When I first started playing tournament golf as a kid, I was nowhere near good enough to be allowed course access — or even get close to one. Signing up to compete in an incredibly low-level state junior golf association tournament hoping you break 100 when your playing partner is a 97-pound 13-year-old who’s going to shoot 73 wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. 

Those early years spent on driving ranges fully aware that I was the worst player to show up that day calcified a golfer’s inferiority complex that lingers on. When you suck, you’re looking for anything that can hide that suck factor. My go-to tactic was to study my opponents. Not by how they swung or practiced (because getting good was an unrealistic goal) but by what they had in their bags.

I became a golf bag snob.

This isn’t to say I spit upon bags with old clubs. Au contraire, those bags are frequently my favorite. What it means is that I’ve paid close enough attention that I can tell more often than not what kind of player you are by what your bag looks like. And if your bag makes you look like a hack? I’m a little ashamed to say that, yes, there is some judgment. 

Let me explain.


There’s a specific kind of player who shows up to the course toting a brand-spanking-new driver, three wood and five wood in their bag, all from the same manufacturer, all with hardly worn stock head covers protruding proudly from the bag. 

These guys aren’t good.

They struggle to keep the ball away from the creek on the right on every tee shot and they’ve never hit the five wood in a match.

They’re the people you take big money from in your nassau game.

On the other hand, the person to be afraid of has a driver that’s maybe new, maybe a model or two out of date, and a three wood that’s pushing a decade old. The three wood has a ratty cover or maybe a headcover he won at a competition at his club. Understated. Smooth. Professional. Take notes.


More so than any other part of the bag, there’s an inverse relationship between how pro you look and how new your irons are. We all want the shiny new MPs. I’m personally offering my left pinky finger for a set. But it won’t make you look the part.

The players who are going out and plopping down casual 71s on a Saturday afternoon found their favorite set of irons eight years ago and now have the sweet spot dimed out. The chrome has picked up some wear over the years, but the grooves are immaculate.

The surest sign of a hack is a brand new set of PXG irons caked with dirt. Please be better.


If I’m stepping to the first tee in a match and my opponent has a non-standard putter cover, I’m just going to assume they drain everything from 20 feet and in. It’s a law.


There are professional-looking golf bags that still have an air of hack wafting around them. Maybe one too many clubs come from the same manufacturer. Maybe they’re using a yellow golf ball.

But the towel is where the rubber really meets the road. 

There has never been in the history of golf a great player who doesn’t have a sweet towel. It’s either an all-white one that’s a little longer than you think is reasonable or a player’s towel, and they are never — never — tied or clipped to the bag. It’s woven through the clubs to quiet the bag while our pro walks the course or casually draped over the side.

It’s true you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. My kindergarten teacher drilled that into my head. But I don’t think my kindergarten teacher played golf. Do as the pros do, and the results will follow every time.*


* Results may vary

Ben Goren

Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).