In his running advice column, Mr. X, answers a question from “Can’t Count”.
Q: Dear Mr. X,
I was in a club tournament this past week and my match play competitor called a penalty on me when he discovered I had more than 14 clubs in my bag (an extra lob wedge I’d put in my bag to practice with the day before). I hadn’t hit the club during the round, but now understand it was a rules violation to have more than 14 clubs.
I was penalized two holes in match play, which is the maximum number of holes I can be penalized. It still sits wrong with me that my competitor conveniently noticed my violation on the 3rd hole of the match, but I can’t say for sure he purposely waited until the 3rd hole to call the penalty.
I understand the rule now, but my question comes from trying to understand why 14 clubs, and where did the number come from anyway? Everyone seems to understand the rule, but has no idea where or why the number is 14.
A: Can’t Count,
It sounds like you are well aware of your mistake and rules violation. Rule 4-4 of the USGA Rules of Golf covers the 14-club limit and the penalties assessed in either Match or Stroke Play.
From your description, it sounds like you and your fellow competitor followed the rules correctly with your penalty of a maximum of two holes lost in your match for the violation. I do understand your suspicion that your competitor “conveniently” noticed on the third hole of the match. Was it gamesmanship or bad sportsmanship? Who knows, but I would let that one slide off your back and just chalk the whole thing up to a good lesson learned instead of putting your competitor in a bad light for calling the violation.
It’s better, in Mr. X’s opinion, to just recognize you made a mistake, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.
As far as why and how the 14-club maximum originated, it dates back to a time where golf was played with hickory shafts and involves the great Bobby Jones and Britain’s, T.A. “Tony” Torrance.
LocalGolfer’s writer, Keith Cook, covered this topic in an article entitled: Why We Yell “Fore” & Other Golf Traditions in January 2014. The following section on “Why are there 14-clubs in the bag?” is taken from that article.
Why are there 14 clubs in a bag?
R&A Clubhouse-St. Andrews
The official rule for a maximum of 14-clubs in a player’s bag was put in place by the USGA in 1938 and the R&A in 1939. But why 14-clubs and not another number?
The origin of the number is a legendary story, and one that gives Bobby Jones and T.A. “Tony” Torrance credit for settling the debate. Most are familiar with Bobby Jones and his place in the game. However, not as well known, T.A. “Tony” Torrance, a dentist by profession, was a well-respected golfer in the United Kingdom and a person of great influence within the R&A.
The story’s origin dates back to the 1936 Walker Cup, held at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. After a round, Bobby Jones and Tony Torrance were discussing the numbers of clubs that different players carried. There was no limit to the number at the time, and it was common to see 20 or more clubs in a player’s bag. The issue had been in debate for a number of years, but to no avail because no one could come up with an agreed upon number. During the discussions, I’m sure over a drink or two, Jones shared that he carried 16 clubs in his bag during 1930, the year he won the Grand Slam. Torrance then shared, he had only carried 12 clubs in the Amateur Championship in 1935 at Royal Lytham. “Let’s split the difference,” one or the other of them says, “and we’ll make it 14.” The story sounds far fetched, but is given some credence because Tony Torrance was about to become Chairman of the R&A Rules Committee, and Bobby Jones also had significant influence within the USGA. It should be noted, the 14-club rule was first introduced and established by the USGA in 1938, and in 1939, when Tony Torrance was appointed as the R&A Rules Committee chairman, the R&A adopted 14 as the fixed number as well.
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