According to United States Golf Association rules, a golfer is allowed to have a maximum number of 14 clubs in his bag during play. This rule was adopted in 1938 in response to some players bringing 20 or more clubs with them. It was thought that having these additional clubs could provide a scoring advantage, and the USGA's goal is to make the game as fair as possible for everyone.
Standard Set of Clubs
The sets of clubs offered at golf retailers generally include a driver, two fairway woods, 3-iron through 9-iron, a pitching wedge and sand wedge. The golfer would select the putter that feels best to him, to round out the 14. It's not unusual for sets to include hybrids instead of the 3-iron and/or 4-iron. Some golfers find that they can carry fewer clubs, nine or 10, and score just as well. The lower number makes for a lighter golf bag that is easier to carry if the player chooses to walk the course rather than take a golf cart.
Minimum Number for Beginning Players
A beginning golfer might want to decide whether he likes the game before he invests in a full set of clubs. The minimum number of clubs he needs would be those that allow him to learn the various types of shots that are played in golf. To get started, he would need a wood club such as a driver or 3-wood, to learn how to hit the ball longer distances. He would need to learn how to hit accurate iron shots. A 6-iron would be a good choice as it is not as difficult to hit as a 3-iron. Practicing short shots around the green would require a pitching wedge. And, of course, he would need a putter.
Sets of clubs for junior golfers, particularly children 9 years old and younger, might not have the full complement of 14. For example, a set of six clubs -- two woods, two irons, a sand wedge and a putter -- is a practical starter set for a junior. The smaller number makes it easier for a youngster to carry his own bag, and because children outgrow clubs quickly, purchasing a replacement set is less costly.
Amateurs, particularly those with less-developed skills, should choose clubs that give them the best chance to score well. Hitting a longer shot with a 4- or 5-wood is generally easier for amateurs than hitting a 2- or 3-iron, so an amateur might decide to carry a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood and 7-wood instead of the long irons. In recent years golfers of all skill levels -- including pros -- have begun adding hybrid clubs to their bags as a replacement for long irons. Hybrids blend the characteristics of irons and woods, the result being a club that is easier to hit than a long iron and offers better control for most players than woods without sacrificing significant distance.
If you look in golf professionals' bags, you would see that the clubs they select within the 14-club limit vary considerably. In the 2011 BMW Championship, winner Justin Rose used a driver, two fairway woods, 3- through 9-irons, three wedges and a putter. Darren Clarke won the 2011 British Open Championship with a driver, fairway wood, a hybrid club, 4-iron through pitching wedge, three other wedges and a putter. Pros may change their club selections slightly from week to week depending on the course they are playing and the weather conditions. The extra wedges help them play specialty shots around the greens, those that require more loft or greater spin.