Minimalist Golfers

Contributed by Joel Zuckerman
April 2009

You can go to any Target or Wal-Mart and pick up a six-or-eight club “starter set” for a couple of hundred bucks.  Hilton Head’s Denny Harmon plays with a de facto starter set himself, belying the fact he’s been an avid golfer for fifty-odd years!

Harmon, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of playing about a half-dozen times, is what I call a minimalist golfer.  Like this correspondent, he’s a traditionalist, in that he always walks and carries his bag.  But there’s one major difference in our respective styles.

While I lug around 14 clubs (and am often left pining for a 15th when I get in certain dicey situations) Harmon carries about nine.  Over the last several years he has lightened his load by shedding club after club from his carry bag, and has learned to manipulate the remaining implements with enough effectiveness to maintain a single digit handicap.  Add in the fact that at age 74 he can still hammer tee shots in excess of 250 yards, it’s easy to see that in comparison to most any other golf-loving, Lowcountry-living retiree, a guy like Harmon appears about as often as a Hilton Head hailstorm.

Denny has been running a Friday golf group at Sea Pines Country Club for about ten years, the group generally ranging from 16 to 30 players.  He has long preferred to walk when he plays, claiming, “It saves me time on the treadmill afterwards.”  Vinny Ahooja joined the group about five years ago, and was an immediate standout.  Not only because his 3 or 4 handicap made him one of the best ‘sticks’ in the group, but also because he carried far fewer sticks that the others.

“Vinny really embraced the “walk in the park” concept of golf,” explains Denny, a former publishing executive who moved to Hilton Head in 1993.  “Not only did he carry fewer clubs, but he also only had a handful of balls and a single glove.  He just wanted to keep his bag as light as he could, and his bag weighed next to nothing.”

It was a challenge in the form of a question.  “Why are you lugging all those clubs around?”  50-something Vinny did the asking, and the more Denny Harmon saw his new buddy’s ability to manipulate clubs, the more he asked himself the same question.  “Vinny proved to me that a 7-iron can be ‘hooded,’ or de-lofted, so it acts like a 6-iron.  Or you can choke down a bit, open the face, and replicate an 8-iron.  It didn’t happen right away, or all at once, but eventually I began to take clubs out of my bag also.”

It took a dozen-or-so rounds in Vinny’s company before he was ready to part ways with previously “indispensable” clubs, but Denny went on a “golf bag diet” of his own.  “I started by taking out three clubs, and playing with 11.  Now I’m down to eight or nine.”  His mentor and role model is even more ascetic.  “Vinny usually plays with just seven clubs,” explains Denny.  “A driver and a hybrid for woods, though sometimes he exchanges the driver for 3-wood.  Then a 4, 6, and 8 iron, a sand wedge and putter.  Some days he substitutes his 5, 7 and 9 irons for the even-numbered irons.”

Denny isn’t quite as Spartan.  He likes to have a full complement of short irons, and consequently plays with a driver, hybrid, 5, 7 and 9 irons, then pitching and sand wedges, and a putter.

“You can definitely play good golf with fewer clubs,” concludes Denny Harmon.  Vinny proved it to me, and now there are a handful of additional guys in our group who are taking clubs out.  Not as many as the two of us have eliminated, but there are four or five other guys we play with who now only have 11 or 12 clubs left in the bag.”

Article courtesy of Joel Zuckerman

To read more articles by Joel or to check out his books, visit www.thevagabondgolfer.com


17 Comments

Kevin
July 15, 2013 11:01 am — Reply to this comment

I too am an ultra-minimalist. I currently play (driver, 5/7/9/gw/scotty putter). I have a large gap between my driver and 5 iron, but will be putting in a hybrid once I find one I like. I consistently shoot a 78 on a 6000 yd course with this setup. With my full set of 11 clubs, my score is no better. I love walking the course and really believe this is the best way to enjoy a round of golf. I basically play two shots with my irons..either a mild cut or mild draw. These two shots are a club lengths difference in yardage. Its just that simple. This is a great site!!

Pete
July 6, 2013 8:58 pm — Reply to this comment

I’m a Practical Golfer, almost 70 years old & still walking a strong 18-holes on par 72 courses. The only difference between you & me is that I now get the best bang for my buck playing shorter courses with the new Hybrid golf ball. In fact, this ball changes the shorter course into a full par championship course without the issues of time, cost & frustration and allows me to experience ultra-minimalist golf in a new way…fewer clubs, cheap green fees, more satisfaction & enjoyment!

Ty
June 27, 2013 9:57 pm — Reply to this comment

Add me to the list of guys who really loves simple, minimal, walking golf. Golf to me is packing up five classic clubs in a small Sunday bag with a couple balls and a couple tees, and walking a quick nine holes. I’m also still use persimmon woods, blade irons, and classic putters. My favorite set up for my home course is 4w, 5i, 8i, PW, and putter. I usually don’t even keep score but two Sundays ago I shot a one over 36…not bad for five clubs, especially considering all the people who are convinced I’m nuts. It nice to see so many folks out there share my enthusiasm.

Tom
June 18, 2013 10:05 am — Reply to this comment

Man this site is sweet, I keep finding all these great articles on here about people who play the game like me, I love minimalist golf its the only way to play, I have 9 clubs in the bag now but someday i want to only carry 8.

Jamie
June 13, 2013 9:56 am — Reply to this comment

Great article.

When I first started playing golf in college, I picked up a small set of clubs at a garage sale. It consisted of a driver, 5, 7, and 9 irons, pitching wedge, and a putter. That’s all I had as I worked and worked my handicap down to 9.

Then, once out of college, finally in a job that gave me some real spending money, I bought myself a full set of top of the line clubs. Slowly but surely my handicap worked its way up to 14. These were great clubs, far batter than the garage sale set, but I had too many choices, and couldn’t manipulate each of the clubs with the same precision.

I shed the set down to the same six I always used when I was learning, and now I’ve got my handicap down to 5. Some people chuckle or sneer (since their clubs are more of a status symbol than tools they can actually utilize) but I’ve become quite a respectable golfer amongst the groups I play with.

As with all things in life “back to basics” and “less is more” are mantras that can get you out of any pickle you find yourself in.

Bigd
April 4, 2013 6:24 am — Reply to this comment

Hi Everyone

I’m now starting my senior yrs (57 yrs young)… kids out of the house, FINALLY … no debts/no mortgage/etc … back to taking up golf full-time and being able to afford it.

As a young man, my drives in the 1970s/80s of 250-260 yds with real woods and balata balls has dropped to 220-230 with the new metal woods/new balls … go figure. BUT my putting is GREAT!!

Anyway, I’ve decided I have to change my swing AND my clubs … I want to just be able to PLAY at golf. I’m using 3+W (11.5 deg.), 4H, 7i, W and putter. I’m shooting in the 80s like when I was younger. Since the 3+W goes only about 225 yds (same as new drivers for me) then getting to par5s in two is pretty rare (unless tail wind).

My shot making has become more versatile since the 4H has to go between 145-190 yds AND the 3+W has to take on the long par3s (190+ yrds). No just grip it and rip it for me.

Choosing the club is very easy … now it’s how do I want to play the shot. I love walking a course … and with a light bag, there’s never a worry about getting tired.

My wife is a beginner (less than 20 rounds in her life) BUT she can hit her 3W 200+ when she connects and since I’ve cut down her clubs to 3+, 4H, 6i, W, putter … she enjoys going out with me a few times a year. Now she doesn’t have to ask me which club to use. Drive with the 3W, second shot with the 4H/6i, if she misses the greeen then the W. She thinks only about how hard to hit the 4H or 6i or W and the direction. The game has become simple to her and enjoyable.

I really think that the “golf marketing machine” has gotten out of control. Beginners/recreational/ occasional players would do much better and enjoy golf if they bought and stuck with 5-7 good-quality clubs plus a putter. For that mattter, I’ve played uncountable number of rounds and I wonder if I had used 7 well choosen clubs in my youth and even had them today, that I would’ve had a single-digit handicapp and STILL had it today.

Like riding a bicycle, the old clubs would’ve been my known friends. My bronze Spalding putter from over 40 years ago is the only club I’ve kept from the old days, and none of the new putters can even come close for me.

I wish I never sold my Persimmon driver from 1980. Worse mistake of my whole life! LOL

Love this site.

Paul
November 1, 2012 9:44 am — Reply to this comment

Glad I found this site. I usually play with 5 clubs. Putter, a p/w that’s bent to 50 deg, 34 deg hybrid, 25 deg hybrid and a 5 wood. Occasionally I will add a driver. Most of my golf is played at a club with a very walkable 6100 yard layout.

Steffen
July 25, 2012 11:37 pm — Reply to this comment

Shot a nice round of 76 about a week ago using only 9 clubs: Driver, Hybrid, 6,7,8,9,PW,SW and Putter.

I have been playing with 8-10 clubs depending on the course I play for the last couple of years and have seen my handicap go down by 4 strokes to about an 8 and my general enjoyment go up in the same time.

Most of my playing partners think I am nuts playing with a reduced set but not so much when they have to go and get the beers after the round.

Dave
July 24, 2012 6:55 am — Reply to this comment

I am pretty steady between scores of 82-88, and have not carried more than 10 clubs for 8 years. Usually the set is D, 3w, 4, 7, 8, pw, sw, pt. Nothing improved my golf game from poor to respectable faster than repetitions with fewer clubs. Similarly, while none of us want to admit being “soft” mentally, fewer clubs does leave very little worry and consternation over club selection! Enjoy reading the comments, and continued success to all with the minimalist approach.

Pete
April 22, 2012 8:10 am — Reply to this comment

Try the new Hybrid quick play format for ultra-minimalist golf….minimizes time, cost & frustration. I use the new Hybrid golf ball originally developed for shorter executive courses, now spreading to standard courses building new forward tees. 18-holes of easy play championsip golf in just 2-3 hours…Guaranteed! It’s the traditional golf format updated to attract a new breed of walking golfer.

Shaun
April 17, 2012 8:31 am — Reply to this comment

I have reduced my set this year as well. At most I only carried 11 clubs anyway but this year I have gone with my driver, hybrid, 5, 7 and 9 irons, pw, sw and putter. I put this set, a half dozen balls and some tees into a Callaway Hyper-Lite 2.5 carry bag and I am good to go.

It makes the round much more enjoyable and goes back to when I first started played as a kid.

Michael Conklin
March 3, 2012 7:19 am — Reply to this comment

Just purchased a Sun Mountain sunday bag at a discount golf store, it was a discontinued model made years ago. Cost me
$20. I plan on playing minimalist golf this up-coming season. I will carry a 3 wood, fairway driving iron, 5,7,9, PW, SW and putter. Eight clubs in total. The bag only has two small pockets, one for balls, one for tees, valuables etc. I think this will improve my game and I will enjoy the game more. Only time will tell……

Pete
December 7, 2010 5:43 am — Reply to this comment

I’m an ultra-minimalist walking golfer. I carry 6 clubs – a wedge,7 & 5 irons, 3 hybrid, driver & a putter in a ultra-lite bag. I use the new Hybri-lite golf ball which automatically changes the shorter executive (mid-distance) golf course into a full-par championship course. Let’s me play a full round of golf in 2-3 hours and pay only $10 to $15 a round. The ball reduces course damage and is eco-friendly.

I used to play the big slow play full-sized courses at $40 -$70 a round, but can’t afford the time, cost or frustration anymore. All my friends have switched to the Hybrid quick play format and feel that this will be the wave of the future. With many full-sized courses closing down, more shorter courses should take their place. It’s the same game in a condensed form, which better matches today’s lifestyles, of quick-in, quick-out.

After playing this “Green” Hybrid golf, the big courses just seem so slow, awkward and wastful now.

Keith
November 18, 2010 6:25 pm — Reply to this comment

I tied my PB today carrying 11 clubs in my MacKenzie Llama 🙂
D, 4W, 2h, 4h, 6,7,8,P, GW, LW putter

I bent my irons to 5* loft gaps 31-36-41-46-51-58

I have used a push cart with 14 clubs–but it is really nice to go unencumbered with the light bag.

George Hanson
July 12, 2010 2:09 pm — Reply to this comment

I walk 98% of my rounds and recently started playing some of them with D, H, 5 7,9, GW, LW, P…that’s 8 clubs. Found an original Ping Moon Bag on ebay, brand new, love it! Sometimes I feel guilty taking less than a full set lest my partner become irritated with me for not having the proper club in a key situation during our Saturday nassau bet…but I’m working on it!

Gregory Cobb
May 1, 2010 1:36 pm — Reply to this comment

When I was a kid learning the game, a half set of clubs and sunday bag were the way to go. I still play 90% of my golf this way. In my Sunday bag, I carry 3 wood, 7 wood, 5 iron, 7 iron, 9 iron, SW and putter. I think most beginning golfers could learn much from this site by walking and being minimalist in their club selection. It forces one to be creative and adaptive.
LOVE THIS SITE

Wm.
April 5, 2010 5:25 pm — Reply to this comment

Been doing this for years… I do not have the shoulders to carry the full bag for 18 holes. Plus that is how I grew up playing. I did not have a PW till I was 17 or SW till I was 20. And now I am teaching my 13 year old son to play the same way… with touch and feel

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