A respectable amateur golfer accumulates extra clubs over the years, with the two extremes – putters and drivers – being the most likely pieces of spare hardware. When it comes to pros, figure on Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods to own a lot more than just two or three of everything, even if they only tote one bag to the PGA Championship.
However, there are hard limits on the number of clubs that golfers are allowed to carry during a competitive round. The rule has been around for years, yet it’s still been violated in some of the biggest tournaments, including the PGA Championship and the British Open.
A golfer needs to know his or her limits
Anticipating the obvious question that goes hand-in-hand with inquiries about the maximum number of clubs permitted in a round of competitive golf, there is no minimum requirement. If a golfer wants to play 18 at the PGA Championship or U.S. Open using just a driver and a putter, he or she is welcome to try.
And, as long as we’re on the subject of equipment, there is no limit on the number of balls that a golfer can carry in their bag. The pros always expect to have to replace a few damaged balls during the round and even lose one or two, so they typically take 10 or 12 balls to the first tee. That mileage may vary for amateurs.
Only 14 clubs in the bag, please
The United States Golf Association (USGA) compiles the most frequently cited set of rules for the sport in the country, covering everything from equipment specifications to the procedures for match and stroke play.
The maximum number of clubs permitted is 14. Once you allow for the number of times a player pulls their driver out of the bag on the tee box and uses the putter on the green, 14 clubs understandably may seem excessive.
The default configuration is typically a driver, two woods, eight irons, and a putter. That leaves two open spots in the bag, which might be used for another long iron, a fairway wood, or an extra wedge.
Players have been known to break clubs on the course. In fact, it happened to Bryson DeChambeau in the first round of the 2020 PGA Championship. If you’re going to potentially ruin a club by throwing it in anger – not advisable, by the way – let it be a 1-iron rather since many golfers find that to be the least-useful club.
The USGA has gone back and forth on the policy for borrowing clubs during a round. The latest interpretation allows only for borrowing a club only from a partner you’re teaming up with during a tournament, so don’t snap that putter in half over a missed three-footer.
What’s the penalty for too many clubs at the PGA Championship?
Woody Austin was hit with a four-stroke penalty in the second round of the 2013 PGA Championship after realizing he had 15 clubs in his bag at the third hole. Austin meant to leave a hybrid in the clubhouse after hitting with it on the practice range.
With rainy conditions on the course and a towel draped over his bag, neither Austin nor his caddie noticed the extra club until it was too late. Under Rule 4-4, the penalty was two strokes for each hole, up to a four-stroke limit.
Austin ended up missing the cut.
As bad as Austin’s situation was, what happened to Ian Woosnam at the 2001 British Open was worse. Playing the fourth round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Woosnam began his round with a birdie to tie for the lead.
When he arrived at the second tee, Woosnam realized he had an extra wood in his bag. After disgustedly tossing the club aside, Woosnam took the two-stroke penalty to fall back to sixth place. He finished the tournament tied for third.