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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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Whats in the Bag

Jhonattan Vegas WITB 2020

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  • Equipment accurate as of 1/14/20

Driver: TaylorMade M6 (9 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos Tour Spec Black 9 TX

3-wood: TaylorMade M6 Rocket 3 (14 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos Tour Spec Black 9 TX

Irons: Mizuno MP-20 HMB (3), Mizuno MP-4 (4-PW)
Shafts: Project X 7.0

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (52-12F, 56-14F), TaylorMade Hi-Toe (60-09 LB)
Shafts: Project X 7.0

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo DB5
Grip: Lamkin Deep-Etched Paddle

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

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What GolfWRXers are saying about TaylorMade’s SIM fairway woods

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In our forums, WRXer Hotdocta created a thread to discuss the new SIM fairway woods and wants to hear from fellow members who have experienced them. Plenty of WRXers give their thoughts on the 2020 additions from TaylorMade, with the vast majority mightily impressed with what they have seen.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • DNice26: “I bought the 5 wood based on reports the Sim is silly long and low spin, and after my first round today, it absolutely delivered. The 5 wood isn’t too big, and I found it to flight excellently off the tee and off the fairway. It set me up today for birdies on all the par 5s. I have mine shafted with an 80X diamana blue, and it is fantastic.”
  • JoeFrigo: “The SIM is the hottest 3w I have ever hit. Had the m6 all last year and absolutely loved it. I said all last year it was the best fairway I’ve ever played….the SIM is even better. I love the profile at address, and there are times the SIM 3w gets within 1mph of my driver ball speed. I honestly went back to PGA store for playability and grabbed the 5w instead because the face is so hot. I had about 5 launch monitor sessions and 1 round on the course and was killing it, but gaps were way off now. Decided id wait and get more course time with it, but then the Coronavirus came.”
  • tyusg: “The SIM fairways are extremely hot off the face. Was hitting off the trackman at my work, and was reaching smash factors of 1.51 and 1.52. The shape of them do remind me of the M6, a little bigger, and a pretty deep face. But the V Steel tech they put back in I believe is why the smash was so high. Even on off center hits, the ball speed was pretty much all there still.”
  • Polly509109: “I have hit both SIM ti/ SIM Max. They were both very good. Tried all the Mavrik 3W offerings and SIM fit my swing better. Switched from TS3 fairway. Into the SIM ti with my old shaft from the Titleist. 82X Diamana Whiteboard. Don’t have any numbers for you, not really a launch monitor guy. But was getting 255-269 carry and 275-288 overall with the stock Diamana 75S shaft when I was fitted. 104-108 ss. Don’t know what kinda monitor.”

Entire Thread: “TaylorMade’s SIM fairway woods”

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Equipment

What GolfWRXers have bought since ‘lockdown’

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In our forums, our members have been discussing their golfing purchases since lockdown began in many areas of the world. WRXer ‘lvmike’ created the thread and has purchased a Ping putter as well as a TaylorMade driver and our members have been getting involved with plenty of WRXers investing in new equipment from clubs to hitting mats and beyond.

Here are a few posts from the thread but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • JoeFrigo: “Other than a mat and net, unfortunately, I haven’t bought any clubs…courses are closed here so I can’t hit anything anyways. I’m now really looking into a personal launch monitor since ill have a month at least of no range time. But the temptation is strong for more clubs! particularly putters since I can do that in my basement green.”
  • manima1: “Purchased an EXPUTT putting simulator – perfect for lock-down. Review so far is this is an excellent tool in dialing in putting distances and developing a consistent stroke at a given distance – similar to how you can dial in irons and wedges on a typical full simulator.”
  • pmang: “In the past week I’ve bought a SIM Max, a TS2 and a hot melt gun. Come to think of it I bought a Garmin clip-on GPS/Rangefinder… oh, and some Adidas golf shoes…. and I’m sure there will be more.”
  • pgetzen: “Bought a Stitch SL1 bag and two Cleveland RTX4 wedges on the Walmart deal, as well as 3 knit headcovers.”
  • 1PuttTutt: “Full basement simulator setup, including hitting mat, screen/enclosure, mevo+ launch monitor, projector, gaming laptop, etc. Unfortunately only the hitting mat has arrived so far, but I was able to set up some blankets and padding so I can hit balls in the basement. I also bought four dozen balls and a pushcart. I was thinking the pushcart was a genius idea, being that courses would limit to one person per cart, and courses would run out. But then they shut courses down before I could use it.”
  • uglande: “Two Vokey SM8 wedges and a Scotty Special Select putter. I’m wearing out my basement carpet with all of this chipping and putting, so my short game should be good to go when we’re released again to the outdoors. I also bought some sweet Titleist black leather (noir) head covers.”
  • Kye123: “Me, my dad and my little bro bought a Swingcaddie S300 and an industrial net from a fishing company… was going great until my little bro sailed a 60 straight into the conservatory two houses down, wedges are now banned.”

Entire Thread: “What have you purchased since ‘lockdown’?

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