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How to Pack Your Golf Clubs for a Flight So They Always Arrive in One Piece

by Craig Better

Jun262012

You might think I am obsessive after reading how I pack my golf clubs, but I’ve flown with them on a lot of golf trips and never once opened my travel bag to find a damaged club (although somewhere there is a baggage handler making his way around a golf course with my driver).

Here are my tips on protective packing, and, of course, I’d love to hear yours, too.

The Theory:

If a club breaks in transit, it usually happens where the clubhead meets the shaft.

Think about it: the rest of the club is protected by the “shell” of the golf bag, but the head sticks out and bears the weight of anything placed on top of it.

So, my entire approach revolves around protecting that point — where the clubheads meets the shafts.

The Approach

In the old days, I would turn my woods upside down so the heads were inside the bag with the shafts sticking up, but with today’s narrower dividers and oversize heads (particularly on drivers) that’s usually impossible.

Instead, I go with a “strength in numbers,” approach.

For example, a single wooden chopstick is pretty easy to break, right? But bundle 10 chopsticks together and even Dustin Johnson can’t break them.

Same idea here: I simply group all the clubs as closely together as possible, preferably will all the shafts in a single section of the bag (see the before and after photos below). It helps to throw a sock over your irons (and putter) to keep them together, and may reduce scratches, too.

before-and-afterNote, too, that I place my tallest club, my driver, in between my other woods/hybrids. The club that sticks up the most is usually going to be the most susceptible to breakage, so I try to insulate it as much as possible.

rain hoodOnce that’s done, I throw my rain hood over the whole thing to keep everything in place and as a precaution against rain or leaking engine oil (although if the latter is happening, ruined golf clubs don’t seem like such a big deal).

Finally, I put this setup into my golf travel bag.

Once inside, I try to fill up any space above and below the clubheads to further reduce any stress/flex put on them.

In this photo (on my driveway so you could more easily see what I mean), I’ve placed my shoe bag under the clubheads.

clubheadOn top, I’ll usually put a rolled up golf towel or two.

By the way, there’s a product you can buy that largely achieves the same effect as all this.

It’s called the Stiff Arm and one of my colleagues never travels without it.

Made by the same company that makes the Club Glove, it’s basically a telescoping closet rod with a small frisbee on one end.

stiff-armPlaced down the center of your golf bag and extended up to the top of the inside of your travel bag, it becomes the tallest “club” in your bag and takes the brunt of any weight placed on your gear.

So, am I a freak when it comes to packing my clubs, or do you, too, go to great lengths to ensure they arrive in one piece?

Please share your favorite packing tips or see what others are saying below.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bill June 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm

After watching clubs misshandled at the airport and suffering a broken Driver, and freinds on the same trip had broken clubs and damaged bags. We all went out and bought travel Bags from Cargo Golf that protect all the clubs from up to 2oo lbs of pressure. The bag has a removeable hard top that comes off to play the balance is golf bag with a strap. There are 3 models to choose from, no club damage in 5 years for any of us but 1 torn ball pouch on the outside of the bag.

2 John Bushman June 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Wrap you clubs in bubble wrap, then wrap a towel around the whole lot and tape with duct tape. Works everytime.

3 kevin llewellyn June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm

i have the new titleist driver and woods. i just unscrew the heads and put them in their covers and put them in my bag or suitcase

4 Gus June 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I’m so paranoid that I put my clubs in my travel bag when my brother in law was driving them down from NY to Myrtle Beach. I’ve had friends tell me that they put a broom stick in their bag to act like the “Stiff Arm”. I’m going to try the sock trick with my irons next time

5 Walker Merryman June 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Years ago Ozio came out with an inflatable cover for the top portion of your bag. It is lined with a fake sheepskin material. That combined with the inflation (locked in via a valve) has always protected my clubs perfectly. They taken the best or worst from baggage handlers all over the world.

6 Vincent Crusco June 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

In the last 5 years I’ve traveled nationally and internationally with my clubs I pack them in my Ogio travel bag meticulously padded and secured. When I arrive ats my destination its always been unpacked and repacked not even close to my original expert job always using the Stiff Arm. I’ve only had 1 broken club…of course it was my driver. I believe NSA goes thru every golf bag or at least just mine. So pack it well and keep it simple and tight under the cap of your Stiff Arm.

7 tom elliott June 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm

wrap an old leather shoelace around a couple of your golf towels wrapped around your clubs, with the rain cover put on and in the cover put some rolled up newspapers to help shield any blows your bag will take being loaded & unloaded. no matter what you put on them the TSA night unwrap it all to scan them, which has happened to me on several trips.

8 Owen Barnes June 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Very simple system. Soft cover over top of bag as usual then put the whole lot into a hard case made to take a Golf Bag. The case does not cost a lot and you only buy it once. Had mine years. This leaves room at bottom of hard case for shoes, loads of balls (in case your golf bag is full) and other small items. As a golf bag is normally “Free of Charge” on air travel this system solves the problem of extra cost and gives complete security and defies the worst that Baggage Handlers might do.

9 Jim June 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I place an old tennis racket in the middle of the clubs with the handle in the bag and the top of the racket up. It is just a little taller than the driver and the width of the bag. Place the rain cover over this to hold it in place.

10 Steve June 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm

You do realize that TSA removes every club from your bag to check them and then replaces them all? They are not happy about it either.

11 Bill Cothran June 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Buy a high quality hard case. I bought one about 5 years ago and from looking at it you know they have tried to destroy it over and over again. They are a little pricey but worth every penny. Buy a couple of nylon straps for insurance since you can not lock the case anymore. Gotta love TSA.

12 Wally June 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm

If you buy a HARD golf travel case, you don’t have to worry about all the other stuff.
By the way, when i took a trip to FL for 2 weeks. I put ALL my socks around my irons and packed all my underwear in the golf bag pockets. I packed my outer shirts, playing shorts and golf shoes in my “carry on”. I carried all the golf balls and my electronics in my “personal item”. Ergo……no baggage fees.

13 Ed June 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Instead of the Stiff Arm or a broomstick I used a piece of PVC pipe (very cheap, very light) and wrapped the heads with a golf towel secured by big rubber bands.

Since I retired and no longer accumulate many miles for upgrades I’m flying coach more often than not. I was blown away by some of the charges for “oversize” luggage. Up to $150 ONE WAY for a golf bag! It seems like the airlines conspired to come up with regulations that ruled out even some of the smallest travel bags. I’ve rented clubs, but they aren’t very fun to use.

I found the solution with a “Trav-A-Lite 9″ bag. It claims to only hold 8 or 9 clubs, but I can squeeze in 11. It passes all the airline limits for oversize luggage and I can play with (most) of my own clubs. The only negative is playing out of it, as clubs can be hard to pull. Usually I’m visiting someone and they’ll have an extra bag I use when we play.

Take that airlines! :-)

14 Paul June 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I always use a stiff arm (club glove), place all my woods in the same slot and then tie a golf towel around them to keep them tightly held together. I even had a bent stiff arm about a year ago, but not a single broken club.

I also put my most stinky dirty clothes in my golf bag, around the heads of the clubs, so that my golf clubs are not gone over by TSA and my over engineered protection of the clubs is disassembled but not put back together.

15 Bill Mac June 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I had an issue with a broken driver and bought a stiff arm after that trip. Definately worth the $30 investment. I usually stuff a lot of towels and soft shoe bag in the travel bag for extra protection. Some great tips here. I never thought about removing the heads of my adjustable TM driver and 3 wood… Great tip.

16 Daryl June 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

If you fly, it doesn’t matter how you pack them – TSA screws them all up anyway. I’m not sure if they go through all that if it goes by FedEx.

17 Ron H June 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I have put bubble wrap around my clubs and stuffed socks and underware all around them. Then I find when I get to my distination that TSA has gone through the bag and never puts the bubble wrap back on. They must look at every club because the clubs are not in the same pockets.
I do use the stiff arm and would not travel without it.

18 Gonzo June 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm

My friends and I always take our woods out of the bag as soon as we pick the clubs up from the luggage carousal, that way you can notify the airline immediately if there is any damage.
The airlines also adhere to the “Warsaw Convention”; a system whereby if they have to pay out for irrepairably damaging your luggage (and they stall and fight hard to avoid paying) they calculate the payout based not on the value of the damaged item but on the weight of it, at approx US$20/kg.
My experience – receiving, after 3 months of emails and calls, a cheque for $200 in compensation for a hard-cover bike box that cost $1500 to replace.
They probably also use this “convention” to calculate compensation if they lose your luggage, although I suspect these days most lost luggage is found eventually.

19 Bill June 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Similar to Ed, I cut two heavy scale white pvc tubes, just a little longer than my longest club and put them both in my bag along with the clubs. If the end gets banged, the pvc’s takes the hit. I also cut white pvc tubes and lay them in the troughs of sliding doors and windows to help prevent illigal entry. They blend in nicely with the vinyl windows and doors.

20 Andy Chalot June 27, 2012 at 1:38 am

I had broken shafts on my 3 and 4 irons on a return trip several years ago with a soft travel bag – went to an SKB hard shell. This worked fine until I started traveling with a couple of engineers who were also golfers. The SKB wouldn’t fit in the trunk of many full size rental cars and had to go in the back seat. They started calling it my “sarcophogus”!! So, I bought at Club Glove “Last Bag” three years ago and it has worked fantastic. The uppers have a padded section all the way around the bag and when the outer strap is cinched, it is hard core. I also wrap a soft insulated cooler and a couple towels around the tall clubs which seems to have helped a little more? I routinely do two RT trips a month which amounts to at least 8 different sets of baggage handlers throwing this valuable package around. I know TSA does take every club out of the bag as I’ve had to reposition the clubs many times to their routine placement. I leave the paper handouts they place in the bag after inspection in the travel bag (must be 50 or 60 of them in there), hoping that they’ll not remove all the clubs, but it hasn’t seemed to deter their actions!!!!

21 Lloyd K June 27, 2012 at 8:45 am

To me it seems like you go through a lot of unnecessary work when there are so many hard cases available on the market. I put the rain cover over my clubs, drop them into the case, pack my golf clothes and shoes with them (often all my shoes for the trip along with any security-banned liquids I might want to take), close the case and I’m ready to go. This arrangement has alowed me to almost always (except when traveling internationally for more than a week) just have a carry on for the rest of my stuff, keeping my commute to/from/through the airports simple and keeping my baggage check fees to a minimum, many times $0. My Golf Guard case is padded at the top for extra protection as well. Only once did I have any problems, when it came out of the baggage belt with a hole in one corner. No problem though, the airline had a new one delivered to my front door. Definately the smartest investment I’ve made in my golf travels.

22 Deuce June 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

I tour with a rock band and always bring my clubs for summer tours. I typically ship via FedEx, but have checked them on a number of flights as well. I’ve had an SKB Hard Case for 7 years and have never had a damaged club. SKB offers to cover damage to your clubs up to $1,500. There’s a bit of padding where the club heads go, but I also pack it in with shoes and towels like others in this forum. I keep my clubs in the case when stored in the luggage bay under the tour bus to protect against other roadies’ luggage and occasional erratic driving.

23 Bob Marshall June 27, 2012 at 9:44 am

I have been lucky up to now, with no broken clubs. However, I have had 2 soft travel bags ripped, the second one on its first use. I now use a hard case – so far so good.

24 Rod June 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I prefer pretty much the same set up as Craig. I also use the Eagle Creek packing system for luggage, and place a packing cube or 2 with socks, underwear etc around the clubs, followed by the rain cover and tied tight using a bungee cord (which is needed for any trips to the UK or Ireland if one is using the standard antique pull cart). Do not leave home without the Stiff Arm.

Not a fan of the hard case as it is a royal pain upon arrival, especially in Europe where you are unlikely to find a vehicle that will be large enough to accommodate them. There is always the option of leaving the case at the airport left luggage. However, Glasgow airport charges 10 GBP/day ($16/day) for a standard bag and 20 GBP/day ($32/day) for an oversize bag (which they classify a hard golf travel case), making this option an expensive one.

The Trav-A-Lite style bags are a very good option for cart golf, but they are a rotten for those of us that prefer to carry our golf bag.

After recently switching to the Club Glider travel bag I would never use anything else – I really can be manoeuvred with 2 fingers. It is an absolute must for those travelling with golfing spouses and who usually end of managing both golf travel bags.

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