The first time I stepped onto a golf course, I had no idea that there was a limit to how many golf clubs I could carry.
If you’re new to golf or even if you’ve been playing for a while, you shouldn’t feel stupid for asking this common question:
How many golf clubs are allowed in a golf bag?
Golfers can carry up to 14 clubs in their golf bag, according to the United States Golf Association. You don’t have to carry 14 clubs, the rule just stipulates that there is a 14 club limit. That means you are more than welcome to carry fewer clubs during your round.
A few other details worth noting:
- You can carry multiple clubs of the same type (for example, 2 drivers and 4 putters)
- You can carry clubs of different orientations (for example, some right-handed clubs and some left-handed clubs)
- There is no minimum number of clubs that you must carry
If you feel overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations of golf, stop stressin’. Most of these USGA rules won’t matter for a beginner golfer or an amateur golfer.
Unless you’re playing in the PGA Championship, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over golf club selection.
These details are mostly for the experienced golfer or the professional golfer to keep in mind during a golf tournament.
However, if you’re the type of person who appreciates knowing all of the details (or you’ve gotten roped into some serious tournament), I’ll dive further into your golf equipment questions below.
Once you know the basics, you’ll be ready to set up the perfect golf bag without breaking any rules.
Looking to buy a set of golf clubs? Here’s a good place to start.
So let’s review the 14 club rule once again.
Is there a maximum number of golf clubs allowed in a bag?
The short answer is yes. There is a maximum number of golf clubs allowed in a bag according to rules set by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the R&A governing bodies. You can have as many 14 golf clubs in your bag at any given time during a golf tournament or competition. There is no minimum requirement, though.
So where does this rule come from? If you want to read the official decree, check out Rule 4: The Player’s Equipment. The equipment a player is allowed to use during a round is strictly monitored to ensure no foul play or unfair advantages during tournaments and competitions. The rule states all player’s must:
- Use conforming clubs and a conforming golf ball
- Carry no more than 14 clubs and normally must not replace damaged or lost clubs
- Not use other equipment that would give them artificial help towards their play
So to reiterate, there is a 14 club limit. Here are the specific details:
- You must not start a round with more than 14 clubs or have more than 14 clubs during the round.
- If you start a round with fewer than 14 clubs, you may add clubs during the round up to the 14 club limit.
- When you become aware that you are in breach of this Rule by having more than 14 clubs, you must immediately take the excess club or clubs out of play…”
Is there a penalty for carrying too many golf clubs in your bag?
Yes. If you were to carry more than the 14 clubs in your bag during a tournament round, you would suffer a penalty. The penalty varies depending on whether you are in a match play or stroke play format.
In stroke play, you would receive two strokes for each hole where there was a breach of the rule. Fortunately, the maximum penalty for this breach is four strokes, so if you don’t catch your mistake until the last hole, it’s not the end of the world (though 4 strokes is still a big deal).
The Match Play Penalty is a bit more complicated. According to the USGA, Rule 4.1b:
- “While playing the hole: The penalty is applied at the end of the hole you are playing. In match play, you must complete the hole, apply the result of that hole to the match score and then apply the penalty to adjust the match score.
- Between two holes: The penalty is applied as of the end of the hole just completed, not the next hole.”
I know that sounds a bit confusing, so try to imagine this match play example.
Let’s say you started off the day with a 15th club in your bag.
You’re on hole 3 and you realize that you have a 15th club. You still have to finish out the hole before the penalty is applied, so you take your beautiful golf swing anyhow and you win the hole.
Congrats (sort of)!
Ignoring the extra club situation, the day is going quite well. You’ve won all 3 holes of match play thus far, but now the penalty has to be applied.
In this scenario, you were up 3-0, but you have to deduct one hole (or one point) for each hole where this offense occurred, with a maximum penalty of two holes (or two points).
Now you’re actually just up 1-0.
Should’ve checked your golf club situation before teeing off!
Ian Woosnam once lost about £220,000 because his caddie didn’t check the number of clubs in his bag. Talk about a costly mistake!
To make matters worse, that caddie overslept the next day. Yikes!
Is there a rule for what golf clubs you can carry in your bag?
The only rule you need to consider when choosing what clubs to carry in your bag is that they must conform to the regulations of The Equipment Rules as set out by the USGA and R&A.
Outside of that guideline, there are no rules stating what clubs you should include in your bag or how many of each club you may carry, so long as the total number does not exceed 14 clubs.
Even though golf can seem a bit rigid in the rule department, you actually have lots of flexibility in setting up the right club combo for your game.
Don’t want a fairway wood? That’s fine, leave it out of the bag.
Have a favorite hybrid club? Great, add it to your lineup.
Want to carry 3 putters? That’s fine, but you can only bring 11 other clubs for your round.
Finding the right club combination for your game is completely up to you, as long as you’re using conforming clubs.
Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington were part of a controversy back in 2010 when they used square-grooved golf clubs. These clubs were technically legal, but brought about accusations of cheating from some other golf pros.
As a beginner, what golf clubs should I have in my bag?
So you bought some fancy golf shoes and you can’t wait to zip around in a golf cart, but if you’re being honest, you have no idea which clubs should be in your golf bag.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about golf club selection, but if you’re a beginner, I would carry the essentials. This includes:
- A driver
- A putter
- A fairway wood (usually a 3 wood)
- A hybrid club or two (usually a 4 and 5 hybrid)
- Some irons (6-9 would be best for beginners)
- Wedges (pitching wedge and a sand wedge are essential, gap wedge and lob wedge are more specialized)
This setup isn’t recommended by a regulatory body, it’s just a good place to start. You can include any combination of golf clubs you like, as long as you remember the answer to our key question:
How many golf clubs are allowed in a golf bag? A maximum of 14.
Simple enough, right?
You may also want to consult our Golf Club Distance Chart to understand what each club is capable of.
If you’re not going to get a professional club fitting, but you want to purchase your first set of clubs, the Callaway Strata are a good place to start.