How Many Clubs in a Golf Bag? – Play by the Rules

So there is a limit to how many golf clubs you are allowed to carry in a golf bag. You don’t have to go right up to that limit but you can’t go over it. Everyone’s golf bag and choice of clubs will be different depending on where they get clubs from and where they get information from. Different abilities will also use different equipment. This guide will show you how to develop your game while keeping a tab on the number of clubs you carry.

How many clubs are allowed in a golf bag?

The straight forward answer to the question is 14. But how can you best use this number to get the most out of your game? You are about to find out in this article but first, a quote from Rule 4 in the USGA rule book, see point 2 below.

Rule No. 4 talks about the equipment and what each golfer should comply to:

  1. Players can only use the clubs and balls that conform to the standard equipment rules
  2. They must start and go through each round with a maximum of 14 clubs
  3. Damaged or lost clubs can not be replaced ‘during’ the round
  4. There are also prohibitions on using equipment in abnormal ways to enhance one’s game

A table of potential clubs, from the top of my head:

Fairway Woods3(15°)5(18°)7(21°)        
Irons3456789PWGW/ UWSWLW
Wedges46° PW48° PW50° GW52° GW54° SW56° SW58° LW60° LW62° LW64° LW 

What 14 clubs should I carry? Does the type of clubs matter?

The type of clubs within the 14 doesn’t matter, it is your choice. However different golfers will need different clubs. To break it down to something useful, I will show something that would help a complete beginner and then the progression to intermediate golfer and touch on an expert golfer’s club choices.

Looking at a beginner Junior package set, they typically have around 5 clubs altogether; 2 woods, 2 irons, a wedge, a putter and a bag. They are aimed at creating 5 different types of shot, 4 different distances and then putting. In my opinion, that is how simple it needs to be for the complete beginner as 14 clubs can be daunting and confusing.

For a complete beginner they may not have some clubs at all or may have something like a package set. I would recommend a starting point of using the following 5 clubs regularly: 5 wood (18°), Hybrid (20° or over)7 iron, 9 iron and SW. The rest of the clubs may be in the bag but there’s a lot going on with technique varying shots already, keep the clubs more simple and learn the game. The Driver is great fun and by all means have a blast when practicing but it is the hardest club to hit and control on a golf course. If there are any clubs that are particularly confidence inspiring for you and they work, use that club instead. Confidence is huge in golf and we all want to enjoy it. If a beginner had 4 wedges to choose from they would likely pick their favourite trusted one anyway.

The intermediate golfer would be striking the ball better and more often. The other irons in the bag would be functional and used to hit more specific distances as the intermediate can get the ball flying in the air more easily. More attention may be paid to the wedges and may even consider a specialist wedge like a 60°. Specialist wedges are better but cost more, they tend to have milled faces and the biggest possible grooves to create more grip on the ball for more spin and control.

An expert golfer in my opinion would generally look to have 4° gaps between each club around the wedges especially. The intermediate golfer would be moving towards this and appreciating the different distances this can create for them as they develop the clubs in their golf bag.

Here is an example, based on my opinion:

Complete BeginnerIntermediate GolferExpert Golfer
3 Wood 15°3 Wood 15°
5 Wood 18°5 Wood 18°Hybrid 17°
Hybrid 22°4
Hybrid 25°Hybrid 25°5

Expert golfers and professionals may even have a bag of 16 clubs that they take with them to tournaments and they pick the best 14 depending on the golf course they are going to be playing. A longer course may want more woods and fewer wedges, a shorter course may want more wedges and fewer woods.

Can I carry more than 1 putter in my golf bag?

Yes you can, it is sometimes best not to have 2 clubs that do the same thing however as this could lead to indecision and doubt. Leave the other putter in the boot of the car.

Why is there a limit on the number of clubs?

How many clubs in a golf bag in the early 20th century you might ask? Professional golfers in that era carried 20-25 clubs in their bag and some 32 clubs were found in a bag in 1935.

The USGA at the time felt it was making the game far too easy and decided to clamp down on it and set a new limit of 14. 

What’s the penalty for exceeding 14 clubs?

The penalty for carrying too many clubs in the bag is a 2 shot penalty per hole played, or loss of hole in matchplay up to 2 holes.

As I said before some Professionals carry extra clubs while practicing and there is a famous example of Ian Woosnam forgetting to check before starting his first round of the 2001 British Open. He’d left an extra driver in the bag that he was practicing with and it was his caddy that actually noticed before it was too late. He incurred a penalty and still managed to finish 3rd for the week.

Is there any exception in the rule?

In tournament golf and competitions, there are no exceptions, penalties will apply in stroke play and match play. In general play and practicing you can carry as much as you dare.

Just remember not to over complicate the game. If the swing is not consistent and the club selected is not consistent, the flight of the ball will be much the same. Pick less clubs, get used to them and then start to try out others gradually.

How can I take clubs out of play?

Notify your playing partners and take any penalties due, then with your playing partners knowledge, turn the club upside down.

It would delay the game far too much if you had to run back to the clubhouse with too many clubs. The downside is your bag will be heavier to carry for the round.

Can I add a club if I started with fewer clubs than 14?

There are no rules about the minimum number of clubs. So if you happen to start with less and want to add clubs up to 14, you can do so.

It might be tricky to run to the pro shop from the 3rd tee however. The extra clubs cannot be from another player which often includes everyone in the field and on the course and you cannot cause any delays in play.

What are the rules about using partner’s clubs?

You cannot use another player’s club while contributing to your scorecard or theirs. Do it before and after the game or in the matchplay after the game has finished.

You can play a round of golf with 2 players clubs in one bag, each player can only use their own clubs and that has to be clear from the start whose is whose. Generally speaking in a competition you would find every player had their own golf bag.

Final Thoughts

Overall when looking at how many clubs you can carry in a golf bag, we can see that it’s a simple number that is 14. Looking deeper you can see there’s a lot more to it than that.

A beginner won’t have as much feedback from playing, to appreciate the large variations in clubs that are out there and it may be easier to stick to fewer clubs while the technique develops.

Progressing to an intermediate golfer where the distance changes in clubs are more apparent, the other clubs will start making more sense and having more use over time.

I had also hinted at an example of an expert golfer’s clubs so you’ll see the full use of what’s available and comprehend a bit more when looking at others golf bags.

While we are on this topic, do check out the research and review we did recently for Best golf clubs for the money.

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