If you’re new to golf, there aren’t really any dumb questions. In fact, I spend a great deal of time trying to address common questions that newbies may be too embarrassed to ask.
So here’s one of the first questions you might be secretly pondering:
What clubs should I have in my golf bag?
Most golfers include the following clubs in their bag:
- 3 wood
- 5 wood
- 4-9 irons
- Pitching wedge
- Sand wedge
Because I’m a nice guy, I’m going to spare you from doing any math. That list that I just shared equals a grand total of 12 clubs.
If you’re looking to fit in at your next golf outing, add those clubs to your shiny new stand bag and you’ll be just fine.
You could stop reading here and get on with your day, but if you’ve lived life for long enough, you know that every answer has a caveat, asterisk or disclaimers…this question is no exception.
So here’s where it gets interesting…
According to the official rules of golf, you can actually carry 14 clubs in your golf bag. This leaves room for some alternate clubs that you can sneak into the mix.
Side note: You’re also allowed to carry fewer clubs.
Why would I carry more than 12 golf clubs?
Great question. There are several answers.
1. There are several specialty clubs that an experienced golfer might include in their bag. Options like a gap wedge or a lob wedge are designed for very specific shots on a golf course. As a beginner golfer, these clubs aren’t necessary.
2. In addition to your fairway woods (the 3 and 5 wood mentioned in the list above), most modern golfers like to include a hybrid club (more on that later).
3. Some golfers like to have an extra club of the same type. This seems strange, but I know someone who carries two putters in their bag instead of one. If they’re sinking putts, they stick with their original putter. If they’re struggling, they go to their second option as a way of resetting themselves.
For some golfers, superstition is not to be underestimated.
Another reason to carry a duplicate is to have a backup in case you end up with a damaged club.
I don’t want you to get too bogged down in the details, but you should know that there’s a 14 club limit that you need to keep in mind as you arrange golf clubs.
OK. Now I know what clubs I need in my bag. But what does each club actually do?
Another great question. Man, you’re on a roll!
What’s the point in knowing what clubs you should have in your bag if you don’t know what to do with them? Choosing the right club is really important.
Here is a quick breakdown of what each club looks like and what it actually does.
This is the longest club in your bag. It has the largest club head and the longest golf shaft.
For most golfers, the driver is their favorite piece of golf equipment as it offers the greatest potential for distance.
If you are a beginner or amateur golfer, this is typically the club you start off with on each hole (assuming it’s not a short distance par 3). However, accuracy with this golf club can be difficult if you don’t have a consistent swing.
That leads us to…
The Fairway Wood (3 wood and 5 wood)
I’ll start by saying that the 3 wood is my favorite club, so it’s difficult to be completely unbiased here. I think you MUST have a 3 wood in your bag. The 5 wood is negotiable.
These two clubs look similar to a driver, but the shaft of each club is slightly shorter, which can help if you struggle with accuracy. If there is less margin for error, that increases the odds for a more precise shot.
The 3 wood offers more distance than the 5 wood, but both clubs offer slightly less distance than the driver. Woods are typically used in situations where you need to hit the golf ball far.
There are three types of irons.
- Long irons (numbered 2-4). Offer the most distance, but tough to hit well.
- Mid irons (numbered 5-7)
- Short irons (numbered 8-9). Offer the least distance, but easier to hit.
The face of each iron has an angle to it. That angle determines how high the ball will go and your swing speed / contact determine how far the ball will go.
Side note: If you are hitting the ball from the fairway with an iron, you don’t use a tee. You just hit directly off of the grass.
Nobody told me that when I first started golfing, so I thought I’d save you from any awkwardness.
Wedges look similar to irons, but the face of each wedge has a much higher angle. These clubs are designed to send the ball up rather than out. They are labeled (P, PW, S, or SW).
In other words, expect higher trajectory and shorter distances from a wedge.
When you’re setting up your cart bag with the clubs you want to carry, I would strongly suggest that a pitching wedge and sand wedge be included in your lineup.
A pitching wedge gives you more distance than a sand wedge.
Other club options include a gap wedge, lob wedge, and a utility wedge. These clubs are worth investigating once you feel confident with the other two wedges.
As the old adage goes, don’t put the [golf] cart before the horse…
A hybrid club is going to look similar to a driver or fairway wood, but the club head is going to be a bit smaller.
Hybrids are a more recent development in golf history. They are designed to combine the best features of a fairway wood and a long iron (2,3,4).
If possible, include a hybrid in your club lineup and give it a try if you struggle to hit your long irons well.
The putter is probably your most important club. Don’t underestimate the importance of putting, and make sure you have a putter tailored to your height.
I hope that list gives you some context for each club. Now its time to bring this puppy home…
I started this article by addressing the question: What clubs should I have in my golf bag? The list included the 12 typical options, but I also mentioned that the United States Golf Association allows you to carry 14 clubs.
This fact may lead you to a final follow-up question:
What 14 clubs should I carry?
Amateur golfers who have some knowledge of the game should carry these 14 clubs:
- 3 wood
- 5 wood
- 4-9 irons
- Pitching wedge
- Sand wedge
- Lob wedge
- Gap wedge
I’ve seen some newer golfers build their bag by mimicking the setup of professional golfers like Phil Mickelson (LIV Golf pro) and Rory McIlroy (PGA pro).
Those guys build their bag around their strengths and preferences. You’re not at the level those guys are at, so I would avoid just stick with the suggestions above or something very close.
As your skills advance and you get dialed in on your distances, the specialty wedges are going may be very useful to you. You may even develop a liking for a 2 or 3 iron.
My final piece of advice goes something like this:
Figure out which clubs you hit best and put those clubs in your bag. Take some of the clubs you don’t hit well and practice using them at a driving range.
If you don’t hit any clubs well and you’ve never gone in for a club fitting, you may want to give that a shot.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to drop your questions, comments and critiques in the comments below.
See also: The Typical Clubs in a Golf Bag