Those who don’t play golf must think we’re crazy when they see us dragging our massive golf travel bags through baggage claim — only to cram the body bag-size parcel into a subway car or shared Uber … that happens to be a pint-sized Nissan Sentra. Traveling with your clubs is a hassle, but unless you want to rent clubs or shell out a few bucks to have your sticks shipped directly to your destination, it’s a necessary evil every golfer must endure.
And speaking of evil, nothing is worse than reaching your destination and realizing your new driver was beheaded thanks to either shoddy packing on your part or a lack of TLC from the baggage service team. I’ve been there, and it’s the worst.
Since then (by the way, it happened on my last trip to Bandon — not the place you want to play without all 14 clubs), I’ve done the best I could to avoid any mishaps and so far, after dozens of trips to and from, my clubs have remained unscathed.
How do you enjoy the trip and not sweat your clubs make it there in one piece? Here are a few tips to consider next time you load up your gear to help prevent your clubs from suffering a grisly beating.
Tip 1: Choose the right-sized golf travel bag
Yes, they do come in different sizes. I’ve found travel bags that are smaller fit my carry bag more snugly, which means it’s easier to pad and protect my clubs. I’ve never been a hard travel bag fan — only because they’re harder to fit in the trunk and what if they crack? In any case, you don’t want a bag that’s too small or big.
Tip 2: The Stiff Arm is an absolute MUST
Club Glove makes some really spiffy travel bags — one of my favorites being the Last Bag Collegiate model because it’s smaller and easier to travel with. But my favorite product from Club Glove — which is one of the most underrated golf products ever, in my opinion — is the Stiff Arm. The Stiff Arm is a telescopic pole that extends beyond the length of your driver, helping to protect your clubs from end to end. The Stiff Arm virtually eliminates the risk of breakage from your travel bag as it comes sliding down the baggage carousel, smashing its head into a metal wall. It also prevents your travel bag from folding as you wheel it through the airport, making matters much easier.
Tip 3: Remove your clubheads
Even I don’t do this every time, especially now that I have a Stiff Arm. But if you want an extra layer of protection, removing the heads off your driver and fairway woods will help lessen the chance of breakage. Just remember your settings as they were — snap a pic with your cellphone so you don’t forget.
Tip 4: Put your clubs in your bag upside down
This one can be a hassle, but if you remove the clubheads off your woods and driver, you might as well take it a step further. By flipping your clubs upside down in your golf bag, you’ll do a better job protecting the vulnerable hosel and lower section of the shaft.
Tip 5: Fill the spaces with clothes, towels and shoes
Maybe you don’t have removable clubheads or flipping your clubs upside down seems like too much trouble. In this case, you want to make sure you fill any voids at the top of your clubs to minimize the risk of bends or breaks. I use a beach towel and wrap the top section of my longer clubs (the parts that stick out of my golf bag), so they fit snug in my travel bag. You could also strategically place your shoes or clothes here just as well. The less empty space inside the bag, the more protected your clubs will be.
Bonus: Leave sentimental or expensive items at home or in your carry-on
The above tips will help protect your clubs from mishandling, but there is one thing even the best travel bag packing tip can’t fully insure against: lost or stolen clubs. Some insurance companies will help recoup your losses when it comes to your gear, but sentimental items and tech gadgets, such as laser rangefinders, are sometimes irreplaceable. Best to leave those things at home or keep them with you in your carry-on. And take pics of everything in your travel bag — you might need the proof should your sticks lose their way.