Golf Equipment Rules: Clubs – Rule 4

Most golfers seem to know any Rules that include maximum numbers – for example, the five-minute ball search time, and 14 being the maximum number of clubs you can carry.

But what happens if you exceed 14, even inadvertently? Sadly, you will be penalised, but there is a cap on the number of strokes or holes it will cost you.

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In stroke play, there is a two-shot penalty for each hole at which any breach occurred, but it is capped at four strokes in total, with two strokes added to each of the first two holes at which any breach occurred.

In match play, the score is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred. Thankfully, again, there is a limit to the number of holes deducted, and that limit is two.

Discovering an extra club in your bag is bad news, but there is a cap on any penalties in both stroke play and match play. Photo: Kenny Smith

If the breach is discovered between the play of two holes, any penalty would not apply on the next hole. So if you notice an extra putter in your bag between the 1st green and 2nd tee, you would only incur a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, or have the score adjusted by one hole in match play.

Once an excess club or excess clubs have been discovered, you must declare them out of play and not use them for the remainder of the round. Should you do so, you will be disqualified.

Other points of note regarding the 14 clubs are…

  • It’s up to you how that number is made up – you are quite at liberty to carry two drivers, two putters, or whichever 14 clubs you think you most need
  • If you start with fewer than 14, you may add clubs up to 14, but only if you can do so without unduly delaying play, so perhaps if the 9th green comes back close to where your car is parked
  • And you may share clubs with a partner in a pairs event provided the total number of clubs carried between the two of you does not exceed 14.

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Another key equipment Rule to bear in mind out on the course addresses damage, with the nature of, or reason for, any damage dictating what you may and may not do.

If a club is damaged during the normal course of play – for example, on a tree root when playing a shot – you may, if you so wish, carry on using it in its damaged state for the remainder of the round.

You may also repair it or have it repaired as long as you don’t unduly delay play, so in many instances that will not be practical at club golf level.

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If the club is damaged in some other way – perhaps a fit of pique following a particularly bad shot – then it’s game over for that club for the remainder of the round if you have rendered it non-conforming or changed its playing characteristics!

If you subsequently use it or replace it, you will be disqualified.

Do this to your driver or any club mid-competition round and you will be penalised. Photo: Kenny Smith

Finally, there’s the matter of adjustability. Many clubs these days can be adjusted to perform differently in terms of loft, ball flight, spin and so on, but no such adjustments are permitted once a competition round has started as that would be a breach of Rule 4-2a – Playing Characteristics Changed.

So, tempting though it may be to try to straighten out a wayward ball flight, or help you hit the ball lower, don’t do it. The penalties are the same as for carrying in excess of 14 clubs.