Why 14 Clubs Are Allowed In Golf? The “Swiss Army Knife” Rule

Technical Director Jeff Summitt Explains Why 14 Clubs is The Magic Number

Hireko Swiss Army 2The golf bag is much like a Swiss Army Knife, those versatile pocket items that are mostly available with a red handle and feature the white cross, or the emblem of Switzerland on them. Some of the deluxe models will have a multitude of gadgets ranging from a large blade, screwdriver, can opener, corkscrew, and tweezers to items such as a wood chisel, metal saw and even a fish scaler with hook disgorger & ruler. Many of you probably own one and may occasionally use it from time to time. However, I bet the majority of people who received one as a stocking stuffer or Christmas present will use the large blade 99% of the time and for curiosity sake might use one of the other gadgets just to see what it can do.

Why are all of these tools available in the first place? Well, just in case you are lost in the woods and need to cut down a small branch, create a crude fishing pole, catch a fish, scale and filet it and start a fire so you can cook your fresh catch. In essence, you just never know when you might need that one tool and it was there in you pocket all along.

The golf bag is somewhat similar. Enacted to the Rules of Golf starting in 1939, we are allowed up to 14 clubs to be carried in the bag at the same time. (Note: Prior to 1939, there was no limit on clubs allowed) For beginning golfers, they may have the full compliment of 14 clubs to carry around, yet may use a single club for the majority of the shots during a round because it is the only club that they feel that can hit consistently. On the opposite extreme, you have the veteran golfer or professional who knows like the back of their hand how far and how each golf club will go based upon hours of pounding shot after shot at the range or out on the course. However, even the most accomplished golfers will realize that not every club in the set will be used during a single round. So why do we carry them all? The simple answer is just in case we need to make a specific shot we have it in the bag. After all, the Rules of Golf allows for it so we might as well make every effort to have a rhyme and reason for each club that is carried.

Before I had as many family and work obligation as I have now, I used to play a lot of golf. Sometimes when I got bored and wanted to break up the monotony, I would play and entire round with just one club. You might be surprised at how little difference there is in your actual score at the end of the round. Of all the clubs and you only had one choice of what was in the bag, what would it be? From a course management situation, you would need to evaluate the scorecard and look at the distances. The course I played by far the most was Granville Golf Course, a semi-private course designed by Donald Ross in the quaint little village of Granville, Ohio. I played it so many times I don’t have to walk off the yardage from virtually any place on the entire course. From the men’s tees, many of the Par 3’s were in the 160 yard distance, plus the Par 5’s were just over 500 yards. Perfect, the 6-iron at the time would tackle the Par 3’s, and 3 solid shots would reach the Par 5’s in regulation. Realize that most courses are not going to set up as well as this course for using only one club.

Now the problem, none of the Par 4’s could I reach in regulation with two solid 6-irons. However, using my average score as an indicator, the probability for hitting greens in regulation (GIR’s) was only 6 or 7 in a round anyway. This is one of the reasons that playing penalty-free will not yield much more of a higher score. What I mean by penalty-free is to avoid situations were a 6-iron is not really designed, like a sand bunker. Not everyone is as talented as a young Seve Ballesteros to be able to extract a ball out of the bunker with a lower lofted golf club and have any chance of getting it close to the hole. The other problem it putting with a 6-iron, or better put is to blade the club into the ball to get it rolling toward the hole. Of course I had hands of stone back then, but that is another topic to address later. So putting with a 6-iron wasn’t exactly a disadvantage.

Playing a golf course can be fun and challenging if playing with just one club as it also makes one more disciplined. Even though my scores were not much higher (usually 2 or 3 strokes per 9 holes) I would not want to play this way all the time. In fact, I would never get any better than what I was. I guess I could have tried a longer club, perhaps a 7-wood. With two solid and accurate shots, I might have reached the putting surface safely on some of the Par 4’s. Chances are what I gave up to attack the Par 4’s confidently would have posed more problems with the par 3 and 5 holes, thus reducing the likelihood of lowering the score. No, I will take 14 clubs any day as long as the Rules of Golf remain that way, even if only half of the clubs are ever taken out of the bag on a single round.

You can email your questions or comments to Technical Director Jeff Summitt at jsummitt@hirekogolf.com.


  1. […] The golf bag is much like a Swiss Army Knife, those versatile pocket items that are mostly available with a red handle and feature the white cross, or the emblem of Switzerland on them. Some of the deluxe models will have a multitude of gadgets ranging from a large blade, …continue here […]

  2. gary says:

    Yes I agree it can be a lot of fun and challenge to play with only one club.I some times carry more than 14 clubs when playing by myself. I like 3-4drivers small heads and large ones . when I play with only one I do allow myself my putter. It is the best club in my bag. Sometimes when I’m playing bad I’ll go to one club only and it usally does not effect my score, but does get my confidence back.

  3. K Paterson says:

    All very informative, my question is why 14 and not 13 0r 15 ?


  4. Banjo bob says:

    If money would buy us a score, it seems like the most should be spent on the putter, next the driver, then a great wedge–probably sand without too much bounce, then about a 5 or 6 HYBRID. All the rest is occasional as far as I can see! (Although I’m about to purchase a Caiman Powerplay 3/5–sounds like the best idea in years!)

  5. Harry says:

    Walter Hagen had something to do with the 14 club rule. He was a master promoter. Several companies (e.g., L.A. Young) used his name to advertise products, most of which ended up in his bag even if he never used them! The 14 club rule was in part an anti-Walter Hagen advertisement rule.

    I also played golf with only one club, a five iron, and scored an 85 on a short course. With a wedge the score would have been much lower.

    The old players I met growing up in the 60’s and 70’s were really good at manufacturing shots with fewer clubs. Today few amatuers understand how to hit a low runner, a half-club less using a fade, a side-spin chip, a backspin punch shot (not a knock-down), etc. Sam Snead could even hit a high draw off the deck with a driver. Now that was shotmaking!

  6. Toby Martin II says:

    Why are adjustable clubs legal, since there is a 14-club limit?
    Years ago an aging Sam Snead was prohibited from putting “croquet style”… Craig Stadler was penalized for placing a towel under his knees, simply to avoid getting his pants wet or dirty… now longer-shaft putters are being outlawed. But adjustable clubs–in effect adding the equivalent of more than 14 clubs are considered okay. What’s the reason for these inconsistencies?

  7. Jeff Summitt says:


    The reasoning for the ruling on adjustable club is they are not adjustable during the stipulated round. Irons lies and lofts can be adjusted and so too face angle and lie on certain woods – however, not during a round. Adjustable length clubs are also possible that the adjustability doesn’t occur during the round and not easily adjusted without a tool. This is no different than a player going to a clubmaker and having them take some off the butt or adding an extender so the player has a properly fit club.

    I would agree certain rules should go, but not the adjustabilty rules.

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