Written by: Brent Kelley
Voice over: Michael Robles
Fourteen clubs are the maximum allowed in one player’s golf bag during a round played under the rules of golf. Any number below 14 is fine, but more than 14 is not.
Also, those 14 clubs cannot be changed during the course of one round. You must finish with the 14 you started with. (There are some exceptions in the case of a club breaking.)
However, if you begin with fewer than 14, you may add clubs during a round as long as no delay is caused and as long as the club(s) added are not borrowed from another golfer. If you are playing under the Rules of Golf, you can have no more than 14 golf at the start of your game.
The Penalty for Exceeding 14 Clubs
Always remember to count your clubs before teeing off in any kind of competitive setting. If you accidentally discover that there is a 15th club in your bag, there is a penalty
The penalty depends on what type of game you’re playing:
Match play: The penalty for exceeding the 14-club limit in match play is the deduction of one hole from a player’s score for each hole on which an excess club was used, up to a maximum of two holes deducted. (For example, a golfer with a 3-up lead deducts two holes, making the score 1-up.)
Stroke play: In stroke play, the penalty is two strokes for each hole played in violation of the rules, with a maximum of four strokes total.
Even professional golfers sometimes err and wind up being penalized for carrying too many clubs. Perhaps the best-known example of such a penalty is the one given to Ian Woosnam at the 2001 British Open. Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champ, birdied the first hole of the final round of the 2001 Open to move into a share of the lead.
But standing on the second tee, Woosnam’s caddie informed him, “There are too many clubs in the bag.” There was a second driver–a club Woosnam had practiced on the range with–still in the golf bag. Woosnam had to inform the match referee; the 2-stroke penalty was applied, and Woosnam’s chances of victory quickly faded. (Woosnam threw a memorable fit on the tee, throwing his hat to the ground, tossing the extra driver into the rough.)
Why the Number of Golf Clubs Is Limited
In the early 20th century, some professional golfers and highly skilled amateurs were playing in tournaments with golf bags that included 20, 25 clubs.
Steel-shafted golf clubs began replacing hickory-shafted clubs in the 1920s, and steel-shafted clubs did not offer the same number of shot-making options as did hickory. Therefore, many golfers loaded up on extra clubs–extra steel-shafted clubs meant more shot-making options.
The ruling bodies decided a limit needed to be imposed to keep more and more clubs from showing up in bags. The 14-club limit was introduced by the USGA in 1938 and adopted by the R&A in 1939.
According to RulesHistory.com, the original penalty for exceeding the 14-club limit was disqualification. It was then changed to two strokes per hole in stroke play and loss of hole in match play, with no limits on the amount of penalty. That meant a golfer could theoretically get a 36-stroke penalty if he carried an extra club for all 18 holes of a round.
The current structure of the penalties (with their 2-hole or 4-stroke limits) were added to the rules in 1968.
Limiting the number of clubs forces golfers to become more proficient at playing different types of shots with the clubs they do have.
Among the other practical benefits of the 14-club limit is it keeps golf bags from becoming much heavier. That’s easier on a golfer and, especially, on a caddie. It also keeps costs down. After all, buying 18 golf clubs would be more expensive than buying 14. (And buying 14 is expensive enough already.)
When More Than 14 Clubs Is OK
The official rules allow any number of golf clubs in your bag, including more than 14, when practicing. If you’re heading to the driving range or playing a practice round of golf, 15, 18, 33 clubs are fine (but heavy!).