Playing minimalist golf and using fewer clubs has always been a fairly obvious thing to me. When I was a junior starting out, I had a handful of mixed clubs that had been given to me or come out of the used bin in the pro shop. I can’t remember ever thinking about how many clubs I actually had. As an adult, my mentality never really changed. Of course, I have played plenty of golf with the legal 14 and often more, especially if I am testing clubs. However, the number on my bag has never been an issue and a “full” bag will usually be 11. If you aren’t sure which clubs to drop, here are a few ideas to help.
Why Minimalist Golf?
The reasons for this are things I have mentioned quite a lot. There is obviously the purely practical side. I almost always carry my bag and a few clubs less over the course of a round does make a difference. Then there is the simple pleasure of just going out to hit the ball and find it again. Score isn’t the most important thing and not having the exact club for any given yardage doesn’t matter to me at all. Finally, I also enjoy the creative aspect of playing with fewer clubs. Hitting a cutty seven because I don’t have an eight or bunting a hybrid instead of a five. Creating shots should be one of the true pleasures of the game, especially outside of competitive rounds and it will make you a better golfer when the scorecard is on the line.
The more I write about minimalist golf, the more I realise that a lot of people enjoy the idea. The famous minimalist golf thread at the golfwrx forum seems to confirm this too. However, I have also understood that it isn’t as easy for some people as it is for me. I will through some clubs in the bag and then play with them. If I find that I have a big yardage gap somewhere, I will just play the course differently, no problem.
For someone who is coming from the 14 club full bag set up all the time, this might be unnatural and probably even uncomfortable. The big question is “which clubs to drop to play minimalist golf?” I will try to come at minimalism starting from the “maximalist” approach and see if I can find some solutions that help.
Taking Clubs out of the Bag
The issue with the 14 club golfer is that he or she will have trouble letting go. Firstly, this is absolutely fine. You shouldn’t feel obliged to play with fewer clubs. Play with 20 if you want! However, if you are reading this, you have at least thought about lightening the load for whatever reason. So what do you get rid of first?
Well, there are a few ways to go about this. Personally, I like to build from the ground up. I enjoy putting together a collection of 6-8 clubs that will fit in a carry bag. Of course, this does have a cost because it means buying/finding clubs that you don’t currently own, unless you happen to have far too many clubs in the back up bag(s) obviously!
So the other option is simply to get rid of what you already have. If you more to a short set on a regular basis, you can even sell off the unused clubs. Let’s take the 14 that might be in an average golfer’s bag. It could look something like this:
This might not exactly your set up of course. Maybe there is a driving iron in there rather than a second fairway. Perhaps the 4 iron replaces the hybrid. Maybe you have one fewer wedge and an extra club at the top of the bag. It doesn’t really matter a great deal. So what stays and what goes?
Playing Every Other Iron
Well, you could simply take out every other iron. So 5/6/7/8/9/pw might become 5/7/9 or 6/8/pw. The 14 club set has become 11. Maybe just keep one fairway wood and get rid of the lob wedge and you have a nice 9 club bag. Whilst this works well, it isn’t the only way of doing things and it might not work for you.
The first issue that I see is that people will cling to a club for that “what if” moment. For example, I would say the three wood is dead weight for 99.9% of golfers. It is perhaps the hardest club to hit for most and almost certainly won’t give you any better dispersion than a driver. And yet, some golfers will say that they really “need” the 3 wood for that second shot on the par five on their course.
To me, this is just delusional. If this really is the case, you are a good enough golfer to be looking to hit the green on a par fiver regularly in order to have a putt for eagle. In theory, this can happen to all of us. As a single figure golfer, I am struggling to remember the last time I pulled this shot off! If you are doing this often, you are a scratch golfer and probably don’t need my help in choosing which clubs to leave out.
The same is true for the lob wedge. A 60 is a fun club and useful in certain situations. Before you say that you can’t live without it and that you would be lost when you are short-sided and have to go over a bunker, once again how honest are you really being about your game? I have heard twenty handicappers say that they have to have a lob wedge for just this reason. Seriously? A bogey player needs a lob wedge to stick it tight from the rough over a bunker and save par? Come on!
Which Clubs are Costing you Shots?
I would guess that the lob wedge and the three wood actually cost more shots than they potentially save for most of us and yet many people put them unthinkingly into their bags. Even without looking for a more minimalist approach, leaving these two clubs at home will probably save shots.
This is the key thing when taking clubs out. Of course, we can all find that one situation when a particular club will be useful, but that doesn’t make it necessary. For our three wood example, why not just play the par five as a three shotter? Average score might actually be better. Likewise, it makes more sense to find ways to avoid being short-sided in the first place than to try to get out of trouble.
For me, the easiest clubs to lose are these ‘what if’ clubs. Three wood and lob wedge are the usual suspects, but not always. There are plenty of golfers who play all their short game chips and pitches with a 60 and wouldn’t want to take it out of the bag because this is what they enjoy doing. If this is you, carry on. Perhaps though, you don’t need a traditional sandwedge because you also use the 60 in bunkers.
Another club I find can disappear is the pitching wedge. I often use a specialist wedge in this slot anyway, even with more clubs. Another approach is to stretch the gap after the nine iron a little bit. This can depend on the exact lofts of your iron set, but something like 9 iron, 50 degree wedge, 56 (or 58) degree wedge covers a lot of bases. Hitting a slightly softer nine iron instead of a hard pitching wedge is a very reliable shot into greens for many.
You can also look to combine clubs at the long end of the bag. You might be tempted to forgo driver and stick with just a three wood thinking it offers more versatility. In truth, I did this for a couple of years, but I don’ think it is the best way to go about things anymore. Three wood is difficult for the reasons stated above and driver is generally actually easier to hit off the tee and will give more distance.
I do think it is a good idea to combine fairway woods/hybrids and long irons though. Some people certainly prefer one over the other and so they should head towards whichever feels most comfortable. Overall, I would say that a hybrid is going to do most of what we want this type of club to do for most golfers. It will give a safe tee shot on shorter par fours, will be a tee option on longer par threes with plenty of height, it can be a longer second shot into par fours and fives and will also be good for hitting out of rough and even bunting the ball forward as a chip and run around the green, especially when the lie is less than perfect.
I have a 19 degree hybrid that I often use in this second role after driver. Your distances won’t be exactly the same, but it can do everything from a hard 200m/220 yard shot off the tee to a gentle 170m ‘push’ down the fairway or into a green. The fact that one club cover so much ground also gives options with the irons.
As I said previously, taking out every other iron is an easy way to lose a few clubs. I don’t think it is always the best way though and it isn’t something I usually do myself unless I am going to play with 7 clubs or fewer. Firstly, it isn’t that easy to choose between the odds and the evens. Secondly, it always seems a shame to have half an iron set sitting around in the garage. I don’t mind building up a half set of irons from scratch or even buying them like this, but if I have a whole set, it just feels strange to leave half of them at home.
Full Shots or Half Shots?
I also prefer to hit full shots in the middle of the bag. I don’t mind taking a bit off wedges and hybrids-in fact, I enjoy this type of creative shot-making. With 5/6/7/8, not so much. I would rather have a distance and hit it, maybe going a little bit harder or softer as necessary. Your mileage may vary and if you enjoy gripping down and hitting half shots, then every other iron is the perfect choice for you.
Outside of putter (and some even leave that at home) you can pretty much make a case for leaving or including any other club in the bag. For me, the two important things are not to confuse necessity with occasional useful and also to know your game. If you love long irons, keep that three iron and leave the hybrid and fairway at home. If you are Mickelson with the lob wedge, it should stay in the bag and maybe leave the 56 in the back up bag.
So where does that leave us? It could be anywhere of course, but here is something that should work for many golfers
Driver, hybrid, 5-9 irons, 50 and 56 degree wedges, putter
This gives us 10 clubs, which is a great starting point into the world of minimalist golf. It will let you get you feet wet and see just how much of a difference those four extra clubs really made. You might find that you are bitten by the less is more bug. If that’s the case, welcome and the next stop is probably my article on building the perfect five club golf bag.