Bruno Corbeil, a reader in Montreal, writes:
As I play mostly par-3 courses, with my kids, I carry a light Sunday bag with about seven clubs in it. I do it mostly because I don’t need a whole set, and also because I have grown to like carrying my bag. I also hate playing the same course over and over again, so I have built a schedule that lets me play about six different ones in rotation, over the course of a season. This means that, depending on which course I’m playing, I need to decide which clubs I’ll bench for the week. I do have a whole set of irons (Ben Hogan BH-5), from pitching wedge through 3-iron. The sand wedge and my putter are both from Paradise. However, when I’m playing a small par-3 course, my usual set is S-5 and putter. Depending on the length of some holes and the weather, I’ll swap the 5-iron for a 4-iron or a 6-iron. If I’m playing a course without bunkers, I might bench the sand wedge. I have tried some hybrid clubs but being more of an iron player than a wood player. My workhorse on regular-length courses has always been the 3-iron. Maybe a hybrid with a steel shaft might be a more pleasurable experience.
Seven is a very reasonable number of clubs. My friend Tony once won our club championship with exactly that many, and Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open, at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts, with just three more—and all of Ouimet’s had hickory shafts. In 1913, there was no rule limiting the number of clubs a player could carry, so Ouimet could have used twenty or thirty, as some players in those days did. Maybe he lightened his bag out of consideration for his caddie, Eddie Lowery, who was just ten years old.
This summer, we went on a car tour of western Canada, and I took the opportunity to play golf in all the western provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia). Par-3 seemed the right choice as it didn’t not require much time to play, and would allow me to play with the kids and play after driving some 400 miles and still have somewhat of a game. That little Sunday bag—or those little Sunday bags, as the whole family has them—didn’t take up too much space in the car, and allowed us, if we chose wisely, to have our essential clubs to play the Par 3 golf courses.
Here’s a picture of Corbeil and his family on a par-3 course in Calgary:
On a November weekend quite a few years ago, the Sunday Morning Group imposed a five-club limit on the day’s competition, as a novelty. I chose my putter, sand wedge, 8-iron, 6-iron, and 3-wood—a fairly typical line-up, it turned out. (This was before I’d become an almost total convert to hybrids.) Surprisingly, I shot about what I usually shoot, and so did everyone else. In fact, the score of the winning team that morning was two shots better than the score of the winning team the week before, when we had observed no limit on hand luggage more stringent than the U.S.G.A.’s. Still more unsettling, our course superintendent played along for a few holes with just an antique adjustable club, which he had set to 6-iron, and he would have won two skins if we hadn’t ungraciously disqualified him after the fact.
The day’s results lent a meditative air to the beer-swilling after the round. “Maybe we ought to play with five clubs all the time,” someone said—and the comment, unlike most post-round comments, was considered thoughtfully. Someone else pointed out that the scores during our club’s annual two-club tournament, which had been held a few weeks before, had been indistinguishable from regular scores—except for guy who had managed to post a new personal best.
Maybe the number of clubs we carry is less important than the selection. Five clubs may truly be all I need—as long as none of the five is the elusive Unhittable Club of the Day (U.C.D.), which moves unpredictably around my golf bag and was recently, for no known reason, my brand-new 60-degree wedge.