A constant variable among golfers across the ability spectrum is how many and what type of golf clubs should be in the golf bag. The strategy golfers should employ is to carry a set of golf clubs that hits a ball from their maximum yardage to the shortest shot in the game, a one-inch putt.
So, how many golf clubs are permitted in a golf bag?
Golfers are allowed no more than 14 clubs in their bags, according to Rule 4.1b of the Rules of Golf. Golfers can start their rounds with less than 14 clubs but are only able to add clubs until the limit is reached. Golfers can carry multiples of the same club but can’t carry more than 14 total.
A full set of golf clubs typically features 14 unique golf clubs, each designed to either hit a golf ball a specific distance or to hit a special type of golf shot. The typical bag may consist of one driver, one wood, one hybrid, six irons, four wedges and one putter.
The Rules of Golf only limit the number of clubs a golfer can use, not the type of clubs a golfer can use. This means the golfer has the freedom to construct their own set of golf clubs based on personal preference and to develop a strategy to shoot the best score possible.
Why Can You Only Carry 14 Clubs?
A golfer can only carry 14 clubs because the stated purpose of Rule 4 of the Rules of Golf is “based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on your judgment, skills and abilities.” The strict limitations on the number of clubs and their design characteristics are so the game can be played fairly and equitably no matter the ability of the golfer.
What Are the Types of Golf Clubs?
There are 6 basic golf club types, which are grouped together by their design characteristics including shape, size and material properties. The six club types are:
Drivers have developed to be the primary club used from the teeing area to start play on a hole, typically on all par 4’s and 5’s. Drivers have the largest club head and the longest shaft with lofts ranging from 7-12°.
Drivers developed in the past eight years feature movable and exchangeable weighting systems as well as multiple loft settings all to optimize ball flight for each golfer and their swing. Because of its length and loft, the driver is the club that hits the ball the farthest of all the clubs in a bag.
Drivers are best used to hit the ball off a tee as they are not designed for hitting the ball off the ground. However, advanced golfers are known to hit their driver “off the deck”, a term describing using the driver to hit a ball lying on the ground in the fairway.
Woods get their name because early club designs featured a head made of wood, like persimmon. Woods are numbered and most golfers keep a 3 wood in their bag while others sometimes opt to include a 5 wood.
Less common among the general public are 2 and 4 woods and other woods like the 7 and 9 are often found in the golf bags of seniors and women. The wood’s clubhead is shaped similar to a driver but smaller in size by about half.
The shaft of a wood is slightly shorter than the driver’s and the typical lofts are 14-15° for 3 woods and 17-18° for 5 woods. Woods are designed to be hit off a tee or off the ground. A full swing with a 3 wood will travel 10-30 yards shorter than a driver because of its slightly higher loft and shorter shaft.
The name ‘iron’ derives from the predominant mineral used in this club type’s original design. Antique irons had funny names like mashie and niblick but modern clubs are now numbered for simplification.
A typical set of irons will feature 6 or 7 individual clubs and start with either a 3 or 4-iron through a 9-iron. Where driver and wood club heads are more round in shape, iron clubheads resemble more of a blade shape, designed to hit golf balls directly off the turf.
With their gradually increasing lofts and decreasing shaft lengths, irons get the ball in the air sooner for shots closer to the green, inside 200 yards. The typical loft of a 3 iron is 21° with club lofts increasing about 4° for every increase in club number.
The average bogey golfer should expect to hit a 3-iron around 190-200 yards with total distances dropping roughly 10-15 yards for every increase in club number.
Hybrids get their name because they combine the design characteristics of wood and irons to create a ‘hybrid’ style golf club. Golfers commonly only carry one hybrid in their set with the 3 hybrid being the most popular. Strategically, a golfer would choose to include a 3 hybrid (about 19-20° of loft) in their bag over a 5 wood or a 3-iron.
The evolution of the hybrid golf club benefits senior and women golfers alike. Hybrids help them get the ball up faster without the pressure of taking divots, which can lead to wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries. Hybrids are lighter in weight making them easier to use for golfers with slower swing speeds like seniors and women.
The wedge is a type of iron specifically designed for shots from 100 yards to just off the putting green. They can be used in full swings, around the green in pitch and chip shots or from green-side bunkers using a blast shot.
Golfers carry two to four wedges in their bag, depending mostly on the makeup of the rest of their set of clubs. Wedges are marked with either one or two letters (P or SW) or a degree number (52° or 60°). The four most common wedges including their common letter abbreviations and degrees of loft are:
- Pitching Wedge (PW, 48°)
- Gap Wedge (GW, 52°)
- Sand Wedge (SW, 56°)
- Lob Wedge (LW, 60°)
The final type of club is the putter. It is uniquely designed for use only on a putting green, though you can often putt balls from the fairway short of the green or light rough around the green. Putters will have 2-5° of loft and come in mallet form (shaped similarly to the clubhead of a driver or wood) or blade form (a thinner rectangle shape).
A putter’s typical shaft length varies from 33-36” based on the golfer’s height and its low loft is designed to get the ball rolling almost immediately after contact. The putter is the most used club in the bag as it is almost guaranteed to be used at least once every hole.
What Clubs Should I Carry?
The decision of what clubs to use is ultimately up to the golfer but here is an example of a common set of 14 clubs: Driver, 3 Wood, 3 Hybrid, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9-Iron, PW, GW, SW, LW and Putter. Here are other possible set combinations based on golfer type:
- Advanced/Professional: Driver, 3 Wood, 2 Hybrid, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9-Iron, PW, GW, SW, LW and Putter.
- Beginner/Intermediate: Driver, 3 Wood, 4 Hybrid, 5, 6, 7 8, 9-Iron, PW, SW and Putter.
- Junior (12 and under): Driver, 5 Wood, 5, 7, 9-Iron, PW and Putter.
- Junior (13 and older): See Beginner/Intermediate.
- Senior: Driver, 3 & 5 Wood, 4 & 5 Hybrid, 6, 7, 8, 9-Iron, PW, SW, LW and Putter.
- Women: Driver, 3, 5 & 7 Wood, 5 & 6 Hybrid, 7, 8, 9-Iron, PW, SW, LW and Putter.
While the Rules of Golf limit each golfer to no more than 14 clubs, not all of the prior golf club set examples meet the 14-club maximum meaning you don’t need 14 clubs to have a full set and play the game well. If you are new to golf and want to improve quickly, play some of your rounds of golf with only 7 golf clubs.
This strategy will help develop your ability to judge and execute shots with less than a full swing. An example of a 7-club reduced set may include a Driver, 3 Hybrid, 5, 7, 9-Iron, SW and Putter.
What Clubs Do Professional Golfers Use?
The professional golfer’s set of golf clubs might look something like the example above: Driver, 3 Wood, 2 Hybrid, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9-Iron, PW, GW, SW, LW and Putter.
However, their sets are different from the average golfer because they are custom designed by manufacturers to fit their precise swings. Almost all professional golfers are sponsored by golf equipment companies and thus are privy to all the latest and most technologically advanced equipment.
Advice for Buying a Set of Golf Clubs
The average golfer should not expect to be able to play the same exact type of club as a professional but that shouldn’t stop them from getting fit for their own set of golf clubs. Many PGA Professionals offer club fittings for modifying existing sets or to custom-build new ones.
If you’re looking to purchase your first set of clubs, you can go to any sporting goods store and buy a set right off the rack or find a used set for sale online. This is a great way to begin your golf journey but keep in mind that this process is like buying a pair of shoes regardless of how they fit your feet.
If you want optimal performance from your equipment, especially as your skills improve, it is recommended to either have your current set fit to your swing or buy a new custom set built around your body and swing characteristics. Body and swing characteristics include height, arm length, hand size and swing speed.
Golf clubs can be modified to fit swings in three broad ways:
- Loft: Loft is the degree to which the ball is hit into the air when hit with the center of the clubface. The option here would be to lower the loft a couple of degrees to increase distance by a few yards or raise the loft to increase the club’s ability to get the ball faster with a higher trajectory.
- Lie Angle: The lie angle is the angle created by the shaft and the ground when the club makes impact with the ball. The optimal scenario occurs when the bottom or sole of the clubhead is parallel to the ground at impact. A club that is too upright means the toe of the clubhead is off the ground at impact. The club’s heel catches the ground first causing the toe and clubface to close. Conversely, if a club is too flat, the heel will be off the ground at impact. Here, a mishit is caused by the toe catching the turf first. The lie of a club is greatly dictated by the golfer’s swing. A golfer that stands too tall will likely have too flat a lie angle and someone that squats too far down will have a lie that is too upright.
- Shaft Length: The typical off-the-rack set of clubs is designed for people of average height. If you are taller than 6’0 or shorter than 5’7 (for men) then you should consider having your clubs lengthened or shortened, respectively.
What Are Conforming Clubs?
Conforming clubs are golf clubs that fit the requirements outlined in the Equipment Rules by the USGA and R&A. The rules and specifications regarding the conformance of clubs are divided into separate categories including the club in general, the shaft, the grip, the clubhead and the clubface.
Some examples of basic conforming principles include:
- The shaft must be attached to the clubhead at the heel.
- The grip must be circular in cross-section and only one grip is permitted per club.
- The clubhead must be generally plain in shape and have only one striking face to hit the ball.
- The clubface must conform to hardness, surface roughness, material composition, markings in the impact area and dynamic properties.
What Is the Penalty for Carrying Too Many Clubs?
The penalty for carrying too many clubs is a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and a loss of hole penalty in match play. Penalties are assessed on each hole where the infraction occurred with a maximum penalty of 4 strokes in stroke play or the loss of two holes in match play.
Once the golfer realizes the error, they must take the excess clubs out of play. However, it’s up to the golfer to decide which clubs to remove following the process outlined next.
How Do You Take Clubs Out of Play?
As soon as a golfer becomes aware they have breached the 14-club rule during a round of golf, they must take immediate action that indicates their intention to take the club out of play.
The golfer can either verbally declare to their fellow competitors they’ll no longer use the chosen club or turn the club upside down in their bag, place it on the floor of their golf cart or give the extra club to another person to carry.
If a golfer notices they have accidentally included more than 14 clubs in their bag before starting the round, they’ll receive no penalty as long as the excess clubs are taken out of play and left behind.
Additional instances where no penalty is assessed for breaking the 14 club rule include picking up another player’s club left behind on the course and when a club is mistakenly placed in the player’s bag without their knowledge.
A player will be disqualified from any competition if any clubs taken out of play are used.
Can You Make Modifications to Your Clubs?
Modifications to clubs during a round of golf are not permitted under the Rules of Golf. However, modifications may be made before or after the round, including adding lead tape to the clubhead, altering the adjustable features of clubs, changing shafts or re-gripping clubs.
Adjustable features include altering the loft or lie of the club or redistributing a club head’s movable weights. The Rules also prohibit players from applying temporary materials to the clubface that could alter the characteristics of the shot including saliva, grass juice, chalk or aerosol spray.
Can You Repair or Replace Damaged Clubs During a Round?
If a club is damaged during a round, the player normally must not replace it with another club.
The lone exception applies if the club is damaged by an outside influence (another player runs over it with their golf cart) or natural forces (wind blows over a bag and the head of a driver snaps off) and the player must follow the rule for taking the damaged club out of play.
Can You Replace Clubs During a Round?
Once a round has started, a player may not replace lost or damaged clubs unless they were damaged by an outside influence or natural forces.
Can You Add Clubs During a Round?
Golfers can add clubs to their bag during the round as long as they started the round with fewer than 14 clubs. Provisions around this rule state the player must not unreasonably delay play by adding another club (i.e. driving to the parking lot to grab another club) and must not add or borrow any club from anyone else playing on the course.
Can You Use a Partner’s Golf Clubs?
In team formats like foursomes (also known as alternate shot) and four-ball, partners are allowed to share clubs as long as the number of clubs combined doesn’t total more than 14.
Besides Golf Clubs, What Else Should I Carry in My Bag?
There are many other accessories that a golfer should consider carrying in their golf bag along with their clubs. Here is a list of other items commonly found in golf bags:
- A brush to clean the grooves in the clubface.
- A towel to clean golf balls and clubs.
- An umbrella.
- Rain jacket and pants.
- Multiple golf gloves.
- A distance measuring device.
- Enough golf balls to get you through your round of golf plus a few more (12 or so).
- Tees, ball markers and divot repair tools.
- A reusable water bottle.
- A notepad, scorecard and pencil to track your score and take notes.
- A felt-tip pen to mark your golf ball.
- Snacks like granola bars or nuts for energy replenishment while playing.
Can You Carry Two Putters? What About Two Drivers?
It is completely up to the discretion of the golfer to determine what clubs to include in a 14-club set. On occasion golfers will carry two putters, two drivers and even two 3-woods because the strategy they’ve developed for the course calls for their inclusion.
Golfers could construct an entire 14-club set with only drivers but it would be pretty unreasonable to do so. All of these decisions are based on the golfer’s unique strategy for playing the golf course.
One strategic reason why a golfer would carry two drivers is to have one driver with a lower loft (i.e. 7°) to gain more roll on firm and fast fairways while carrying another driver with a higher loft (i.e. 12°) to hit the ball over obstacles like trees or water hazards.
What Is the Longest Club in a Golf Bag?
The driver is typically the longest club in any golfer’s bag. However, the Rules of Golf limit the length of the driver, including clubhead and shaft, to 48 inches.