If you’re like most golfers I’m sure you hate it when you lose balls.
There’s nothing worse than seeing your ball sink into a pond or disappear out of bounds. Not only are you out $3-5, you have to take a penalty shot as well. If you run out, you might need to borrow golf balls too.
Then you have to reload and regroup to get the round back on track. But problems can occur if you don’t have more golf balls in your bag… especially for professional golfers.
Keep reading to learn how Tiger Woods nearly got disqualified from a major (that he ended up winning) by not having more balls in his bag. Plus, other tips and tricks on making sure you always play a ball that is helping, not hurting your golf game.
How Many Golf Balls Should I Carry?
After working as an outside services attendant at a golf course in high school I can say there’s nothing worse than a heavy golf bag. Having to lug two massive bags around, largely in part to having too many golf balls, isn’t ideal.
Needless to say, it’s a good idea to reorganize your bag and eliminate some golf balls if this sounds like you. Before getting into why you should have at least nine balls (but not much more) here’s a story that will blow your mind.
Why It Matters
There is one story about nearly not having a golf ball that will stay with until the end of time. To provide some context, if you run out of golf balls in the middle of a professional tournament you can get disqualified or penalized. It also depends if the one ball rule is in effect for amateur events (more on that later).
Let’s rewind to the year 2000 – the middle of Tiger’s rise to superstardom. He was dominating the US Open that year at the iconic Pebble Beach golf course. That week he started using a new golf ball – the Nike Tour Accuracy.
Tiger shot a 65 in the first round and there was a lengthy fog delay on round two. He finally finished Saturday at around 9pm (which was the third round) and took out some golf balls and putted on his hotel room floor (just like we all would). This is where things get interesting…
Tiger retold the story in Golf Digest, “I normally take nine to 12 balls to the course, but I only had seven left—I probably scuffed up a couple and gave them to kids. I left the three balls on the carpet; now I’ve only got four balls when I get to the course.”
When play started on Sunday, he wasn’t aware of how many golf balls were in the bag. On the 18th hole, he pulled his tee shot left in the water. At this point, he had a single golf ball left and water runs alongside the entire hole with out of bounds right.
But his caddy didn’t tell him.
While he could have borrowed a golf ball from a competitor, it would have had to be the same brand and type. Since it was a ball that no one on the PGA Tour had, it would have meant disqualification or penalty strokes.
Despite his caddy wanting him to hit iron for safety, Tiger hit the driver with a confident swing and went on to win the event. Thankfully he didn’t get DQ’d as he broke numerous records that week including winning by 15 shots!
Needless to say, it’s a good idea to have a few extra golf balls in your bag.
How Many Balls You Should Carry
As illustrated from Tiger’s story, you don’t want to deal with the frustration of not having enough golf balls. So, what is the correct number of balls to carry?
Tiger pointed out that he likes to have 9-12 golf balls in the bag to start the round. I think that’s a good number as it won’t weigh down your golf bag but still give you plenty of backs ups. Plus, even if you lose a few and need to swap your golf balls due to scuffs, you have extra.
I’ve known others to treat their golf bag like a hoarding paradise and keep 2-dozen golf balls which isn’t the right move. This makes your bag significantly heavier and takes up a ton of pocket space too. While it’s okay to keep extra in your country club locker or trunk of your car, don’t carry that many in your bag.
Use a Shag Bag
Instead, it’s always a good idea to have a shag bag with practice balls. But not just any golf balls in the shag bag, the best is to use your old golf balls.
To make your short game practice routines better.
So many golfers chip and pitch with old, dirty range balls that don’t replicate your normal golf balls. This is why you should save your old, unplayable balls and add them to a shag bag.
Now I have a shag bag with old, worn down Titleist Pro V1s in my car at all times. When I practice short game, I use them instead of driving range balls to mimic the spin. This makes each practice session more effective and should help lead to better golf on the course.
Replacing Cracked Golf Balls
Another reason it’s a good idea to have extra golf balls is in case one cracks during the round. According to the USGA (rule 4.2), “If you reasonably believe that your ball has been cut or cracked while playing a hole, you may lift it to check.
First, you must mark the spot of the ball and then lift it without cleaning it (except on the putting green). If you lift your ball without having this reasonable belief, fail to mark the spot of the ball before lifting it, or clean it when not allowed, you get one penalty stroke.”
Just remember if you do need to check for a crack, you must mark your golf ball before picking up. If it’s only scratched or scraped you must continue playing the same ball until the hole is over.
FAQs About Golf Balls
Do you have more questions about what else to keep in your golf bag? If so, keep reading to learn more below.
What is the one ball rule?
The one ball rule is a rule that states you must play the same make, model, and color golf ball the entire time. If you lose a ball or need to replace a damaged ball, you can’t switch the make or model.
Here is the formal definition form the USGA. “The one ball rule is an optional condition that Committees may choose to use. If this rule is in effect, you must play with the same brand, make and model of golf ball that you started the round with.
This means that if you start playing with a Titleist Pro V1, you must play a Titleist Pro V1 for the remainder of the round and may not switch to another brand or even another model of Titleist golf ball.”
It’s always a good idea to check the rules sheet before the event to see if this rule applies. If so, make sure to take out extra golf balls that aren’t the same make/model from your bag. Otherwise, you might accidentally hit on as a provisional and get penalized.
How many golf balls does the average golfer lose?
The average golfer loses two balls per round. If you play 2-3x a week this can get expensive as the price of a single ball keeps going up!
How should I store my golf balls in my bag?
It’s best to carry between 9-12 golf balls in your bag at all times.
This is enough to make sure you can make it through all 18 holes even if you lose some during the round. Plus, you have extra for a friend who might not have read this article and needs an extra ball.
How many golf balls do professional golfers carry?
Pro golfers don’t carry nearly as many golf balls as amateurs do.
Most pros carry 3-4 sleeves in their bag as they constantly replace them during the round. It’s very common for them to go through 4-5 balls even if they don’t lose them.
If they get scuffed from anything they will throw them to the crowd or even sign them and give them to fans.
How long does a golf ball last?
If you don’t lose it, a golf ball can last about 6-7 rounds! But just make sure to replace it if it’s cracked or notice a decline in performance.
What do you need for 18 holes of golf?
To play 18 holes of golf you need golf balls, a set of clubs (with a bag), tees, divot tool, and a ball marker. Those are the bare minimum essentials to help you navigate the round.
But most golfers carry a lot more gear and other accessories. Some examples include a rangefinder, golf GPS device, club brush, Bluetooth speaker, towels, and tons of other accessories.
Should you use the same golf ball during the round?
There’s not much more rewarding than playing the same golf ball for all 18 holes. When you don’t change balls it means you didn’t hit any in the water (or you fished it out with a golf ball retriever) and overall played pretty solid. It’s definitely a bragging point to say, “I played the same golf ball the entire round.”
But if the ball is damaged and you’re still playing it, you should replace it once the hole is complete. A ball with a lot of scuffs or knicks might impact the performance of it and affect your shots. Replace when needed, even if you don’t lose it sometimes.
What happens if a golfer runs out of golf balls?
If you run out of golf balls during the round there are a few options. If it’s a casual round with friends you can simply ask them for a golf ball and move on with the round.
But if this happens in a tournament, there are different rules. While you can ask a competitor for a golf ball, it must be the same make, model, and color.
Additionally, there is the option to have someone buy you golf balls in the pro shop. But since this will likely cause a lengthy delay, you will get penalized as well.
In the Golf Digest article that discussed Tiger’s nearly catastrophic day at Pebble Beach they elaborate on this rule. “He also could have bought the balls from the golf shop, or sent someone to his hotel room to get more. Any of these choices would have resulted in a two-stroke penalty for an undue delay, likely leading to a double-digit number on the par-5 18th.”
Can you borrow golf balls from playing partners?
Yes, if you run out of your nine golf balls you should carry – you can borrow golf balls. The key to borrowing golf balls in a tournament is to make sure it’s the same model.
How many clubs can you carry in golf?
The USGA limit is 14 clubs – otherwise you will get penalized or disqualified based on the rules of the event. It also depends on if you’re playing in a stroke play tournament vs. match play tournament as well. Read our full article on how many clubs allowed in golf.
Carrying the right amount of balls is crucial to avoiding any issues on the course. While the stakes likely won’t reach Tiger’s levels on the golf course, it’s always better to have more than less.
The ideal number is nine golf balls while playing golf.
But more balls is always better than not enough. If you do find yourself without any balls, remember that you can ask a competitor for a ball. As long as it’s the same make/model, you won’t have to deal with any penalty issues.
Finally, make sure to save your old golf balls and store them in a shag bag for short game practice. Plus, don’t forget to swap golf balls during the round if they get scuffed up from trees, cart paths, etc. A damaged golf ball can impact your spin, distance, and ability to score so replace when needed.