Broken golf club during a round? Here’s what the Rules of Golf allow you to do

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Hudson Swafford’s iron separated as he hit his approach to the 13th at Augusta National. But what do the Rules of Golf say about a damaged club? Let’s take a look

As Hudson Swafford hit his second shot on the par-5 13th hole on day two at the 2022 Masters, it wasn’t just the ball that went flying. His iron clubhead soared too. Remarkably, despite the broken golf club, he still managed to make par!

Those of us who might be toting clubs of, let’s say, an older vintage may be nodding our heads right now and, of course, there’s always the ever present risk of wrapping a shaft round a tree.

But what can you do if this happens to you? If the clubhead flies off, or you wreck your favourite stick in any other way, is there anything in the Rules of Golf that can help with a damaged golf club?

Rule 4 covers clubs and their use and Rule 4.1a (2) says that if a conforming club is damaged during a round, or while play is stopped, “the player normally must not replace it with another club”.

Rule 4.1b (3) goes a bit further, saying if a player started with 14 clubs – or added clubs up to that limit – and then “loses or damages a club during the round”, they must not replace it with another.

Now, however it’s damaged or how it was done, the club remains conforming for the rest of the round. That means you can use it in its damaged state. That’s probably not possible in Hudson Swafford’s case, but if you’d just bent a club, for instance, you could still hit shots with it and stick to the rules.

You can also have the club repaired by “restoring it as nearly as possible to its condition before the damage happened during the round”. Here, though, you need to use the original grip, shaft, and clubhead and you must not “unreasonably delay play”.

In an interpretation to this rule, examining the meaning of repair, it gives examples like replacing lead tape that’s fallen off during a shot, or tightening clubs that come loose. I’m not sure glueing a clubhead back onto a shaft is really what they had in mind.

But wait, what if you didn’t have 14 clubs in the bag when you started? Rule 4.1b (1) says if that’s the case you can add clubs during the round “up to the 14 club limit”.

As always, there are caveats. Again, you can’t unreasonably delay play – so no running back to the clubhouse for a new driver if yours snaps while you’re in the middle of the course – and you can’t add or borrow a club from anyone else who’s playing on the course.

Neither can you build a club “from parts carried by anyone for the player during the round”. I don’t know who does this but someone must have. It wouldn’t be in the rules otherwise.

There are a couple of other ways, though, you can legitimately replace a damaged club and the first is revealed in an exception to Rule 4.1b (3). If your club is damaged during a round by an outside influence – for example if someone’s buggy ran over your iron – or natural forces, “or by any person other than the player or his or her caddie”, then you can replace the damaged club with any other.

But you must immediately take that damaged club out of play, putting it upside down in the bag is one way of signalling this, and you can’t use it again.

Committees also have the option of bringing in a Local Rule – it’s Model Local Rule G-9 – that allows a club to be replaced with any other if it is “broken or significantly damaged” during the round by a player or caddie – “except in cases of abuse”.

The Local Rule even determines what damage qualifies. Shame it’s not in place at the Masters, as a clubhead detached or loose from the shaft would make the cut. Loose grips, a shattered or splintered shaft, a visibly deformed clubhead are among the other golfing tragedies that could also allow you to reach for a new club if it was in effect.

Have you suffered from a damaged golf club? Let me know what happened by leaving a comment, or why not tweet me?

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