The simple answer is 14. You are allowed to have a maximum of 14 golf clubs in your bag. But why this restriction? And which 14 clubs should be packed in your bag? Is it only for tournament play? All these are pertinent questions because number of clubs is serious business. Pros have lost in top tournaments just for carrying an extra club.
In this post we want to emphasize the importance of the 14-club rule and dispel all doubts around it. We also want to help you choose your weapons wisely because down at the course, these are your closest allies.
The 14-Club Limit
The Rule 4-4a of carrying a maximum of 14 clubs in your golf bag was laid down by USGA. There is no restriction on the minimum number of golf clubs you can carry. This rule applies to all tournaments. But at a local public course, people will hardly check the number of clubs in your bag while practicing.
If you are just having a friendly round or testing irons vs. hybrids, you can carry extra clubs beyond 14. In private courses, you need to confirm the rules from the authorities especially if you hire a caddie. She/he might have to be tipped extra for carrying more weight.
Which 14 Clubs Should I Carry?
USGA does not restrict you on your choice of clubs, only the number of clubs. So you can carry multiple versions of the same club as long as you don’t exceed 14 clubs. The exception is dual-use clubs. Those double-sided chippers are actually illegal in tournament play. Double-sided putters are allowed subject to both faces being nearly vertical and similar.
Usual golf bags contain a driver and putter because these are crucial for the game. The short and shorter mid-irons(6-, 7-, 8-, 9-irons) are almost always carried. This also includes the Pitching Wedge.
The rest of the 7 clubs are a combination of fairway woods, long irons, hybrids, and wedges. Remember that hybrids can replace both woods and irons. In fact, they should definitely replace the long irons. Choose your wedges such that there’s no considerable gap in their lofts. So this might come down to a Pitching Wedge, a Sand Wedge and a Gap Wedge between the two.
Penalty For Exceeding 14 Clubs
The penalty levied by USGA reminds you to count the number of clubs before every round in a tournament. Even if you have a Caddie.
Ian Woosnam is the most noteworthy casualty of the 14-club rule. During the 2001 Open Championship, he was slaying the dragons of the Royal Lytham. But he was disillusioned in a moment when his caddie informed him that he had 15 clubs in the bag.
It shattered his dream of a win there, lost him a Claret Jug costing him a spot in the Ryder Cup team. The extra club also cost him £360,000 prize money.
Turns out Woosnam had been practicing with an extra driver and inadvertently put it in his bag. His caddie drew a lot of flak from fans and viewers but it’s the player’s responsibility to check her/his golf bag for the number of clubs. Woosnam took the high ground and didn’t fire him until he committed the next mistake.
The Penalty For Violating The 14-Club Rule Works As Follows:
1. Stroke Play:
In this format, you get a penalty of two strokes for each hole played in violation of rules, up to a maximum penalty of four strokes per round.
2. Match Play:
For exceeding 14 clubs, you lose a hole for each hole played in violation of the rule, up to a maximum of losing two holes per round.
In the cut-throat world of golf, this could easily mean the loss of 3-4 ranks in the World Golf Ranking in one year. Like Woosnam, you might lose a major title and also the chance to play in prestigious tournaments like the Ryder Cup by extension.
Why The 14-Club Limit?
Before establishing the cap on the number of clubs allowed in a bag, golfers were used to carrying 20-25 clubs in their bag. Rather than correcting their swings, they depended on different clubs to do their job. When steel shafts debuted, the versatility of clubs reduced. So golfers started stocking up on more clubs for different shots.
USGA introduced the 14-club limit in 1938 and R&A followed suit in 1939.
At first, the penalty for exceeding 14-club limit was the straight disqualification. Then they changed it to loss of a hole per hole in match play and two strokes per hole in stroke play.
But there was no cap on penalties, so a golfer could get 20-stroke penalty for playing in violation of the 14-club rule on 10 holes! The limits on the penalty strokes and loss of holes were added only in 1968.
Fewer clubs encourage the golfers to improve their game with an available bunch of clubs. It also takes the load off the caddie who carries the bag. They are humans after all. They might strain their back from repeatedly carrying such heavy loads.
Do remember you will be carrying other items like a water bottle, umbrella, laser rangefinder etc... in the bag as well, which add to the weight.
14 marks the number of clubs you can carry in the golf bag. Since you can arrange your club set anyway within this limit of 14 clubs, this is a practical restriction. It encourages the golfers to correct their swing mechanics and keeps the weight off their shoulders and back. Carrying extra clubs outside of practice can cost you dearly. So take it as a caveat:
- Count the number of clubs in your golf bag before a round in the tournament, even if you have a caddie. Both you and your caddie are held responsible if you are discovered with extra clubs during the round.
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