Majors have been won with as few as seven and as many as 31 clubs in the bag. Hannah Holden explains why the authorities settled at 14

Earlier in the week my brother asked me a golf question that stumped me: “How many golf clubs can you carry?”

Now, that wasn’t what got me – I know the answer is 14, as I’m sure you do. It was his follow up query of “why 14?”…

How many golf clubs can you carry?

In 1913 Francis Ouimet won the US Open carrying just seven clubs. Twenty-one years later Lawson Little used 31 clubs en route to winning the British Amateur. So why can we only use 14 clubs today?

Initially there were no rules of golf governing the number of golf clubs a golfer could use. This changed when the 13th edition of the rules of golf was issued in September 1939. It featured an addition within Rule 1:

The clubs used by a player during a round shall not exceed 14, and the clubs carried shall be restricted to that number.

14 Golf Clubs

But what brought about this rule change?

Well, in 1924 Herbert C Lagerblade became the first ever golfer to use a steel-shafted club in a US Open. Sales of steel shafts had begun in 1922 but initially many pros were antagonistic about the new steel shaft.

If they stuck with their hickory-shafted clubs they’d know exactly where each shot would land. But the idea of a longer and more consistent ball flight from steel-shafted clubs was also tempting.

To solve this problem, players simply started bringing both sets of clubs to tournaments with them. From 1924 to 1935 the amount of clubs brought to tournaments increased drastically. Some caddies were even forced to carry two golf bags due to the sheer number of clubs their player required. A field survey at the US Open and Amateur found the average number of clubs being carried by a single player was 18.

“The highest recorded total was in 1935 when a player showed up with 32 clubs,” says Rand Jerris of the USGA.

“He had a full set of left- and right-handed clubs in the same bag. His feeling was, ‘If my ball comes to rest against a tree, why should I be disadvantaged?’ It was around this time everyone decided things were out of control.”

14 Golf Clubs

After the 1935 US Open, the USGA began serious discussions about limiting the number of clubs which could be used in a round of golf.

The USGA had three main reasons for this:

  1. “De-skilling” the game.
  2. Inequality between wealthy golfers, who could afford many clubs, and average players who couldn’t.
  3. Caddies, who were having to carry bags that weighed in excess of 35 pounds.

Before steel-shafted clubs everyone carried a mismatched set of clubs. The steel shaft allowed the introduction of matching sets, as there were much easier to produce than matching hickory shafts.

George Nicoll of Leven from Scotland created the first matched set of irons. They were numbered 1 to 9 and led to all other major manufacturers making numbered sets of  nine irons.

These irons were played alongside a putter and four woods making up the 14 clubs we are allowed to use today.

Interesting, isn’t it? I think so. So do you think we should be limited to using 14 clubs? Let me know in the comments below or you can tweet me.

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