Golf clubs and balls
play an integral part in the game of golf. After all, they are the implements
directly used by all golfers during a round. A new club or ball can fill a
golfer with hope and confidence, yet equipment also frequently takes the blame
for poor shots or poor rounds. The interaction between your equipment and the
Rules of Golf is something that most golfers don’t pay attention to, so let’s
take a closer look.
The first item to note
is that all golf clubs used in making a stroke must conform to the requirements
laid out in the Equipment Rules. When club manufacturers want to introduce a
new club, they send it to the USGA Research and Test Center in New Jersey to
make sure that all aspects of the club conform. If a club conforms when new, it
will still be a conforming club despite changing slightly over time due to wear
and tear from normal use.
If one of your clubs
is damaged during a round such that the performance characteristics of the club
are changed, you can always continue using that club if you choose, no matter
what state it is in. You can also always have the club restored or repaired,
even though that is not usually an option for most golfers.
Under the Rules, a
damaged club normally can’t be replaced. However, it is important to note that
there is an optional Local Rule (Model Local Rule G-9) which, when in effect,
says that you can replace a broken or significantly damaged club (except when
the damage was caused by abuse). The USGA uses this Local Rule in all of its
championships, as do most major professional tours and high-level amateur
events. The TGA employs Model Local Rule G-9 in its championships.
Many clubs today have
adjustable features that allow you to change the lie, loft, weighting, etc.
These features must be set before the round and must not be adjusted once it has
begun. You also must not apply any substance to a clubhead (other than in
cleaning it) to affect how the club performs.
The Rules take all of
the above club specifications very seriously. If you make a stroke with a
non-conforming club or make a stroke with a club whose performance
characteristics have been deliberately changed, you will be disqualified.
Probably the most
well-known aspect of the Rules regarding golf clubs is the 14-club limit. You
must not begin a round, or have at any point during a round, more than 14
clubs. A few related items to note:
you start a round with fewer than 14 clubs, you can add a club (or clubs)
during the round until you reach 14.
• You must not share clubs! Each club can only
be selected for play for that round by one player. The only exception to this
is in partner forms of play where you and your partner can share clubs if the
total number of clubs between the two of you is 14 or fewer (for example, you
have six clubs in your bag and your partner has eight).
you become aware during a round that you have more than 14 clubs, you must
immediately take an action to indicate the club being taken out of play, such
as stating this to another player or turning it upside down.
for breach of 14-club limit:
• Stroke Play – Two strokes for each hole where a breach occurred,
with a maximum total penalty of four strokes per round.
• Match Play – A breach of this Rule comes with a unique penalty
called a match adjustment, which is different than the standard loss-of-hole
penalty. For each hole where a breach occurred, the match score is revised by
deducting one hole. If you lose the first hole and then also discover that you
were carrying 15 clubs, you will be 2 down when you tee off on the second hole.
Similar to stroke play, this penalty comes with a maximum deduction of two
holes per round.
Just like for clubs,
any golf ball that is used in making a stroke must conform to the requirements
laid out in the Equipment Rules. Unlike clubs though, you are free to borrow a
golf ball from anyone else, including another player. You are also free to
switch to a different ball between holes (but not during a hole).
Even if you are using
a conforming ball, there are still some restrictions as far as what you can do
to that ball. You must not deliberately change its playing characteristics by
doing something like deliberately scuffing the ball or applying any substance
(other than cleaning it).
If you think your ball
has become cut or cracked on the hole being played, you can mark and lift the
ball to check, but you must not clean it! Another ball can be substituted if
the original has become cut or cracked but note that another ball can’t be
substituted if the original is only scraped or the paint is only damaged or
discolored. If you lift the ball and it has not been cut or cracked, you must
replace that ball back on its original spot.
As you can see, there
is more to the equipment that sits in your golf bag than you might realize. If
you are interested in learning more about the Rules relating to clubs and
balls, or more about other aspects of your equipment, see Rule 4 in the Rules
For more on the Rules
of Golf, click here.