How to Pack Golf Clubs for Air Travel

A Necessary Evil

Taking a golf trip is great, but traveling with golf clubs is a hassle.  More than that, it’s nerve wracking to think about your precious clubs being lost, stolen, or broken en route.  Today, I’ll share some of my hard earned lessons about packing golf clubs for air travel.

Hard Case or Soft Case?

The first decision you need to make when traveling with your clubs is whether to use a hard or soft travel case.  Neither one is perfect, so you have to consider your needs.

Soft case: Easier to pack.  The case is lighter, leaving more weight for gear.  Fits into most cars fairly easily.

Hard case: Peace of mind.  The airlines will only cover damaged clubs if you’re using a hard case.

I have both, and I do prefer my hard case, but I only use it if I know I will have a minivan or SUV to drive at my destination.

Take Pictures

Use your phone to take a few pictures of your clubs before you pack them up.  This will serve as proof of what was in the bag should it get lost or stolen.

Packing Tips

Whether you use a hard or soft travel case, how you pack your clubs will make a big difference in the abuse they take.  Here’s my step by step plan:

Step One: Choose a golf bag without legs.  I prefer a cart bag, but a true walking bag is a fine choice, too.  The reason for this is simple: even in a hard case, a bag’s legs are very easy to break.  I lost a great stand bag that way.

Step Two: Take the heads off all adjustable clubs.  Put the heads in their headcovers and store them inside your golf bag or in another piece of luggage.  Make notes or take pics of how the clubs get put back together.

Step Three: Use a Stiff Arm.  If you don’t want to spring for a Stiff Arm, use a broom handle.  As long as it extends past your longest club or shaft, it will do the job of absorbing the impact if your bag is dropped head first.

Step Four: Take the socks that you’re going to wear on the trip and use them to cover your irons and wedges.  Then, weave your golf towel through your clubs to minimize movement.

Step Five: Put your golf balls in your regular luggage.  Your golf bag is going to get very close to the 50 pound limit, especially with a hard case.  Putting your balls in your luggage will save you from paying the overweight charge or doing the emergency reshuffle at baggage check.

Bonus Tip: Put your rangefinder in your carry on.  Rangefinders are expensive and can very easily be stolen or broken in transit.

Step Six: Fill all the excess space in the case with your clothes.  Clothes won’t add much weight, but they will pad your clubs and limit the amount of movement in your case.

Have a great golf travel tip?  Post it below!

Matt Saternus
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  1. Thanks for the great article. I’m planning my first trip and can’t decide whether soft or hardshell, but am thinking of the Sun Mountain Meridian. Seeing the Projekt stand bag in a pic above, how do you like it thus far? Thanks for the always reliable content!

  2. Lemuel Beauchamp

    Great tips! my only comment would be on step four, if you don’t want a smelly bag coming back from your trip, spend around $10 in iron covers instead of covering them with used socks.

  3. Doug Jamieson

    We have had various hard and soft cases over the years, but in preparation for a golf trip to Ireland my wife and I bought Ping travel bags and Stiff Arms. These were excellent, and particularly handy due to their stowable design — the cases collapse down to something the size of a large briefcase. Great for fitting into European cars, which tend to be smaller than North American vehicles.

  4. A third option are the hard cases that also serve as a golf bag when you take the hard cover off. Caddy Daddy is one but there are others that work well. These are good if you are going to use them as a cart bag don’t try to carry them on the course. Pack them the same as described in this article. Get one with side pockets big enough to carry your shoes. I’ve use these all over the US, Asia, and Europe traveling with never a problem. Be aware, with all golf bags, TSA is going to open them up.

    These type of travel bags help mitigate some of the issues of getting the bag in a car’s trunk. You talke the hard top off in the car so the clubs are only as long as your longest club.

  5. Good point about removing the heads from adjustable clubs. Hadn’t thought of that. I recently reviewed American Airlines golf bag policy and although they specify the 50lb limit, they limit you to 14 clubs, 12 balls, and 1 pair of shoes. They seem to state they may charge you the over limit fee if you pack additional items in your golf bag/bag carrier. ref:

    • Matt Saternus


      Wow! Not only do they limit the weight, they tell you how to pack? Hard to believe.



  6. I agree with the comment about checking the various airline restrictions as many do limit you to 12 balls, one pair of shoes, etc. Also combine several irons and put a sock over them to prevent movement and chatter and organize your clubs to also minimize movement. Wrap your clubs with towels, even bubble wrap, and again try to minimize movement. But realize one big thing – the airlines are going to open your golf bag and search it, it’s required, so no matter how well you pack your clubs they are going to move and be moved by the airline. So again try to combine an tightly pack your clubs as best you can and use a top of the line travel bag with a stiff arm to minimize any possibility of damage.

  7. Take your golf balls out of the box and sleeves. That will make them harder to steal if you pack them with your checked in bag.

  8. Chris Viducich

    This was a great read and just in time for a trip my wife and I left for today. Never thought of removing driver/3 wood heads. Used my socks on irons and everything. Appreciate you!

  9. William Ouren

    If you have an inexpensive graphite tennis racket, put that in one of the slots in your golf bag, place all clubs around the racket and put the rain hood on. The racket usually sticks up just higher than your longest club while still fitting into most soft travel bags without adding much weight.

  10. bogey mulligan

    dont forget that golf balls are considered dangerous items for carry on bags, and are not allowed… if they find them. I had my logo balls from Cabo Real confiscated due to the danger of someone throwing them on the airplane. I asked her how much it would hurt if I hurled my phone at someone? What a joke!!!!

    • Golf balls are listed on the TSA site as allowed in carry on bags. Doesn’t mean an individual agent won’t decide otherwise, as individual agents have discretion, but they are listed as allowed.

  11. Paris Jackson

    Golf club covers always have loads of spare space unless you’ve got a ginormous cart bag. So…. that means that you can put things like towels or a bagful of dirty washing into the bag as well – two reasons: it’s extra protection for the clubs AND it gives you more space in your ordinary bag. Going to Spain for a week, it means you easily just need an ordinary carry on bag, if you pack sensibly.

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