Golfers are limited to carrying no more than 14 clubs in their golf bag during a round. This rule is set by the R&A and USGA, the governing bodies of golf globally and in the United States. But why 14 clubs? What types of clubs make up a standard set? And what happens if you try to sneak in an extra wedge or putter? Let’s take a closer look at golf club limits, typical club sets, and the reasoning behind the 14-club rule.
The Standard 14 Club Golf Set
A standard golf set consists of 14 clubs, normally broken down into the following:
- Driver – 1 club
- Fairway Woods – 1-2 clubs
- Hybrids – 0-2 clubs
- Irons – 6-9 clubs
- Wedges – 3-4 clubs
- Putter – 1 club
The driver is the longest club in the bag designed to hit tee shots as far down the fairway as possible. Fairway woods are also long-distance clubs for tee shots or shots from the fairway. Hybrids blend aspects of woods and irons and can replace low irons for some golfers. Irons are used for a variety of shot distances, normally hit from the fairway or rough. Wedges are high-loft specialty clubs used inside 100 yards and for tricky shots around the green. The putter is used on the putting greens.
Clubs Sets Based on Handicap
While all sets contain 14 clubs, the exact makeup of the set can vary based on a golfer’s skill level and preferences.
High handicap golfers (those with a handicap above 18) may carry more hybrids and higher lofted irons which are more forgiving. Their wedge selection is often limited to a pitching wedge, sand wedge and lob wedge.
Mid handicap golfers (handicaps 10-18) have more traditional blended sets with a combination of hybrids and 3-9 irons. They’ll have four wedge options (pitching, gap, sand, and lob). Their woods may be older models.
Low handicap golfers (below 10) favour blades or muscle back irons which allow them to shape shots. They’ll carry a full spread of wedges to dial in short game precision. Their woods are often new high-tech models maximising distance.
Why 14 Clubs?
The 14 club limit was instituted in 1938. Prior to that time, players could carry unlimited clubs which slowed down play. The governing bodies settled on 14 as providing enough variety and options for players to handle any situation, without going overboard.
14 clubs force golfers to make choices and think strategically about which clubs provide the most utility given their skill set and the course conditions. Changing clubs between holes is also restricted to promote flow of play.
Penalties for Too Many Clubs
If you are caught carrying more than 14 clubs in your bag by another player or official, the penalty is two strokes per hole at which the breach was discovered, up to a maximum of four strokes.
For example, if you played the first two holes with 15 clubs before being caught, you would be assessed four penalty strokes (two per hole). Any subsequent holes would have no further penalty.
If it is discovered that you are carrying more than 14 clubs between two holes, it is considered to apply to the next hole. You must also take the extra club out of play before continuing.
Bags Designed for 14 Clubs
Standard golf bags are designed to hold a full set of 14 clubs. While styles vary, they’ll have slots or dividers to separate each club. Common types include:
- Staff bags: Used by touring pros and at exclusive clubs. Heavy, large capacity.
- Cart bags: Designed to attach to a golf cart. Lightweight with plenty of pockets.
- Stand bags: Use built-in retractable legs to stand upright. Ideal for walking players.
- Carry bags: Compact and minimalist. Great for juniors, beginners, or high mobility players.
Some bags may appear to hold more than 14 in total storage, but the accessible club slots/dividers will be made to fit a traditional 14 club set.
While you could theoretically squeeze an extra putter or wedge into a staff bag, doing so during competition would lead to disqualification if discovered. And it’s just not worth earning a reputation for cheating over trying to get a slight equipment advantage.
14 clubs is the hard limit set by golf’s ruling bodies worldwide. This promotes faster play, strategic decision making, and fairness across the field. Trying to finagle an extra club can lead to penalties, so it’s wise to stick to a regulation set that fits your ability and the golf course at hand.
If you have recently upgraded your clubs, without going over the 14-club limit of course, be sure to test them out at West Essex Golf Club. We have a beautifully kept 18-hole course complete with water hazards, different levels of elevation and copse lined fairways. We also have a state-of-the-art TrackMan Driving Range, as well as a chipping green and putting green. You can find all of our green fees and membership types on our website.