Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf Review: I had an extra club in my bag and I just teed off. Now what?

July 27, 2023


Although the scene played out more than 20 years ago, it remains one of the most watched videos regarding a Rules of Golf violation: After nearly making a hole-in-one on the first hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes during the final round of the 2001 Open Championship, Ian Woosnam was leading only to discover on the next tee that there was a 15th club in his bag, one over the legal limit. Carrying an added wood cost him a couple penalty shots, and eventually his caddie a job, and the buzzkill led to a third-place finish for Woosnam.

Think that's the rarest of blunders? Think again. The potential for having an extra club in your bag is real, whether you’re a tour pro or an average golfer. Maybe you’re just testing some wedges on the range before your tee time and forget to take the extra ones out before you tee off. Or you add a fairway wood and forget about that 3-iron in the back of the bag that you never use.

The rules are clear regarding equipment. You're allowed to have no more than 14 clubs in your bag during a round (Rule 4.1b). The penalty for having a 15th club (or more) is based on when you become aware that you're carrying an extra club.

If you realize you've got one too many during play of a hole, the penalty is applied at the conclusion of that hole. If you realize the error between holes, as Woosnam did, the penalty is applied to the hole just completed, and not the next hole about to be played.

What is the penalty? In stroke play, the penalty is two strokes for each hole where the extra club was still in the bag, with a maximum penalty of four strokes for the round (adding two strokes to the first two holes where a breach happened).

In match play, you'd complete the hole, apply the result to the score of the match, and then adjust the score by applying the penalty. The match would be revised by deducting one hole for each hole where you carried the extra club with a maximum deduction of two holes. The Rules of Golf uses this example: "If a player who started with 15 clubs becomes aware of the breach while playing the third hole, and then wins that hole to go three up in the match, the maximum adjustment of two holes applies and the player would now be one up in the match."

It's important to note that if you find someone else's club during a round or someone puts another club in your bag without your knowledge, there is no penalty provided that you don't use them. The 14-club limit also doesn't apply to broken clubs or club parts that are in the bag.