A Guide to the Rules on Clubs and Balls

General

Appendix II, 1a states that:

 A club is an implement designed to be used for striking the ball and generally comes in three forms: woods, irons and putters distinguished by shape and intended use. A putter is a club with a loft not exceeding ten degrees designed primarily for use on the putting green.

In defining what is meant by the term "club", this Rule makes reference to the three main forms a club traditionally takes, i.e. woods, irons and putters. The terms words "wood" and "iron" do not necessarily refer to the material the club is made out of, but rather to the general shape of the clubhead. A ‘wood’ club is one where the head is relatively broad from face to back, and it can be made of materials such as titanium, steel or wood. An ‘iron’ club is one where the head is relatively narrow from face to back, and it is usually made of steel. Whilst the distinction between these two club types has been blurred slightly with the emergence of "hybrid", rescue and utility clubs, it still remains relevant. The determination of whether a club is a "wood" or an "iron" and, in turn, which Rules apply to it is dealt with based on an overall assessment of the shape and size of the head.

"Driving clubs" were referenced in the Rule book for the first time in 2008 (see Section 8 - Spring Effect & Dynamic Properties) and the basic definition of a driving club is that it is a wood club with a loft of 15 degrees or less. However, a large headed wood club with a loft greater than 15 degrees, which has obviously been designed as a club to be used consistently from the tee, would also be considered a ‘driving club’. Similarly, a 14 degree wood club which is obviously a fairway wood would not be regarded as a driving club.

By definition, the loft of a putter must not be greater than 10 degrees. Putters are permitted to have negative loft. However, a negative loft exceeding a magnitude of 15 degrees would not be considered "traditional or customary in form and make" (see (i) below).

The Rules and guidelines rarely distinguish between ‘wood’ and ‘iron’ clubs (see Section 8 - Dimension, Volume & Moment of Inertia for the main example of where they do), but there are various instances throughout the Rules where certain specifications do not apply to putters, or at the very least where exceptions may be made for putters. These differences in the Rules will be highlighted at the appropriate places throughout this guide.

Probably as a consequence of these differences, confusion often exists as to which Rules apply to “chippers”, i.e. iron clubs which are specifically designed to be used just off the putting green with a putting stroke.

For clarification on “The Status of a Chipper” see Decision 41/3 in Decisions on the Rules of Golf.

Appendix II, 1a goes on to state that:

 The club must not be substantially different from the traditional and customary form and make.The club must be composed of a shaft and a head and it may also have material added to the shaft to enable the player to obtain a firm hold (see 6 below).All parts of the club must be fixed so that the club is one unit, and it must have no external attachments. Exceptions may be made for attachments that do not affect the performance of the club.

In explaining this Rule, it is easier to break it down into the following four sections:

(i) Traditional and Customary Form and Make

The phrase “traditional and customary form and make” does not mean that clubs must look the same as they did 100 years ago. If it did, then steel shafts and metalheaded woods could never have been introduced. This Rule does not even mean that the clubs must look the same as they did 10 years ago – because, as it says in the introduction to this guide, it is not the purpose of the Rules to try and stifle innovation.

In practice, the "traditional and customary" Rule is rarely used – having been largely superseded by the "Plain in Shape" Rule (see Section 8 - Plain in Shape). However, it is still applied in those cases where the Committee decides that a particular club design deviates from the traditional appearance and/or construction standards, but which may not be covered by a more specific provision within the Rules.

(ii) Club Composition

The purpose of this clause is merely to stipulate that multiple shafts and heads are not permitted. It also highlights the fact that it is not essential for a club to have material added to the shaft to form a grip. For further information on a club which has no material added to form a grip, see Section 7.

(iii) All Parts must be Fixed

This is interpreted to mean that no part of the golf club should be designed to move, nor should it be promoted as doing so. Therefore, once assembled, all parts of the club must normally be bonded such that they require heat to loosen (see Section 5 - Adjustability, below for clubs which are designed to be adjustable). If any part of a club were to incorporate moving powder, pellets, liquid, vibrating wires, rollers, tuning forks, or any number of other features which could be considered a “moving part”, it would be in breach of this Rule.

(iv) External Attachments

The wording of the Rule relating to external attachments was amended in 2008 in order to accommodate a change in interpretation, which previously prohibited any ‘external attachments’ to the club.

Whilst this Rule continues to prohibit the attachment of anything to the club which could potentially have an effect on its performance (e.g. aiming bars or weights), other ‘harmless’ items may now be permitted to be attached to certain parts of the club provided (a) no performance benefit can be derived, and (b) no other Rules are breached, including Rule 143 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment).

This change in the wording of the Rule not only helps to legitimise the two existing "exceptions" to the previous interpretation (see below), but it will also allow for the list of acceptable ‘attachments’ to be broadened over time, where appropriate.

Examples of ‘harmless’ attachments that could now be permitted include:

  • Temporary, non-permanent attachments to the shaft such as decals for identification or tape to protect the shaft. Such attachments, for identification only, may also be permitted on the clubhead (other than the face). However, these attachments must not be usable for any other purpose (e.g. alignment) or, in the case of driving clubs, must not serve to cause any confusion with the correct identification of a club on the Conforming Driver List. Such attachments should, therefore, be subtle, plain in appearance and discreetly positioned.
  • Temporary, non-permanent attachments to the shaft (e.g. "clip-on" devices), provided such items do not excessively protrude from the shaft, their crosssection conforms to the shape of the shaft and they are sufficiently fixed. Other "clip-on" devices that do not conform to the shape of the shaft (e.g. a club "prop" for use in wet weather) may be attached to the shaft between shots, but must be removed prior to making a stroke.
  • Other material added to the shaft, for example for alignment purposes, provided it is considered semipermanent, durable, and not easily removable. However, such applications must not be in breach of Rule 14-3. “Semi-permanent” is interpreted to mean durable and not easily removable. Additionally, it must not be re-usable and/or must be essentially destroyed upon removal.
  • Temporary, non-permanent attachments to the butt end of the grip such as tee pegs, ball markers or ball retrieving devices, provided:

             1. such items do not cause the grip to be considered moulded for the hands or create a bulge or waist;
                 and

             2. the outer diameter of the item is less than or equal to the outer diameter of the butt end of the grip and 
                 the item does not extend beyond the butt end of the grip by more than 2 inches (50.8mm).

     3. other temporary, non-permanent attachments to any part of the grip other than the butt end, provided such items are removed prior to making a stroke. However, tape or gauze applied to the full length of the grip is permitted provided the grip conforms in its modified state.


  • Attachments to the clubhead (other than the face), such as protective coverings, or decorative items or alignment aids, provided the item is semi-permanent, durable and not easily removable. However, such items must not excessively protrude from the clubhead and must conform to the shape of the clubhead. Also, for driving clubs, such attachments must not serve to cause any confusion with the correct identification of a club on the Conforming Driver List. Permanent additions to a clubhead would be considered part of the head and, therefore, the head, in its modified state, would have to conform to Appendix II, 4 of the Rules (i.e. for dimensions and "plain in shape").

The two notable exceptions to the pre-2008 "external attachments" Rule were (a) the permission to use lead tape on the shaft or the head, and (b) the use of a suction cup at the end of the grip of a putter to assist with retrieving the ball from the hole. Whilst lead tape can affect the performance of the club and a rubber suction cup would exceed the diameter of the butt end of the grip, the use of both of these items will continue to be permitted on a traditional basis under the new interpretation (see Section 8 - Dimensions, Volume & Moment of Inertia, below for details on the use of lead tape on driver heads with a high Moment of Inertia).