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A Bouncing Idea: The Story of the Sand Wedge

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If you’re like me, it’s painful to watch the golf ball tumble into a bunker, or as you Americans like to call them, “traps.” Fear and trepidation soon follow while surveying the next shot from the sandy grave.

We watch in awe as professionals effortlessly splash their escapes exquisitely up to the hole. With endless hours to practice and a technique honed to perfection, these guys make it look easy. In fact, they sometimes prefer sand to greenside rough. The average weekend warrior has a much bigger fear factor and is less concerned in leaving the ball beside the hole as he is in not leaving the ball in the bunker. And the anguish of today’s golfer is only heightened as he sees the ball in anything but a perfect lie on the beach.

Compared to the early days of golf, however, bunker play is relatively easy.

LongnoseWaterRakeGolfWRX

A water iron (far left), a rake iron, and a long-nose play club (far right) from the 1900s

Back in the dark ages when golf was invented, the landscape was not as refined as we know it these days. Golfers had to put up with all sorts of interesting lies including cart paths, (made by horse and carts, not the tarmac cart paths we know of today), ruts, hoof prints and cow pats. In those days, golfers used all sorts of designs to extricate themselves from hazards including the “water iron,” which was used from casual water. Back then, you played the ball as it lay no matter what!

The bunker itself came from our golfing forefathers in Scotland. The first golf courses were built on sand-based links land, and pits appeared that they called “bunkers.” And merely getting the ball out of a bunker was an issue. They were really a hazard and golfers accepted them as a punishment. They were unkempt, were full of stones, shells, weeds, and rocks and didn’t have rakes. They looked like they had been fashioned by men drinking whisky, which was probably not far from the truth. Indeed in early exhibition games, the crowds used to stand in the bunkers to get a better view of matches.

RoyalCountyDownBunker

Royal County Down keeps the natural look to its bunkers.

Prior to the 1930s, the best club for short approach shots was the niblick, roughly equivalent to today’s 9-iron or pitching wedge. The design of this club, however, featured a flat, angled face and virtually no sole, making it difficult to use in sand and other soft lies as it was prone to digging into the ground. Players had to pick the ball cleanly off the sand, which required a good lie. The other alternative for bunkers was the jigger; it was similar to a chipper with a short shaft, but little loft. Less loft prevented the club from digging in too much on soft lies, but the compromise was the low launch angle and it was useless at moving through the sand to dig out a buried ball. The club was also not ideal for approach shots from a greenside bunker, as a chip shot made with this club tended to roll for most of its distance. The club designers in those days were often blacksmiths who offered up all sorts of strange solutions to the bunker dilemma. The rake iron (pictured above) was invented by a Scottish optometrist who became fed up of having to remove sand from the eyes of golfers playing at the local links, and created a club designed to cast up less sand when swung.

The governing bodies soon began to clamp down on design and banned many offerings. Spoon clubs offered varying degrees of loft and allowed players to scoop their ball out of sand traps and deep rough. Some had bowl faces, others featured deeply grooved faces, but not all of these designs conformed. Walter Hagen was using a lethal-looking sand wedge in the late 1920s, with a hickory shaft and a smooth concave face with a lot of loft and about a half pound of weight in the flange. This was deemed illegal and soon became outlawed.

OldGolfClubWRX

Walter Hagen concave sand wedge with a smooth face.

It is widely acknowledged that the biggest breakthrough in sand play appeared in the 1930s, and many connect Gene Sarazen with the design of today’s modern sand wedge. The story goes that he dreamed this club up after flying with Howard Hughes, the aviation tycoon, movie producer and scratch golfer. When Hughes’s plane took off, the flaps on the wings came down. We don’t know if alcohol or narcotics were consumed at the time, but Sarazen made a connection between the flaps and the flange you could add to a club that would allow it to slide through the sand and help the ball pop up.

SandWedgeWilson

Early Wilson sand wedges.

Sarazen experimented by soldering flanges to his niblicks, which were similar to a modern pitching wedge. Another modification that he made was to add extra lead to the front edge of the club face, allowing it to cut through the sand more smoothly. He sent the clubs to Wilson, and the company used those prototypes to come up with its first sand wedge in the early 1930s with a steel shaft, dot markings on the club face and the amount of flange that is still widely used today. After he won the 1932 British and U.S. Opens with the help of his new club, its popularity quickly grew. Almost 85 years later the club has hardly changed, and you’ll still see Wilson R-20 and R-90 wedges in the bags of golfers today.

Sarazen was also a pioneer of the explosion shot. Up to then golfers tried to pick the ball clean out. By hitting in behind the ball and using the bounce of the club, the sand shot suddenly became more consistent. Of course, Sarazen downplayed it, saying it was the game’s easiest shot because the club face never touches the ball.

gene_sarazen_sand

Gene Sarazen hitting a bunker shot.

Today, we are a lot more educated than ever on the design aspects of the sand wedge from the grooves and loft to the bounce. We have so many grind options these days with laser-engraved grooves machined to tolerances previously unachievable. Dave Pelz, Roger Cleveland, Bob Vokey and others are now celebrities of the short game, an industry within the game. The gap and lob wedges were natural additions, driven by marketing demands to sell more clubs, but in truth the basic concepts have only changed marginally. More loft seems to be the current trend, and it’s interesting to see 58-64 degrees as the new norm. I stop at 60, as I have this recurring nightmare of a ball coming straight up and hitting me in the face, but that’s another story

So the next time you find yourself on the beach, think bounce, knock it out and tip your hat to Eugenio Saraceni.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Greg V

    Aug 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Eugenio Saraceni – who is this violin player of which you speak?

  2. Flavastalloni

    Aug 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Tom Morris Junior perfected the rutclub shot from off the green which won him his Opens

  3. Pe

    Aug 14, 2016 at 2:35 am

    I also have this recurring nightmare that while I play a links course in Scotland in the brutal winds and I go to take a pee in the gorse bush, the wind would blow so hard the pee would splash up and hit me in the face

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Equipment

The drivers used by the top-10 most accurate players on the PGA Tour

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What drivers do the PGA Tour’s most accurate golfers use to find the short grass? Now that the 2017-2018 PGA Tour season is behind us, we can do a thorough examination.

First, here’s a tally of what the top 10 in driving accuracy on Tour are using by driver manufacturer.

  • Callaway: 5
  • PXG: 1
  • TaylorMade: 4

But this is GolfWRX, so of course you want to know more. Below is a breakdown of the driving-distance leaders on the PGA Tour in 2017-2018, the available specifics of their drivers, shafts and how often their tee shots found the fairway.

10. Jim Furyk

Driver: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero
Loft: 9 degrees
Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 6.2X
Driving accuracy percentage: 69.77

9. Steve Wheatcroft

Driver: Callaway Rogue
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS T1100
Driving accuracy percentage: 69.79

8. Emiliano Grillo

Driver: Callaway GBB Epic
Loft: 9 degrees
Shaft: Aldila NV 2KXV
Driving accuracy percentage: 69.89

7. Brian Gay

Driver: TaylorMade M2
Shaft: Aldila Rogue MAX 65TX
Driving accuracy percentage: 70.92

6. Kyle Stanley

Driver: TaylorMade M1
Loft: 10.5 degrees
Shaft: Fujikura Speeder 757 Evolution
Driving accuracy percentage: 71.20

5. Brian Stuard

Driver: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero
Loft: 10.5 degrees
Shaft: Project X EvenFlow Max Carry
Driving accuracy percentage: 71.21

4. Ryan Moore

Driver: PXG ZZ
Loft: 9 degrees
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD IZ-6
Driving accuracy percentage: 71.94

3. Chez Reavie

Driver: TaylorMade M2 2017
Loft: 9.5 degrees
Shaft: Aldila Rogue 60TX
Driving accuracy percentage: 72.09

2. Ryan Armour

Driver: TaylorMade M1 2017
Shaft: UST Mamiya Elements Proto 6F5
Loft: 10.5 degrees
Driving accuracy percentage: 73.58

1. Henrik Stenson*

Driver: Callaway Rogue
Loft: 9 degrees
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS 6.5 62
Driving accuracy percentage: 74.79

*Stenson, as we know, tees off with his beloved 13-degree Callaway Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood with a Graffaloy Blue shaft the vast majority of the time.

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Forum Thread of the Day: “New Ping G410 Driver?”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from hervygolf21, and it surrounds the new G410 driver from Ping that is allegedly set for release at the beginning of 2019. Our members have found out plenty of information on the latest driver from Ping since the thread began, apparently, and here’s a quick look at some of the features you might expect from the new model (if you take forum members’ word for it).

According to the thread, the PING G410 will be black with red accents, will have a higher MOI than the current G400 model, will still contain the Ping Turbulators and will be offered in 12 degrees without draw weighting. It’s also believed that the G400 Max will remain current until July/August 2019, but at a lower price point.

Here are a few posts in the thread reflecting on the news, but make sure to check out the entire thread and join the discussion at the link below.

  • lc1342: “Love both the G400 LST and G400 Max, but if they are bringing out something better… I’ll take it!”
  • cz13x4: “This sounds like a very interesting update. Not keen on red but very interested to see what comes out.”
  • roho: “Late January?  Sounds like maybe a PGA Show unveil in Orlando.”

Entire Thread: “New PING G410 Driver”

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Ben Hogan adds Ft. Worth “White” to iron lineup

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After the launch of Diamond Black Metal finish Ft. Worth “Black” irons earlier this year, Ben Hogan’s nickel-chrome Ft. Worth irons are back…sort of. The Texas-baed company today announced the launch of Ben Hogan Ft. Worth White irons.

Now with respect to the “White” designation, If you’re skeptical/confused, well, let’s just have a look at a comment on BH’s Instagram post announcing the iron launch and the company’s response…

jonmodica: “Very unclear the changes from previous model… also… white? It’s chrome…..”

Benhogangolf: ”@jonmodica More progressive specific to each club head, a more aggressive V-Sole pattern and the ‘white’ is opposite of the popular and newly designed Ft. Worth Black.”

There you have it, folks. “White” as in contrast to the Ft. Worth Black irons, and the Ft. Worth White is not merely a re-issue of original chrome Ft. Worth, according to the company.

With respect to the changes to the V-Sole system, the company said this in its marketing materials for the Ft. Worth Black.

“Feedback from strong players and robot testing indicated that the leading edge could be increased on certain irons, and trailing edge softened … especially with less-than-full shots in the shorter irons.”

“So, in our ongoing quest to design and manufacture the best clubs in golf, we’ve modified the V-Sole Technology used on the Ben Hogan Ft. Worth BLACK slightly. The sole maintains the same basic design principles as the original V-Sole but has been optimized for each iron in the set. In effect, we’ve strengthened the leading edge from the sole to the face on some of the Ft. Worth BLACK irons, while reducing the trailing edge bounce on others.”

Obviously, the company scrapped the PreciseLoft system introduced with the original Ft. Worth irons. That system offered four loft profiles, all with consistent four-degree gaps. After finding the vast majority of players preferred the “mid-high” launch profile, the company did away with the others…and returned to tradition iron number (rather than loft) stamping on the toe.

The aforementioned lofts in the 4-PW set range from 22 degrees to 46 degrees.

“The Ft. Worth White Irons are illustrative of how Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company interacts with and listens to its customers,” said Scott White, President and CEO, Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company. “On the heels of our sales success with the Ft. Worth Black Irons, we found many ‘traditionalists’ who wanted to play this iron design with the standard nickel-chrome finish, so we accommodated them with this launch.”

Ft. Worth White irons are available for purchase on the Ben Hogan website exclusively for $700.00 per seven-piece set (4-PW).

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