There’s no doubt about it. Having the perfect club in your golf bag can give you a distinct advantage when you’re on the course, whether you’re doing match play, stroke play, or a scramble golf tournament. Not only can the right club provide the loft or power you need, but having the right combination of clubs gives you options — another benefit that can shave strokes off your game. If you’re new to the game, you may wonder how many clubs in a golf bag you need. Find out more about how many clubs you’re allowed to carry and the ones that should always be part of your golf club arsenal.
While there’s no minimum number of clubs — you could play with a single club if you so desired — Rule #4 of the USGA Rules of Golf states that the maximum number of clubs allowed in a golf bag is 14. In most cases, how many clubs in a golf bag depends on your budget — especially if you’re relatively new to the game. However, the 14-club rule doesn’t dictate what types of clubs you can have in your bag.
Filling an entire golf bag with 14 clubs can cost thousands of dollars if you buy them all new, so take that into account before you go shopping. More importantly, you don’t need 14 clubs if you’re just starting as a beginner on your first round of golf. Think of it as when you just learn how to drive. Sure, you want a muscle car, but working out the kinks with a Corolla is probably the better option. You can always upgrade later.
Moreover, the better you get at golf and the more time you spend on the course will dictate how many golf clubs are in your bag. In general, you may want to keep your bag as simple as possible until you learn the intricacies of various clubs or holes in your game (no pun intended).
According to USGA rules, a golfer is assessed a two-stroke penalty for every hole that they have more than 14 clubs. So if you find that the number of golf clubs in your bag is more than 14 and you’ve played three holes, you’d be assessed a six-stroke penalty. In fact, if you played an entire round of golf and found the 15th club on the 18th hole, you’d get a 36-stroke penalty — the maximum penalty allowed. In the game of golf, only disqualification is a more severe penalty.
A nightmarish scenario of this variety happened at the 2013 PGA Championship. After playing two holes, Woody Austin discovered an extra club in his bag and was assessed a four-stroke penalty, becoming the first PGA Tour player to receive this penalty in a major.
Due to the severity of the penalty, most experienced golfers and professional golfers or their caddies double- or triple-check their bags before they get on the course.
Note that you cannot get a penalty for replacing a damaged club, so long as the damage wasn’t from abuse. If you go into full-on Happy Gilmore mode on the course, you aren’t allowed to retrieve a new club if you already have 14.
Whether you have 14 clubs or you decide to go with a setup that’s a bit simpler, knowing what you should carry in your bag is integral to your success. While you may have a basic idea of some of the more classic clubs, understanding the purpose of each can help you create a better golf bag and give you more versatility on the course.
If you want to hit with the big boys, you need a driver that’s up to the task. The driver is what you almost always use on the tee and gives you the most power, provided the fairway is relatively straightforward.
If you’re not a big-time driver, don’t stress. Your fairway woods have your back. Similarly sized and with dimensions close to a driver, you can use woods to hit longer shots on the fairway while also having an option off the tee for long par-3s or shorter par-4s.
Irons are part of your mid-range game that provide both loft and a bit of power. These are ideal for hitting from the rough, light rough, and fairway, making them one of the most versatile options in your bag. Ranging from a 2-iron to a 9-iron, these clubs are part of everyone’s golf bag setup, although which ones you choose is still up for debate.
Generally speaking, everyone carries at least a 7-iron through a 9-iron. Some intermediate players also add a 5-iron and 6-iron, while advanced players may even throw in a few long irons or driving irons like a 2-iron, 3-iron, or 4-iron. However, with the emergence of hybrids, many players are leaving some of the lower irons at home.
And speaking of hybrids, here we are. As one of the most revolutionary products to hit the golf market in recent memory, hybrid golf clubs provide the versatility of irons coupled with a bigger club face to make just about every shot easier. Golfers that struggle with 2-iron through 5-iron shots often find that hybrids in this range greatly improve their game, giving them better shots and more confidence as a result.
Wedges are for your approach to the green, typically when you’re around 80 to 120 yards away. As the name implies, the wedge has a higher degree of loft, which can help you clear obstacles or put a ball on the green that sticks instead of rolls. Here are the loft angles for wedges often used:
Although your granddad’s golf bag might have only had a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, most amateur golfers employ a three-wedge system thanks to advancements in golf tech. A 46-degree pitching wedge, 52-degree gap wedge, and 58-degree lob wedge should get the job done. If you want a four-wedge system, toss in a 54-degree sand wedge to give you more options to improve your short game.
The finishing move of your golf game is the putter. Essentially, you have three types of putters that are differentiated by their head: a traditional blade, half-mallet, and mallet. These putters also have either a toe balance or a face balance, which is also a matter of preference and means how the weight is distributed. If you’re just starting out, the mallet tends to be the most forgiving, but the blade is always the cheapest and most popular among pros.
The word best is totally subjective, so the “best golf bag setup” is specific to your needs and what clubs you like to hit. But other than golf balls that fly a bit further — your clubs are the most important golf equipment you own. In case you’re wondering, the most common golf bag setup includes:
As mentioned before, how many clubs you carry in your golf bag and what you carry are highly dependent on your skill level and familiarity with different clubs. While this shouldn’t deter you from trying multiple types of clubs or experimenting, you can always use these skill-based suggestions to craft the ideal golf bag.
Keep in mind that all of these golf bag setups are merely suggestions. Always start with clubs you’re familiar with before you commit to a switch in your golf bag. In some cases, fewer clubs might make the choice easier and help your game However, you can use three rules to narrow down your search for a new club or the ideal golf bag setup:
Pro Tip: If you want to try a new golf club before you buy, you can always ask friends, family, and fellow golfers. But if that’s not an option, you may want to take a glance at the UTry rental program. UTry allows you to rent a set of irons for two weeks at $50 or two clubs for $25. It gets stellar reviews and can help you save money while improving your golf bag setup.
Even if you’re not exactly Marie Kondo (if you don’t know, ask your mom), organizing your own bag to hold the right set of clubs is essential to maintaining a strong pace of play and keeping everything right where you need it. Like most other things on the golf course, how you organize your bag is entirely up to you, but following a few tips to feng shui your bag never hurt:
Endorsements and fan favoritism aside, knowing how many clubs in a golf bag and what the pros carry in theirs can give you a goal to shoot for. That’s not to say you should 100% mimic the pros. Unless your handicap warrants such a setup, you might just come off as that one pretentious golfer that no one wants to play with.
But for the sake of entertainment and to see what the pros have in their bag, here are some golf bag setups from some of the best
If you’re a beginner or an intermediate on the links, you may not have developed the right level of expertise or knowledge to decide what clubs to carry. But the more you play, the more you learn about your specific tastes and playing style.
You may not use a Texas wedge on the fringe or the fairway or a hybrid from the rough, but as your game progresses, so will your needs in terms of golf clubs. As such, always trust your instinct, experiment with different setups, and don’t be afraid to carry less than 14 clubs if you so choose. The more time and effort you put into experimentation, the better your game’s going to get. See you on the green.