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rules of golf

Are you allowed to share golf clubs? Here’s what the rules say

We've all had a go with a mate's new driver. But can it get you into trouble? Our Rules of Golf expert has news for you
 

Rock up to the course toting a new club and everyone wants to have a go. You’re like the belle of the ball. But I’m always wary about handing my precious equipment to someone with whom I might be playing.

For a start, there was the time when I briefly loaned out my spanking shiny new TaylorMade M2 driver to a playing partner.

Remember that lovely black and white head combo? One roof later and it was decidedly less pretty. I learned a powerful lesson there.

But there’s another reason when playing in a competition to be a little reticent about passing around your kit. Big penalties can arise if you’re not careful. And yet there are other times when it’s also perfectly acceptable. So let’s see when you can and can’t share clubs on the course.

Can you share golf clubs?

No sharing of clubs

Let’s cut to the can’t bit straight away. Rule 4.1b (2) says a player is “limited” those clubs they started with or added (if they began with fewer than 14, for instance).

You are not allowed to make a stroke with a club that’s being used by anyone else who is playing on the course.

This part of the rule is very strict. It’s prohibited even if the player you snaffle the club from is playing in a different group, or even in a different competition entirely. Wow.

If you’ve made that stroke, once you’re aware that you’ve breached the rule you’ve got to immediately take the club out of play.

The penalty for falling foul here is chunky, and it’s the same as you’d face for having more than 14 clubs in the bag. In match play, it’s a match adjustment penalty. That means at the end of the hole being played, or just finished, you would revise the game score by deducting a hole, up to a maximum of two holes, for each hole where the breach occurred.

In stroke play, the consequences are equally stiff. It’s the general penalty (two strokes) for each hole up a maximum of four strokes in any round. If you’re punished to the max, you would add those strokes at the first two holes where a breach took place.

In short, don’t do it.

But wait, aren’t there some times we can share golf clubs?

There are.

In foursomes and fourballs, this rule is modified so partners can share clubs. This is because in these formats, you come together as a side to compete.

As far as many of the Rules are concerned, you are essentially one entity. In both foursomes and fourballs, though, you can’t have a total of anymore than 14 clubs between you.

Do we have to carry our clubs in different bags?

No, you don’t.

A clarification to Rule 4.1b (2) says the rules do not restrict “multiple players from carrying their clubs in one bag”. You’d imagine, though, this could get quite confusing very quickly and so the interpretation also states that, to avoid the risk of getting pinged, “they should make sure the clubs are clearly identifiable to each player”.

What if I’m just taking a practice swing, or a practice putt?

Those of you with sharp minds will have noted the reference to “stroke”. That means it applies to shots that count in a player’s score. As another clarification to Rule 4.1b (2) points out, it doesn’t apply to practice swings, practice strokes or “strokes made after the result of a hole is decided”.

It gets a bit more explicit in its example, saying there would be no penalty, for example, if “between the play of two holes”, you used someone’s putter and made a number of practice putts on the putting green of the hole you’ve just finished.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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