Playing Around With Three Clubs

In response to a Twitter message about a three club challenge, I dug this one out of the fairly recent archives.

I once played in a hickory club tournament, carting about seven clubs around in the bag. But those antique sticks were tough to hit, and I basically wound up playing the entire round with three clubs, ultimately faring not much worse than with my regular weapons of crass destruction.

Players are legitimately allowed to use 14 clubs per round these days, but I’ve often wondered whether we really need them all. It sounded like a project for the MOTO Research Team (the usual foursome, formed from the meat of the order of our softball team: David Cotton, Prentiss Smith, Jerry Carbone and me).

The MOTO Research Team, maintaining its anonymity as always. No idea who the fifth guy is.

We headed out to the Wintonbury Hills Golf Course in Bloomfield, Connecticut for 36 holes. The first 18 would be with all our sticks, the second 18 with but three clubs, those three left to the player’s discretion. We’d see what we would see.

The ninth hole green complex at Wintonbury Hills

We saw a lot of the fine Pete Dye design near Hartford, and that was a no-lose proposition. But it was a busy late fall day, and there was some question as to whether we’d make it through both rounds before darkness. We played as briskly as we could, and since we’re all in the range of the mid-handicapped, we all shot our more or less typical mid-handicapped scores.

What was different about the round was all the strategizing we did for the one to follow. Should one of the three clubs be a putter, or not? Forego a sand wedge, and then pray not to land in one of more than a hundred bunkers on the course?

What is the sound of the Zen putter putting?

I decided fairly early on to take my putter. I was the only one who did. Jerry was the only one to take his driver. Prentiss decided he would take his three wood and use it to putt, after he experimented with it in the opening round and actually pared the fourteenth hole with four strokes of the three wood–for all I know, some kind of world record.

After a speedy lunch break we stashed our unchosen clubs in the car trunk to avoid temptation and went back out to the first hole with this lineup: David (three wood, five and seven irons), Prentiss (three wood, seven and nine irons), Jerry (driver, seven and nine irons), me (five wood, eight iron, putter).

To cut to the chase, the results were mixed, and a bit hampered by the encroaching gloaming. By the eighteenth it was so dark we didn’t think we’d be able to find our tee shots. Indeed, we could barely see the ball on the tee. I hit a poor shot that scudded forward and hit the curb of the cart path and then clearly ricocheted–somewhere. There was no point in even looking for it.

We muttered about whether we should just drive on in or try to find the other tee shots. Jerry was still standing on the tee when my ball, which had apparently gone briefly into orbit and then into reentry, came down afire. The ball must have gone as high vertically as some of my drives achieved horizontally. So impressive was its hang time that Jerry wasn’t even sure what had almost brained him, until we confirmed it was indeed my ball, and then we all pretty much lost it.

Put us all down for a double on the last, and we get these results—Prentiss was six strokes higher with three clubs, I was five strokes higher, Jerry two strokes higher, and David–nine strokes lower!

The cold analysis actually suggested no significant data. David had had a particularly poor first eighteen, so kicking the ball around might have been an improvement. I was one stroke better with three clubs after nine, and Jerry two strokes; the last nine falloff could have been attributed to fatigue and the gathering dark.

Prentiss suggested not having a putter made the difference for him, but he did improve on his world record by using his three wood for five consecutive shots to par the eighth hole. Jerry was concurrently double-bogeying the eighth, using his driver for all seven shots!

It was such anomalies that kept us laughing and scratching. We were in carts, so when dropping partners off with all three clubs in their hands, it was hard to resist saying, “Got what you need?” Or when Jerry sunk a putt with the big dog: “Nice drive.”

Wintonbury Hills scorecard

We may have learned something about being more creative with shots, or that there’s not much point in slowing play down with agonizingly deliberate club selection when one will do about as well as another.

Or it may be that we just helped breathe life into golf clichés, as when I notched my first par on the sixth hole with a regulation five wood, eight iron, two putts, and someone said, “Play Wintonbury Hills: You’ll use every club in your bag.”

Conclusion: A definite need for further testing.

4 Responses to “Playing Around With Three Clubs”

  1. Gregg Smith

    Tom, I mentioned it to you some time ago…. my regular group and I play with 3 clubs at least 2 or 3 times a year… I’ve even done it at the Anaconda, MT – Jack Nicklaus designed “Old Works”. Maybe I am just that lacking in talent…. but I seem to score somewhere in the 90s no matter how many, nor how few I carry.

    BTW – Over the years I have refined my favorite 3 down to:

    Five wood
    8 iron
    Sand wedge

    Use the Sand Wedge for putting…. I miss a few close ones (don’t I always) but overall it seem to make me concentrate more because I am trying to strike the equator of the ball with the blade.

    Another thing we often insert after a round is “TEST… OF… SKILLLLLLL !!!!!!!!” loser buys the first round…. we take turns making up the test of skill, such as from a certain distance what is the lowest club you can hit over a water hazard. One day I had the lowest with a 150 yard with a closed up wedge (no accuracy points involved) but then to the amusement of my partners hit six balls in row in the water with a sand wedge (great sport) Another example might be chipping onto a green from an elevated area with a driver (farthest from the hole loses) Okay, sometimes there is no skill involved but it can ease the misery of a bad round.


  2. Tom Bedell

    Gregg–retrieved this one from the spam folder, which is certainly no reflection on the comment! Which I appreciate. Particularly like the test of skill challenge. May take it up with the MOTO Research team!

  3. Gregg Smith

    Tom – Came up with a new variation of our 3 club game…. for the first hole each player may “declare” which 3 clubs he will use. Following that hole, the winner selects 3 clubs and everyone must use those 3 clubs on the second hole. The winner of the second hole once again selects 3 clubs and everyone must use those 3 clubs on the third hole, etc. etc.

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