Why are carry bags so bad?
A plea to bag manufacturers by Warren Montgomery
been playing golf for 50 years and play enough that I've played
thousands of rounds, mostly walking and carrying my clubs. During
that time I've gone through at least 2-3 dozen golf bags, and now play
enough that looking for a new bag is almost a continuous process.
When bags designed specifically for those who walk and carry the bag
were introduced in the early 1990s they were a real innovation.
Comfortable dual straps and a stand to keep the bag off the ground were
real innovations. Unfortunately, things never got much better
after that and in many ways got worse.
What I really want in a golf bag.
The real problem is that when it comes to most things -- Simple is
better, and Manufacturers just don't seem to get the concept of simple
and high quality, instead feeling they have to compete on the basis of
lots of "features" that are mostly only a distraction. What I'm
really looking for in a bag is the following:
I don't think my needs are unique, but again, manufacturers just don't
seem to get it. Bags fall short in many areas, but especially in
the ones that follow:
- Durability -- When you play every day anything cheaply or
shoddily made falls apart quickly, and even solid designs often have
weak spots that the frequent player quickly finds. Repairing and
replacing bags is a pain, so give me one that lasts.
- Comfortable straps that don't need constant adjustment and allow
the bag to be carried on one shoulder or two. Carrying the bag on
both shoulders is easier, but getting the straps on takes time and you
don't always want to do it just moving a little. Sometimes you or
your caddie carries two bags and has to carry each on one strap.
- A stand that is reliable and sturdy. The legs have to
extend every time you put the bag down and position themselves to hold
it, even in a high wind.
- Waterproof -- or at least with waterproofing for the
pockets. Most of us play in the rain some times. There's
nothing worse about a wet day than having to empty the bag afterwards
to dry all the soaked stuff in the pockets.
- Light weight, but don't compromise any of the rest of this to
lose a few ounces.
The first stand bags from Sun Mountain had a unique system some hated,
but I loved. The legs were connected to bungie cords that
extended them as soon as you put the bag down and took weight off the
straps. The system never failed. It was also quite durable
(and if anything ever did fail, Sun Mountain would send you the
replacement parts with easy to follow instructions to fix it.
Some had trouble with the fact that the legs wanted to extend when the
bag sat on a cart or in a car trunk, but I was more than willing to
deal with that for the sake of something that really worked.
Instead, now all the bags I've seen use some kind of lever on the
bottom of the bag to extend the legs. The biggest problem with
that is that when you put the bag down on soft or uneven ground, many
don't get the legs out reliably. In addition, manyhave hardware
to restrain the legs when the bag sits in a cart, which would be okay,
if it didn't sometimes interfere with the legs and keep them from
extending. My Calaway bag occasionally goes over with a crash
because one of the legs got stuck behind two little plastic fingers
that are supposed to hold the legs in front of them.
Aside frome reliability, the new stand mechanisms often don't seem to
extend the legs far enough or wide enough to make the bag stable.
If the bag stands too tall or the legs aren't far enough apart, it
easily gets knocked over in the wind. One bag that I had did this
so often it broke the shaft on my driver when it fell.
The other problem with lever operated stands is that the lever hardware
tends to wear out. That's mostly a matter of construction --
wearable plastic instead of durable metal or other materials, but
sometimes it's design. The more complex the mechanism the more
likely it is to develop problems.
This is the biggest problem area in most bags. The original
double straps which were full length straps attaching to rings on the
bag fit my requirements nicely. A full length strap with a long
and wide pad will rest comfortably on your shoulders without requiring
adjustments other than length, and with secure attachment points on the
bag you can easily carry it on one our two straps. The full
length left strap is also very easy to get on and off.
Unfortunately, that design is now rare -- instead, most bags have
"strap systems" -- custom made harnesses that fit only that bag.
Most of these have some kind of fabric crossover piece where the straps
cross behind your back, and that's a huge problem:
Other strap systems involve large padded "horse collars" that go over
your shoulders and behind your neck. That's comfortable, but
doesn't work on one shoulder, and again all that material on your back
gets hot. Ping bags almost get it right, with two full length
straps, but they integrate one end into the top of the bag. That
sounds nice (nothing to slip), but my experience is that the straps rub
against the plastic grommet that they slip through eventually wearing
through. When that happens the bag is virtually impossible to
repair, and they aren't cheap.
- The crossover leaves only short strap segments that then go up
and over your shoulders, leaving less room for padding. That not
only makes it less comfortable, but means you have to adjust it just
right to get the pad in the right spot. The short length of the
straps also makes it much harder to slip the left one on after you
hoist the bag. Not good for anyone with long arms and creaky
- That crossover piece covers up your back, trapping heat and
moisture, the last thing you want on a hot day.
- Many of these bags are unbalanced on one strap alone. You
may be able to adjust it to ride on one strap, but it's then
mis-adjusted to go back to 2.
- Having strap segments below and above the cross over means a lot
of hardware. Sun Mountain calls their version of this design
"Easy Fit". I'd call it "Easy Slip", because with so many
adjustment buckles some are sure to slip over time and with these bags
I find myself constantly fiddling with the adjustments.
Companies seem to be locked into a struggle to figure out who can come
up with the most complicated and least functional strap system.
One new design has the two straps merge into one behind your back and
end in a clip you attach to one of several points in thee bag.
Maybe it works, but the plastic clip looks quite fragile and non
repairabble. One bag I had seemed to have 2 full straps, but in
fact both straps were a continuous piece of mesh slipped through a
channel in the bag. The strap was designed to slip back and forth
a bit to self adjust when you carried on both shoulders. That was
fine, but what it meant was when you put it on only one, the strap
slipped to the end of its range, making the bag hang lower and making
the left strap loop now too short to just slip over your shoulder to
get it on. Every time I put on both straps on that bag I'd have
to go through a few seconds of twisting my arm and shoulder to get it
on, then shaking to get it to resettle, and if I didn't put the second
strap on the bag hung low and bounced on my hip.
I don't know whether this explosion of design creativity comes because
these folks really think they are improving their bags or simply
because they are trying to avoid the patents of their competitors, but
in my experience nobody has beaten the original two strap system.
Here's where durability comes in. In the interest of having the
lightest bag out there many manufacturers have replaced metal with
plastic and used thinner materials all around. When the plastic
piece is replaceable, like a circular ring, that's not too bad, but I
doubt it saves enough weight to matter and there's little worse than
having one of these things bust out on the course leaving you to carry
the bag the rest of the way with the handle. More often the
plastic piece is of some unique design (a D-ring, a clip, a buckle,
etc.) that can't be replaced with a substitute when it fails, forcing
you to dump the bag instead.
Those early Sun Mountain bags had solid hard plastic sides. All
modern bags have abandoned that in favor of nylon fabric sides
stretched by 2 or 3 struts top to bottom. The hard plastic may
have been a little heavier, but it had lots of advantages over struts
Dividers are another area where manufactures have gotten very
creative. Unfortunately, int's mostly all fluff
(literally). Those "full length dividers" on most bags are simply
nylon fabric strips stretched top to bottom, but they don't attach to
the sides, allowing your clubs to sneak around the divider and jam
anyway. Worse yet a little stress causes the fabric to detach
from the bottom and then it is constantly tangling in the clubs.
The anti-wear padding on the top is never durable and quickly wears
through, allowing your shafts to rub against the dividing bars.
Those bars on newer bars are often just thin plastic, and prone to
breakage. Personally I've never seen the purpose of more than
about 4 club compartments anyway. With more compartments the
openings are smaller and won't accomodate the long headcovers you need
to protect your shafts from rubbing. Some bags force you to
organize clubs "their" way, even if that's not where you want
- The plastic kept the bag round and kept the stuff in the pockets
on the side of the bag from protruding into it and jamming the
clubs. That's a big problem with modern bags if you stuff the
pockets. The platic sides also kept the bag from trying to
conform to your hip and as a result rubbed a lot less as your carried
them than modern bags, where the side caves in where it sits on your
hip until stopped by the shafts of the clubs. That also made it
easier to pull and replace clubs while walking, since the bag stayed
rigid and round. Finally, that plastic distributed the stress
tensioning the bag evenly all across the bottom, making failure less
likely and more repairable than strut and fabric bags, which focus all
the stress on the struts and are prone to having the fabric wear out
where it rubs against them.
Just like dividers, manufacturers seem to be going hog wild on
Pockets. That's okay as long as the result is still
functional. It's nice to have a place to stick a plastic drink
bottle and enough pockets that I can have one for new balls, one for
old balls, one for miscelaneous small stuff, and one large one that
will pack extra clothing, but beyond that things get gimicky.
I've never understood why I wanted a "valuablees" pocket lined with
fuzzy material. Those pockets are never waterproof and often
positioned on the outside of the bag where they are especially
vulnerable. I'd rather stick my "valuablees" in a zip lock bag
and stuff it in the bottom of the main pocket where it's not going to
fall out or get casually swipeed and I don't need to worry about it
getting wet. And finally, don't put little tags on everything
telling me what it's for. Give me a little book explaining it all
but I don't need that stuff stitched on the bag. I feel like a
four year carrying a bag like that.
Waterproofing is another issue. Why can't manufacturers
routinelly use water tight fabric on a bag? I doubt it costs
more. If not for the bag itself, why not at least for the
pockets. I keep a rule book, extra gloves, league rosters, score
cards, as well as my wallet in the bag and all of this gets soaked when
it rains. Not good. Recently I saw that Sun Mountain has a
bag they claim to be waterproof -- nice, but for 2-3 times the price of
an ordinary bag it ought to be.
One more thing I wish manufacturers would do -- make fewer models and
keep them longer. Even when I find a bag I rather like, a year
later when it's time to buy another there's never one anything like it
unless I find some store still closing that model out. These days
it's hard to find the same bag in two stores.
The bottom line here is keep it simple, pay attention to function, and
make it last.