You Have Too Many Golf Clubs

No, This Message Isn’t From Your Spouse

This isn’t about the number of clubs in your garage or basement, it’s about the number of clubs in your bag.

In the past, I’ve recommended fewer clubs for fun, challenge, skill development.  Today is about scoring and use of limited practice resources.  If lower scores – and potentially saving money – are appealing to you, read on.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re considering buying a new set of clubs or new irons

You want to shoot better scores

You want to hit more good shots on the course

Some Distance Checkpoints

Let’s start with a general guideline about distance.  The established rule of thumb is that for every MPH of driver swing speed you have, you can get 2.5 yards of carry if you’re fully optimized.  For those that don’t do math, that means an 80 MPH swinger’s best drive will carry 200 yards.  At 90 MPH you can top out at 225 yards; at 100 MPH, it’s 250 yards.  How much roll you get from there depends entirely on where you play.

Now that we know how far our driver can potentially go, let’s figure out how far our favorite iron actually goes.  Find a flat hole on your local course or get on a quality launch monitor and hit 10 shots with your favorite iron.  How far did those shots go on average?  How far did the median shot travel?

Two Scenarios

Every player is going to have different numbers for their driver potential and favorite iron distance, but I’m going to walk through two possible scenarios to illustrate the concept.

Player A

Driver swing speed: 80 MPH.  Potential driver carry distance: 200 yards.

Favorite club: 7I.  Actual carry distance: 140 yards.

Player B

Driver swing speed: 100 MPH.  Potential driver carry distance: 250 yards.

Favorite club: 8I.  Actual carry distance: 155 yards.

Distance Gaps & Filling Out the Set

Before I walk through these players’ new set ups, I want to establish a rule: you need at least 10 yards of carry distance between clubs.  There is no point in carrying a club that goes 150 and another that goes 155.  I’ll explain the why behind this later.

Player A

This golfer has a 60 yard gap between their favorite iron and their driver.  This leaves room for five more clubs, but, unless this player is a ball striking wizard, it will probably be three.

Start by finding a club that goes as far as possible off the turf.  This could be a hybrid or a FW, depending on the player’s preferences.  Let’s assume it’s a 4W that goes 190 yards.

Now we can work up from the favorite iron.  It’s unlikely that the 6I goes 150 yards, so we’ll go right to the 5I.  We’ll guess this goes 155.

At 80 MPH, there’s little chance that this player can make use of a modern 4I or 3I, so, if they want another club, it will be a hybrid or FW designed to carry between 165 and 190 yards.  That may seem like a big gap, but, if we’re being realistic, very few players have much distance control with long clubs.

To fill out the lower portion of the bag, we’ll just try to create 10 yard gaps.  Experience tells me that Player A’s 8I is not 10 yards shorter than the 7I, so we’ll skip to the 9I.  We can also probably skip from the 9I to the Gap Wedge.  We will probably add two more wedges – 54, 58 or 55, 60 – to give the player some options around the green.

Player A’s full set is: Driver, 4W, Hybrid, 5I, 7I, 9I, GW, 55, 60, Putter.  10 clubs instead of 14.  What’s the benefit?  I’ll get to that as soon as we help out Player B.

Player B

This golfer is likely to have more clubs because of his speed.  If he’s a reasonable ball striker, he’ll likely carry a “full” set of irons – let’s say PW through 5I.  At 100 MPH, he’s borderline on the modern 4I.  As a guideline, I’d suggest a 10 handicap or better can make it work.  We’ll assume he’s a 15, so he stops at the 5I.

On to this player’s wedges.  If he wants to carry a full array of short game tools, he’ll be look at a set up of 50, 54, 58 or 50, 55, 60.  With the putter, that brings his total with driver, irons, and wedges to eleven clubs.

Player B now has three open spots and a 60 yard gap between his 5I and his best drive.  I would strongly suggest that he leaves at least one unused.  Get a FW or hybrid that goes as long as possible and something that can carry 205 yards with some consistency.

Why not bag another club?  Because, as a 15 handicap, it’s unlikely that he’s going to find anything he can reliably hit 220 in the air.  In fact, 220 may be the reality of his “as long as possible” club.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

The Benefits of Fewer Clubs

Be Better With What You Have

None of us get to practice as much as we want.  For most of us, it’s a victory if we get to the range once a week.  Are we going to get much better dividing our 50 practice swings over 14 clubs?  Absolutely not.  By removing unnecessary clubs, we devote more practice time to the clubs that matter.

While we are improving our skills with these clubs, we are also getting to know them better.  When we know our tendencies with each club, we can implement better course management and shoot lower scores.

Make Better Decisions

Part of the logic behind bigger distance gaps between clubs is that it helps us make smarter decisions.  If I have a 150 yard shot, and I’m carrying one club that goes 155 and one that goes 148, I’m likely to try to smash the 148 club.  If my choices are a 155 club and a 140 club, I’m improving my chances of making the smart decision and hitting the 155 club.

Additionally, when we have fewer choices we will experience less decision fatigue.  Golf is a mental game, and we should take advantage of anything that reduces mental stress.

Save Money

Finally, buying fewer clubs means spending less money.  Particularly for Player A, the savings are substantial – he’s buying half as many irons!

Though many people don’t realize it, this kind of club buying is available to every golfer.  Whether you shop at a high end club fitter, a big box, or online, you can order the exact set make up that you want.

Save some money, lighten your load, and shoot lower scores.  Carry fewer clubs.

Matt Saternus
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  1. Charles Bartholomew

    Wow, good food for thought. Thanks for the enlightenment Matt.

    • Paul Moon

      My best scores are with a half set in winter, driver, 5w, 5,7,9,sw, putter. Do we really need more in summer or is it a fact that less is more? I think I must give the half set ago next time out.

  2. Dear Matt,
    this a very interesting article. Let me give a few thoughts on this:
    Player A:
    Well, I think with appropriate shaft, 80mph ss is able to hit 6i those 10y longer than 7i. However, you assume that he is not able to do it, then I much doubt he would be able to hit 5i those 155y you assumed. No way. If he can not hit 6i properly, he would hit the 5i for max 145y with some flat ish trajectory. Though I agree that 3 clubs between 7i and driver is plenty for 80ss.
    What I am not getting, why do you assume that 80ss does not have 10y gaps in clubs shorter than 7i? With appropriate shaft he must do. Even if the gaps are just 8-9y, I would definitely not recommend anyone giving up two clubs on short end as you suggest unless for fun, development or challenge. If only for those tee shots to par 3s… 12 clubs seems to have meaning to me for a serious Player A.
    Player B (proxy myself – 103ss and 14hcp and weekend golfer):
    My 5i I expect to carry 175-180y on good strokes. Good drives I expect 230-240. I surely have space for 3 clubs inbetween. 4i (or hybrid) at 190, 5w at 200-205, and 3w at 215-220 with lower trajectory as 5w. Yes, I would survive with a 4w and 3hybrid, but why? I absolutely play and meaningfully use all 14 clubs in my bag. Though it is true that my scoring is just a bit worse when I go out only with 9 clubs. :-)

  3. I have been playing 6 clubs for two years and carry a 5.2 handicap.
    I find it’s all I need since it always boils down to the putter.

  4. John Sweat

    I really enjoyed this article and it really has me thinking about my set up as I rarely use more than 8 of the clubs in my bag. I might have to take pair the bag down for a round to see how it works out.

  5. I got rid of my 3 and 5 wood for a 4 wood. I would like to try a 7 wood. How far would a 7wood go for swinger A .

    • Matt Saternus


      That depends on a lot of unknowns. My examples were just meant to be simple. Any individual looking to put together a well-fit bag should work with a fitter.



  6. When I was younger and much more consistent player, I either carried my odd or even irons, a 3 wood, sw, putter. I lived in Vegas then and when it started to warm up there in May, it still made walking doable. What helped my game was adjusting the clubs for whatever yardage I needed. I was a pretty good stick then, practiced a lot, played to a 6. I wish I had the time to practice now.

  7. Like this one! I don’t think I ever played with a full set myself though am close at the moment (10 clubs + putter). In all honesty I could leave 3 irons out (6,8,10) – at 25HC I am far from consistent enough to hit the exact distances. Totally agree with the part where you are a few yards short of one club so you try and belt it the distance anyway. Bigger gaps take that bravado/silly thinking out. A few years ago I played for a year+ with a 3w, 6i, and gap wedge + putter and it didn’t affect my handicap much (and no, it wasn’t stuck at 36). That’s a bit extreme perhaps though it certainly frees up your thinking. I still occasionally do that on a Sunday just for fun.

    Nice article. I should send this to my golf buddies but I know what their reaction will be already.. each to their own I guess

    • Matt Saternus


      And you know what they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.



  8. Noel Guillaume

    Great article – serious choices here !

  9. WhoaNellle

    Brilliant! Just finished a quick afternoon 9 with D, 4W, 5H, 8I, PW, SW, P. Virtually the same setup our golfing forefathers called a “play set,’ minus the graphite and carbon fiber …

  10. This is really great reading !! Matt you are now at the top of my first read of the day from my favorites.

  11. Pingback: How to Golf with a Caddie - Plugged In Golf

  12. Brian Thornton

    Hi Matt,

    This is a very good article and there is certainly a lot of information here in regards to distance control, golfers ability, ball striking etc. in conjunction to the number of clubs we carry. I used to think I needed to carry 14 clubs. (Just in case) But last year I stop carrying a 3i and 4i . Got a 4 hybrid which replaced my long irons. On certain courses I will not carry some longer irons including a 5i. My major focus is now trying to score inside 120y. I’m getting better thinking more of score than distance. My handicap is currently 16.7 but that was a major improvement for me after starting the season at 23+.

    • I loved the article. I had already implemented a strategy that obligated me in using few irons more because I walk most of the time. In doing so I noticed that not only was my load lighter but that I was forced to actually think my shots with the 6-9 clubs I was using. Now, after this article, I see why.

  13. Just getting around to reading this article Matt. Another great one. One of the reasons I love this game is that there are infinite ways of challenging oneself. I really enjoy finding ways to carry fewer clubs. I remember reading how Seve learned to play with only one club, a 3 iron, and he could play just about every shot with it, including bunker shots, and Trevino learned in a similar manner, even playing with a soda bottle and beating others. I will frequently play with a former golf pro and we will determine what clubs are going to be played for the round. We’ve had a number of combos, anywhere from a single club up to all odd clubs or all even clubs, 3, 5 or 7 clubs, no putter rounds, putter only rounds, all irons, a single hybrid only, you get the idea. In doing this, I became much more aware of the different club face angles that can be produced by varying the swing speed/shape, the angle of the face, or the steepness of the shaft (side to side, and front to back). So when I do have a full 14 in the bag, it’s almost easy. It’s remarkable what you can do with each club, and producing the various shots on the practice field with different clubs makes practice that much more fun and entertaining, while honing instinctual golf shots. Finding a way to knock each club plus or minus 10 yards or more from my normal stock shot brought incredible confidence to my game. I am able to hood a long iron with a restricted swing underneath a branch, and send it onto the green 140 yards away without thinking twice about it. I think it’s easy to forget that this golf is called a game, and when we say that word “game” we usually attribute the word “fun” with it. Sometimes the fewer options we have, the more inventive we become and the more fun we have. After all, hitting out of a green side bunker with a 19 degree hybrid can be pretty funny, and you’d be surprised how many ways it can be done – now consider that same shot with a sand wedge, I can think of just a few options that I would likely choose. Watch kids messing around with clubs, they’re constantly challenging one another to hit this shot or that using a different club – it’s still a fun game to them – and their backs don’t hurt yet. I know that once my handicap started to drop significantly (down into the single digits, then scratch, and finally into the + range), it was because I learned that each club has a multitude of shots available in it. Most people are lucky to figure out just 1 shot for each club while not under windy or other challenging atmospheric conditions. I may not have the distance I used to have 30 years ago, but my golfing IQ is so much greater than that cocky kid with the long driver, and that can be seen in my scores, my game and my fun quotient – that poor kid took his game way too seriously. If I could take him out, I’d say, “let’s just go play a round with only that 3 iron that frustrates you so much” and maybe I could have made him laugh and smile more often. Next challenge: bouncing the ball on the club face, then stopping it midair and balancing it on the club face, a la’ Tiger Woods 1999 Nike commercial – I’m up to 10 bounces, with no broken furniture, walls or windows yet…smile!

  14. I’ve been playing 11 clubs for about the last year.
    19 hybrid
    I don’t think I have ever had nor than 12 in the bag. The main reason that I play 11 is I can’t find anymore clubs to put in that will actually help me. I do not get to practice and generally play once a week. It is usually show up on the first tee a couple of practice swings and away I go. I keep just two wedges as more than that and I get too indecisive as to which wedge to use and how to play the shot, don’t commit fully and more often than not play a poor shot. I gave up on fairway woods a long time ago as they are just way to inconsistent for me. My longest club from the deck is my lower spinning 19 hybrid that I kinda use like a 2 iron. My driver and short game are the strong points of my game. Putting is pretty consistent and iron play used to be the strongest part of my game is now quite poor but slowly getting better. I think it can do a lot of good playing less clubs and could get more people walking and carrying.

  15. Great article. I’ve decided on 11 clubs is plenty. Driver, 3 wood, 3 hybrid, 5,6,7,8,9,50°,SW and putter. Leave out 6,8,SW in winter.
    14 clubs is too much choice which causes confusion and don’t use them all anyway. Less is more as they say.

  16. Gavin Townsend


    For player A with a 80 mph swing what would be ideal lofts of the set up?
    Trying to match up clubs to manufacture’s.




  17. I have just gone to a half set, 4,6,8,W . Driver , 18°hybrid, 56° wedge and putter.
    My scores haven’t improved, but they haven’t become worse either and the bag is so much lighter to carry.

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