shafted golf clubs. They were eventually won over by the advantages of extra length and greater consistency.
Many started carrying combination sets consisting of both hickory and steel-shafted clubs. This led on occasion to some caddies needing two golf bags in order to carry all of the player’s clubs.
According to the USGA, the situation reached a head in 1935 when a player turned up for the US Open with a total of 32 clubs. He wanted a full set of both right and left-handed clubs. This was in case he finished close to an obstacle which meant he would need to play right or left-handed. The average number of clubs in play that year was 18!
They came to the conclusion that a rule was needed to impose a limit on the number of clubs for the following reasons:
- The game was being dumbed down by having specific clubs for specific shots.
- There was a widening inequality between wealthy golfers and the average player because of how many clubs they could afford to buy.
- Caddies were struggling with the sheer weight of clubs that they were expected to carry.
There are several schools of thought on why 14 clubs were settled on as the limit.
Around this time (1920s and 1930s) matched sets of irons started to appear because of the advent of steel shafts. Some of the earliest sets produced were numbered one through to nine and many other manufacturers then copied that style. It was also usual for players to have four woods and a putter so that makes a total of 14 clubs.
Another suggestion is that Bobby Jones influenced the decision of the USGA. During the 1936 Walker Cup match he discussed the problem of ‘too many’ clubs with Tony Torrence a former captain of the GB & I Walker Cup team.
During his final season of competitive golf Jones had carried 16 clubs to win his ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’. Torrence on the other hand had only carried 12 clubs. So perhaps Jones settled on the average of the two and suggested this figure to the United States Golf Association.
The most likely explanation, to me at any rate, is that the USGA president John Jackson discussed the topic of club limits with Robert Harris. Harris at the time was chairman of one of the R&As golf equipment subcommittees. Mr. Harris was a strong proponent for a limit and it is likely their conversation in 1936 is the reason we still have the 14 club limit today.
Mr. Jackson recommended a 14 club rule to the USGA which was introduced into the rules of golf in 1938. The R&A following suit with the publication of their rules in 1939.
Are 14 Clubs Too Many?
There has been an increasing number of people suggesting that even 14 clubs are too many. Many of the arguments from the 1930s are being re-used to support this.
Premium manufacturers such as TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping and Mizuno now charge around $1000 for a set of irons. Those sets now comprise of only five or six clubs. This is one reason people argue that golf is only for the wealthy.
An argument could also be made for people to get more exercise by carrying a half set of clubs rather than using a buggy.
This argument has some legs. It is difficult to fit waterproofs etc. into most pencil bags that I’ve seen and even decent-sized carry bags don’t have all that much room.
Seve Ballesteros was of the opinion that there should be limits on the loft of golf clubs. That would remove the lob wedges from golfers’ bags. He was long of the opinion that this made delicate shots around the green much easier to play and therefore was removing skill from the game.
Most televised golf these days seems to involve players using only a handful of clubs given the distances they hit. Most holes now are reduced to a drive and a short iron. Only occasionally do they need to reach for even a mid-iron.
TV commentator and former Ryder Cupper, Ken Brown, tweeted on the subject and thinks nine should be the new limit.
Personally, I think recreational golfers would actually benefit from using only seven or eight clubs. They would suffer from less indecision and also have to learn how to hit a wider variety of shots. Additionally, their bank balances would benefit. For those that carry their clubs, they would almost certainly be less tired at the end of the round.
What is the Minimum Number of Clubs?
There is no minimum number of clubs stipulated in the rules of golf. Some golf clubs might make their own rule however and generally, they will ban the sharing of clubs since it will usually lead to slower play.
How Many Golf Clubs Can I Carry: Conclusion
So to avoid any penalties in competitions always check that you have no more than 14 clubs in your bag before you tee off.