Golf players who find it difficult to get their ball out of tough spots on the course may be familiar with a special club called the chipper.
This uniquely shaped piece of equipment is designed precisely for “chipping” the ball up and out of tricky areas.
But considering golf as a sport has strict rules, is the golf chipper legal?
The short answer is yes, golf chippers are legal under most conditions. That said, they must meet specific requirements in order to be permitted.
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Generally speaking, golf chippers are permissible on all golf courses in the United States as well as in both professional and amateur golfing competitions.
However, there are some exceptions. While most courses in North America follow the same rules set by the United States Golfing Association, some private clubs may have their own unique rules regarding specific equipment or gameplay.
In some international competitions, there have been reports of golf chippers being confiscated from players when brought out.
It is up to each player to check the rules at the course they are going to ahead of time to know when a chipper is and isn’t acceptable on the green.
Many people are confused as to what exactly a golf chipper is because it looks so different from the other clubs, yet, it also has some similarities.
In functionality, it’s like a cross between a putter and a wedge. The chipper features an eight-iron loft, though some versions feature a nine-iron or even a seven-iron loft.
The chipper is typically a bit shorter than a putter, giving it a smaller swing. However, it can still roll like a putter, making it ideal for lofting balls up and out of rough areas.
According to the experts at Brainstorm Golf, players using a chipper will benefit most if they aim for a balance of “20% air and 80% roll” in most situations.
Technically speaking, a golf chipper can be used anywhere on the golf course. But like all irons, it is more practical to use in some areas and impractical in others.
Chippers are best used on rough grass areas and lower-lying regions.
Some players have been reported to use golf chippers on the sand, but this is not recommended as the sand wedge and certain other irons are much more effective in these situations.
Though they appear to be specialized equipment and can instantly improve a player’s performance, golf chippers are still legal on the course because they are classified as irons by the United States Golf Association.
It’s also worth noting that one of the oldest golf associations in the world, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (better known as the “R&A”) also classifies golf chippers as irons.
For this reason, the unique clubs are legal on most golf courses in the United Kingdom as well.
Golf chippers are generally paired with beginner players. The chipper can help with navigating rough patches of the green without placing a large focus on precision.
Because of this, it can help players with less experience learn basic movements and functions before honing these specific skills.
The term “chipping iron” is often used by members of the golfing community, leading to confusion among some beginning players.
However, it is the same thing as a golf chipper. Another colloquial term for the golf chipper is “the beginner’s wedge.”
In order to be deemed usable in competition, golf chippers must not be specially modified and can only have one striking side.
They also cannot be fitted with a putter grip.
The United States Golf Association specifically dictates that chippers are permitted so long as they have a rounded grip, no flat surface, have a plain clubhead (and only one striking face), and fall between 18 inches and 48 inches in overall length.
In the United States, golf chippers are permitted at all professional tournaments (including the PGA Tour) providing they meet the standards set by the United States Golf Association.
In other countries, it is up to the presiding golf organization that regulates national competitions and course rules (as of 2022, most golfing organizations across the world permit golf chippers).
Two-sided golf chippers have risen in popularity in recent years, and they’re now a common piece in golf bags at country and golf clubs.
This is generally acceptable during non-professional play (as long as local course rules do not have rules against it).
That said, the two-sided chipper is considered non-conforming and therefore illegal during professional play.
As per a statement from the United States Golf Association, “Except putter, you can use only one striking face.”
The only club allowed to be two-sided is, therefore, the putter.
Professional golfers are almost never spotted using golf chippers because they are typically meant for players with a high handicap.
Likewise, professionals are more focused on controlling the precise flight, distance, and spin of the ball in every move, which is tougher to do with a chipper.
At a high level, sacrificing a spot in the golf bag for a chipper isn’t practical for playing the best game possible.
Professionals therefore usually “chip” with smaller irons that are more reflective of their expertise. For example, Tiger Woods has been recorded chipping with a 4-iron.
The distance a ball can travel after being struck with a chipper varies greatly and is dependent on the skill of the player, the angle, the terrain, and the amount of force used.
That said, the general consensus among professionals is that the maximum distance a chipper can go is typically around 30 yards.
For this reason, it is intended for shorter distances only.
It’s unclear when the golf chipper first entered the game, but it is a relatively newer design compared to traditional clubs.
Hybrid designs and specially focused clubs did not start gaining prominence until the 1990s and early 2000s.
There are multiple reasons behind the common misconception that golf chippers are illegal in gameplay.
One of the biggest ones is that the iron is uniquely shaped and looks like a hybrid of a putter and wedge, leading some to believe it is an illegally enhanced version of a traditional club.
The fact that the two-sided chipper is prohibited may have also caused confusion and led to the belief that all chippers are not allowed.
The public may also be swayed by the vast majority of professional players not using a golf chipper during televised competitions.
Likewise, some countries and private clubs within the United States have prohibited the use of chippers because they can damage grass and other vegetation when used poorly.