It feels like I am writing an article every week on minimalist golf and this isn’t actually far from the truth. It is one my favourite aspects of the game and every time I think I have written everything I want to write, I find something else. So apologies to those who prefer to have 20 clubs in a staff bag (which is also fun, I admit) but here is another option for those looking for a simpler approach to the game: 5 club minimalist golf.
Is 5 Club Minimalist Golf Really Any Simpler?
As I write this, I realise that in some ways, more clubs could actually be a simpler way to think about golf, at least in terms of preparation. There are very few choices to make when you have fourteen clubs in the bag. Sure, we all hesitate a little between say another fairway wood and a hybrid, or sacrificing that driving iron for a 60 degree wedge. But essentially we just put clubs in the bag that cover every eventuality and be done with it.
When we start taking clubs out of the bag, we are immediately confronted with choices. If you play 11 or 12 instead of 14, you might start looking at a two wedge set up instead of three perhaps. Of using a hybrid instead of a longer iron and a lofted fairway wood.
You might think that this makes the game more complicated compared to a full set, but I don’t really see it like that for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am all about freeing up mental energy on the course and it is pretty clear in my mind that fewer clubs generally does this, at least for me. Although 14 might, at least in theory, cover all the shots, I also find that it can give my too many on-course choices too often and also mean that I am hitting a club in which I might not have 100% confidence because it is the ‘right’ club for the job.
Te second reason is actually what I am most interested in here and that is the enjoyment I get from actually trying to figure out that perfect minimalist set up before I get anywhere near the course. Depending on the number of clubs, this can change hugely and in this article I want to talk about 5 club golf.
Why 5 Clubs?
There is nothing any more valid in five clubs as opposed to 4,6 or whatever. The reason I like five is because I think you can still play some very good golf without being pushed into trying to manufacture shots all the time. I also think that a lot of us can get fairly close to our normal score with this many clubs in the bag and that, to me, is a fun challenge too.
I know that many golfers judge the success of a round simply be the actual score, gross or net. I think there are other ways to evaluate a score too. For example, to take things to extremes, we could go full tin cup and play with just a seven iron. This is an entertaining way spend a sunny afternoon and most of us would be happy to get within ten shots of our usual score like this. Measuring this type of round against an absolute handicap is pointless.
With five clubs, the choices we make before getting to the curse become very important and actually fairly personal. I will give you my thought process and a few options that could work and will hopefully let you think about what could be best for you.
Should A Minimalist Golfer Use A Putter?
As I build this minimalist bag, I tend to start out at the two extremes and work inwards. So let’s start on the green. The first choice is a fairly simple one: putter or not. The two schools of thought are these:
- I will hit 30+ putts in this round. This is potentially where a non-specialist club could cost me the most shots. I should definitely play with a putter.
- A putter is only good for one thing. I am better off getting clubs that can do as many things as possible.
Neither of these is right or wrong. My personal choice is generally to play a putter. This might seem surprising given that I really am not the best on the greens by any means. However, I think that the putter is actually more adaptable than many people think. With putts and approach shots from the fringe and even the fairway, I could be playing nearly 40 shots with a putter, especially as I am likely to miss more greens with only five clubs. These approach shots are going to be really good percentage shots for me because they are going to remove the complete disaster shot like a thin over the green from my scorecard.
Of course, you might fall more into the second category of golfer and be fairly comfortable blading a wedge on the green or using a hybrid to putt.
Your Best Long Club
The next big question for me is what to choice as the longest club in the bag. My thoughts on this have actually changed a little bit recently. Previously, I would have been a fan of something like a three wood. I hit it quite well and really didn’t lose much if anything in terms of distance compared to my driver. Dispersion was also certainly better and it obviously gave me an option if a very long second shot was needed, maybe on a par five or a par four when my tee shot was less than stellar.
However, after making some decent progress with my driver over the last year or two, I am more and more inclined to put it in the bag. When I am hitting it well, it certainly gets me a lot further down the fairway than anything else. I also feel more and more that it is a club I can control and with which I have a good chance of being either in the fairway or at worse in the light rough.
If I do play putter and driver in a five club bag this does in many ways go completely against the idea of having clubs that aren’t just one trick ponies. Yes, the putter is great around the fringe but it isn’t much use further out. Driver is even more limited in that I would only use it somewhere else than the tee box if I had an amazing lie on a par five and about three fairways to aim for!
However, I feel like this approach might make sense in terms of score. A putter will certainly save me shots compared to trying to putt with anything else. For a good putter, this could actually be even more true. A driver might only do one thing, but it will put me far enough down where I don’t need a lot of choice in terms of irons. If you are a shorter hitter, paradoxically you might actually be better off without a driver because you will perhaps be hitting a five wood on the second shot anyway. Why not use a three wood and play these long par threes as three wood/three wood?
The only downside that I can immediately see is that most par fives are going to be real par fives because I am not going to have a driver and a three wood in the bag in these five clubs. This actually doesn’t bother me at all for several reasons. On my own course, there are nine holes and one par five. From the back tee, it is over 500m/550 yards uphill. I have never actually seen anyone get there in two. Even stronger players struggle to get close in two from the shorter yellow tees.
This is something I find universal true in average golfers. I hear things like “I need ………..to attack those par fives” and yet either they are nowhere near being able to get there in two or attempting to do so is more than likely to end up with a lost ball somewhere.
Finally, I actually enjoy playing par fives as par fives. I know this is a somewhat controversial view in these days of distance trumps all, but hitting driver, iron, wedge is a perfectly good way to play a hole. It is also a great way to keep double bogey off the card!
Why We All Need A Hybrid
So that leaves me with three spots left. The first one for me goes to a hybrid. As much as driver and putter are quite one-dimensional clubs, a hybrid can do a lot of things well. I currently have a Mizuno jpx fli hi in 19 degrees. This is even more adaptable than your average hybrid because it is built like an iron in terms of length and specs. I find it to be a great club in a whole lot of situations, such as:
- safe shot off the tee
- long par three
- approach on long par four
- lay up on par five
- punch out from trouble
- half swing low shot
- controlled punch to 6 iron distance
- bump and run
This is a lot of options from just one club and makes it a far better choice for me than the other equivalents in similar loft, the fairway wood or the long iron. Ideally, I think I would choose something with around 22-25 degrees of loft and I think it would be even more versatile.
The last two slots are a little bit tricky. If I were playing six clubs total, it would be fairly straightforward. I would have something with enough loft for bunkers, shots around the green and anything where I need to get the ball up and over anything. I wouldn’t want too much loft though because I also want something that can hit to a distance on a full swing. Adding loft by opening up the club is fine, but getting a 60 degree wedge to play like a 50 is a tougher ask for many, myself included. Anything around 54 degrees would be good. I would then complete with perhaps and eight iron and a six and I would be good to go.
Minimalist Golf Without A Wedge
Unfortunately for us, we only have two more clubs to choose. There are going to be some times when we need loft so I think a wedge is probably going to be necessary. This is where the course you are playing on comes into play too. If it is littered with pot bunkers, a sandwedge around 56/58 is going to have to find a place in the bag. Maybe this could be a situation where the putter has to stay at home.
If the course is less punishing in terms of bunkers, I would be tempted to play a 52 degree with a bit of bounce. I feel like I could open this up enough to create loft and get out of trouble but it is also not that far off a pitching wedge. It would basically be covering everything within 100/120 yards (around110m) for me.
The final club shouldn’t even need presenting. After all, if it good enough for tin cup, it is good enough for the rest of us! A seven iron works for a lot of reasons. It is a club most of us are very comfortable with because it is the club that we tend to use when trying out a new set in the shop and also tends to get a lot of action on the range. Because of this, we are generally more comfortable manipulating shots with it. It can be hooded a little to become a six and opened up to be an eight. A half swing can knock it forwards 100 yards and a hard hook might be 170 or more. It is great for bump and run shots too.
The Beauty of Five Club Minimalist Golf
Of course, it is easy enough to find holes in the yardages with this bag, at least in theory. In practice though, I find it works very well. You certainly need to think your way around the course a little bit differently bu this is part of the challenge. Maybe you don’t have exactly the right club to hit the green from a certain distance. Okay, let’s think about managing the miss, deliberately leaving it short and giving ourselves the easy up and down. After all, isn’t this sort of thing exactly what golf should be all about?