Even our expert makes a mistake from time to time. So what happened when he found the dreaded 15th club?

A salutary tale this time, where it is me who comes a cropper. Yes, even those of us who claim to know the rules make a daft mistake every now and then. I’d been completely unaware until the 12th hole and then I saw an unusual glint poking out from underneath my towel. There it was. The spare 6-iron I’d been experimenting with in a practice round the previous weekend. It dawned on me. Here I was, in full flight in a competition, with too many clubs in the bag.

I’ve taken a bit of good-natured ribbing since and, yes, I deserved it. All I had to do was count them up.

But, on a more serious note, what was the cost for too many clubs in the bag? We all know we can only have a maximum of 14 but I’d been carrying an extra stick for two thirds of a round. Was it an astronomical number of penalty shots, or worse?

Let me reveal all…

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen it or that I hadn’t used it. There were more than 14 clubs in my bag and that’s a breach of Rule 4.1b.

So what did I do? I complied immediately with the requirements of the regulation that said I had to immediately take the excess club out of play.

Now, because I started with more than 14 clubs I could actually choose which one I wanted to remove, but I decided to lose the offending 6-iron.

Rule 4.1c outlines the procedure for taking clubs out of play. You can declare this to your opponent in match play, or a marker or another player in the group in stroke play.

You also can take what the rules call some other ‘clear-cut action’. I turned the club upside down in the bag, but you can also give it to someone else or put it in your golf buggy.

What you can’t do is use that club. If you make a stroke for the rest of the round with any club taken out of play, pack your bags. It’s disqualification.

So we come on to the facepalm moment. What penalty is being faced and how do we apply it?

It depends on the format and when you become aware of the breach. Rule 4.1b says If it’s when playing a hole, as it was for me, the penalty is applied at the end of the hole being played.

It adds that in match play, you would complete the hole and “apply the result of that hole to the match score and then apply the penalty to adjust the match score”.

If you’ve discovered your breach between two holes, you apply the penalty at the end of the hole you’ve just finished.

Right, to the nub of it. How many shots? In stroke play, it’s two penalty strokes for each hole where a breach occurred up to a maximum of four during the round.

So, in my unfortunate case, I ended up with four shots of pain for my oversight.

In match play, as hinted at earlier, it’s a bit different. The match score is revised by deducting a hole – to a maximum of two holes.

This all sounds a little complex but the rules explain it plainly by giving the example of a player with 15 clubs who realises it while playing the 3rd. That player wins the hole to go 3-up but then has to take two off [the penalty for the breach applying at the 1st and 2nd holes] and goes to the 4th 1-up.

What if you notice your rogue club, or clubs, just as you’re about to start a round? Rule 4.1c (2) says if you “accidentally” have more than 14 in the bag, you should try to leave the extras behind.

But you do have the opportunity – without penalty – to take them out of play using the procedure I described earlier and the excess clubs can be kept, but not used.

Don’t think, though, this gives you an excuse to turn up flashing extra sticks. If you deliberately bring too many, and tee off without leaving them behind, you’re going to get penalised.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I have been inundated with requests in recent and am working hard to try and get through them.

I’ve also received a number of emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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