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The humble Sunday bag is enjoying a renaissance. Once a bit of kit you evolved from, could it be where more of us need to graduate to? With endless product cycles and the disproportionate amount of time and print golf equipment gets, it is easy to see why we convince ourselves why we need to buy what we’re being sold. Golf is difficult and for most, the promise of straighter shots, longer drives and low scores is worth taking a punt on. What though, is the driver for it all? When it is all boiled down is it not simply more enjoyment of the game? Perhaps the best way to find more is to have less…

Humble Beginnings & The Sunday Bag

I played ice hockey left-handed and played golf that way until my father bought me a set of clubs at a department store in a rural farming town in Saskatchewan, Canada. Purchased on sale and with no returns, I can still remember the first and only set my father bought me – a set of right-handed Northwestern’s. The set consisted of odd-numbered irons starting with 3 and ending with 9. A driver and three wood were bookended with a knock-off bullseye putter. A blue, single strap Jones bag was bought at a garage sale and I saved my allowance until I could afford a set of FootJoy GreenJoys. This caused fractious division as both my father and grandfather wore Etonic. I was happy to have a set of my own clubs and the fact they were right-handed rather than left-handed didn’t seem to cause me any real concern.

Equipment Decadence

As some of you know, I eventually walked away from the game. During the interim, things got complicated! Pushcarts had been replaced by electric trolleys & yardage books had been replaced by lasers with slope. 1, 3 and 5 woods accented with 3-PW, SW, LW and a putter were no longer sufficient. Hyrbids and driving irons had been introduced and lofts were all over the shop. It was time to catch up and buy the lot! I filled the bag with a traditional set of woods and a set of irons. Then I added a driving iron and a couple of hybrid replacements for the long irons. At one point I had 4 wedges. I bought a stand bag and being in London, I needed an umbrella. After walking 18, I realised I needed a cart. My wife was bemused… she couldn’t figure out why I needed so much stuff to hit a ball into a hole.

Battle of Attrition

Every time I wanted to play I had to charge multiple apparatus’ and fill the boot with staggering amounts of kit for every conceivable eventuality. It felt as though I was preparing for an expedition rather than a gentlemanly game of golf. The process started slowly. I realised I rarely hit my 3 or 4 iron. Like someone who tries to quit smoking but still carries a couple of cigarettes and lighter, I kept them in the boot of the car until I realised I was better off without them anyway. I hit my hybrids as far as my fairway woods so they were the next out. A 52* gap wedge and 60* lob wedge were replaced by bending the other two wedges to a traditional 50* pitching wedge and 55* sand wedge. It was enthralling – how many more could I drop? I eventually gave up the even-numbered irons. I was playing 5, 7 and 9 irons, two wedges alongside a driver, hybrid and putter.

The Humble Sunday Bag

There are a range of options when choosing the vessel that holds the implements of golf. From cart bags to carry bags of all descriptions, the most obtuse are the tour bags which double as billboards.  Perhaps the most symbolic change was when I acquired a Mackenzie golf bag sporting a single strap with one divider of lightweight design. Utterly ridiculous to carry a full set in it, it has prevented me from stumbling backwards toward my old ways. I was back to where I began and golf felt simple, pure and authentic again.

Less Than 14 Short Set

While the rules of golf allow you to carry 14 clubs, I now proudly bag a short set. None of my irons have numbers… actually, they don’t have any markings at all. Not done intentionally, I simply cannot decide what I want. The lofts are approx. 28*, 36*, 44*, 52*, and 58* (updated). They are hand-ground blanks from a Japanese forge called Kyoei and have black onyx ProjectX 6.0 shafts. It’s not so difficult to choose the correct one. With the bag off my shoulder and on the ground, the longest iron is the 5 equivalent and the shortest is the 9 equivalent. Even I can figure out the middle one.

Kyeoi hand ground blanks in the current Sunday Bag <14 setup.

I game an Edel E2 putter that has been custom fit. For most rounds, I carry a Cobra Baffler 3 hybrid and an old Callaway Big Bertha Deuce. If I am playing a ‘proper’ course that demands length, I’ll drop the Deuce and add the Titleist 917 D3. A Cobra Baffler 16* hybrid can be used for the gap left between the 3 hybrid and my driver. My hybrids and driver sport Accra graphite shafts. Whatever the course, I carry 8 or 9 clubs. What motivated me to make the change? I felt as though I was losing the spirit of the game and in danger of almost knowing too much.

The current Sunday Bag <14 setup.

Gaming a half set when you could have 14 clubs in your bag initially fees like your giving up shots. When you adjust to playing with the minimum number of clubs, you realise having an extra club or two is superfluous. Ditching the excess and carrying a pencil bag, Sunday bag, or double strap carry bag, reestablishes you with the roots of the game.

The Spirit of the Game

Some people have called me a ‘purest’. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally taken that tack. It is true that I prefer common land golf over rough ground than the flattish, resort, cart golf. However, the Trackman Range nearby is pretty great for practice. I’d readily admit I would prefer to have an old Wood Bros. persimmon than the new SIM from Taylormade. I’d rather have a MacGregor M85W than the new Callaway Mavrik. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s simply the marginal gains between them and my current gamer aren’t worth it. They may give me ballz-ier results but they cannot offer the percussion of persimmon or the intangible reality of catching one on the screws. It’s a feeling rather than absolute fact… something a laser range finder with slope definitely cannot provide.

Intangible Gains From a Sunday Bag

Carrying a Sunday bag comes with an inherent lack of options. That, in turn, makes my decisions both easier and quicker. It demands me to think about plotting a course rather than hitting a number. In some cases, I even need to think about shot-shape and then attempt to pull it off. It also keeps me honest as I’d far rather enjoy a round from the forward tees than endure the self-flagellation of a game from the tips. I may give up some distance and perhaps even a few shots a round but it’s a trade-off made with no regrets.

The swap to a Sunday bag has also helped me worry less about scoring and focus on simple enjoyment and having fun. If I am playing with others a match is just as intense and competitive, perhaps even more so if you can carry the day with half the kit in a canvas Sunday bag with a single strap. It may well be the millennial craft movement that has breathed life into small-batch manufacturers. Whatever the case, it does feel good to reward those who put their heart into their work rather than line the coffers of faceless corporations. Having less has also allowed me to acquire pieces that I really love. Less and better rather than more and average. My wingtip headcovers from Dormie Workshop accent the Sunday bag perfectly and are a great example of this.

A MacKenzie Sunday Bag and Dormie Workshop headcovers are perfect for a <14 setup.

From Sunday Bag – Where To Next?

Stripped back to bare essentials, I have even given up the glove. I still carry a yardage book if it’s a course I’m not familiar with or one from which I want a memento. I love persimmons and I am on the lookout constantly. I’ve also toyed with gaming hickories again and have decided at some point to add some Tad Moore Star OA‘s or a Louisville Precision Series set. I spend far too much time dreaming about my imaginary set of National Custom Works.

The fact is none of these things is actually needed and you could say the same thing about a Sunday Bag. In fact, it could be as simple as choosing evens or odds. As my wife often reminds me, it is as simple as getting the ball in a hole.

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Comments

  1. Jasper says:

    Agreed Micheal – Liberating indeed!

    Re: Sunday Bags – I love my MacKenzie and well worth it if you’ve got the dosh. There are a lot of options at the Jones price point – from smaller independents as well. Steurer & Jacoby and Seamus are options. If you’re in the UK, Coneybeare is an inexpensive offering to test the waters with…

  2. Michael Hubbs says:

    I now carry 10 sticks: a Titleist 915D driver, Titleist TS3 19 degree hybrid, Titleist AP1 irons PW-5 (I junked the 4 iron), a Titleist Vokey 56 degree wedge and an Odyssey putter. I’m looking for suggestions for a cheap yet decent quality Sunday bag. I’d love to go 7 clubs. The thing about minimalist is that it’s liberating!

  3. Jasper says:

    I hadn’t noticed the dropped club from the photo! To be fair, the irons don’t really follow the traditional norms. Increments in length are 5/8″ rather than 1/2″ and lofts were bent for gapping rather than any particular number anyways. The heads have also been ground to match the intervals in length – a proper half set in every sense of the word! The loft intervals are approx 8* now narrowing as I get to the bottom end of the bag. Not 100% sure the exact lofts at the moment but know my approx yardages.

  4. Stracck says:

    I love this idea and am inspired by it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to execute this and am thinking I’ll start alternating between odds and evens.

    Quick question, you mention 28*-58* in 6* increments, which would be six clubs, but only show 5 in your picture. From the picture, it looks like you dropped one of the 46*, 52*, 58*… which got the boot?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Duane Peterson says:

    Jasper, you should be promoting the Hybrid ball for quick true minimialist play, a ball of minimalist proportions developed for time & cost efficient golf. What you play is a ball of maximum proportions that continues to expand a game suffering from “technology creep” and making the experience a farse. Being seduced by distance, does not bode well for the quality of the game.
    So, how low can you really go?
    Well, our low point is carrying fewer clubs in smaller bag, using a Hybrid 60% ball, walking a quick-play round in 1/2 the time & cost on smaller eco-efficient golf courses with greater satisfaction and love of game….
    …and i’ll bet not one so called minimalist here can match it!

  6. Jasper says:

    Thanks Duane for your impassioned response! Whilst I do use a modern ball when playing ‘modern courses’ I also play persimmon and hickory golf. It is true the ‘total experience’ can be had when playing period correct kit including the ball. If you wish to read about the type of golf courses we champion – have a look at the courses highlighted on our site… you may be pleasantly surprised there are more than ‘manicured modern courses’ – in fact, very few…

  7. Duane Peterson says:

    Hey wait just a minute! You’re only addressing the Club & Bag segments of the minimalist movement and not the true total minimalist experience…how about the ball? You’re still playing the same modern golf ball developed for the mega distance modern golf game, that takes many hours to play over huge tracts of water using manicured land that we call a modern golf course.
    So basically, you haven’t minimalized the game or time to play or cost to play or made the experience more economy minded & efficient! In reality, you’re nothing but reduced golf club & small bag carriers and not true golf minimalists at all!
    The true minimalist golfer completes the total experience by using the Hybrid MD “distance-to-weight” golf ball developed for quick full play in half the time on smaller eco efficient golf courses.
    You know we’ve been carrying smaller bags with fewer clubs for over 50 years…and you’re just discovering this? You’ve been stuck in the big game rut for too long…come on out, there’s a better way to play the game!

  8. England Golf Project says:

    Fantastic read. I played half my rounds last year with a Sunday bag and 10 clubs. I found that was the sweet spot for me. This has inspired me to look into ditching a few more clubs and going full time with 10 or less clubs. My scoring is the same with 14 clubs or 10 clubs, but reconnecting with the purity of the game is better than any score on a card

  9. Jasper says:

    Its a battle of attrition. Once you begin – it’s liberating and the chase is on to see how minimal you can go! Anything that brings more enjoyment and fun to my game is worth the effort.It also opens up front tees and match play which goes hand and hand with the minimalist movement.

  10. TD says:

    Great article. I did exactly the same and recommend it to everyone. I got rid of my Taylor Made irons and Srixon woods and now have 8 clubs. I found a 2 and 4 wood on Ebay and bought some basic game improvement irons. I use a 3 hybrid, 5, 7 and 9 irons, 56 degree wedge and putter. I think I can get it down to 7 by getting a 4 hybrid and taking out the 3 and 5 clubs. I will probably trade the wedge in for a 52 or 54 degree to bridge the gap a bit between the 9 iron. A lighter bag means my shoulder and back ache has also gone and the car boot is cleaner! Ultimately, I’m now shooting better scores than I did 10 to 15 years ago and enjoying golf a whole lot more.

  11. Rajeshwar Kumar says:

    Great article. The only time I won the trophies was when I left the driver in the boot of my car. Seriously I will go back to fewer clubs Thank you.

  12. Iain Powell says:

    Great words.
    I would love to see the professional golfers restricted to 8 clubs, shot shaping and improvisation would be a joy to watch. 14 clubs are ridiculous when you think about it.
    Thanks

  13. Derek says:

    Great article! I’ve been playing around with the idea of making this my new way to play golf. I like the idea of making things simpler and being able to enjoy the game more. I’ve seen those irons and wedges online and have been intrigued. Did you do the finishing work yourself? Thank you!

  14. John Drake says:

    So much enjoyment reading this. As a follower of the #minimalistgolfmovement I just loved every word. Scribed a few myself in a blog about minimal approach. So much resonates in this. Thank you.