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Golf course rangers talk about rangering

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They call him a ranger, a players’ host or a course ambassador, but usually, the marshal is just an older guy who spends a couple of days a week riding around in a cart trying not to do any harm so that he can play golf for free later in the week.

When they’re first engaged (hired seems like too strong a word for a job that generally offers no wage) new marshals are told their job is to facilitate the normal pace of play at a course while assisting golfers as needed.

There are days when the pace of play can be glacial, and that’s when the course ambassador needs to have all of his diplomatic abilities available. Rodney, a marshal at a high-end daily-fee course in the Coachella Valley, says the crew there is well-trained in social skills.

“We want our guests to have a pleasant experience,” he said, and I wanted to ask him why then was the pin placement on hole No. 3 located on the side-hill of the green, approachable from only one direction. “Golfers pay good money and we’re not going to antagonize anyone. Our job is to help them enjoy their day at the course.”

Sometimes that means helping a foursome look for golf balls hit into the trees, rough or bushes.

“My trick,” said Michael, who didn’t want to be identified so we’re saying the marshals at Pokenhope Park, “is to look about 20 or 30 yards behind where everyone else is looking. You’d be surprised how often people think they hit the ball farther than they really do. If I find it, I tell him it must have hit a tree and bounced back.”

It’s the backups that cause the most angst for both players and marshals.

[quote_box_center]“During the season, when we’re crowded and there are more ‘infrequent players’ on the course, it can be slower than we like,” said Rodney, a master of understatement.[/quote_box_center]

At a public course in LA County, Ranger Dave – that’s how he introduced himself – said weekend mornings are always a test for the marshals.

[quote_box_center]“The worst is men’s club tournament days. Even when they tee off at dawn, we’ll have five-hour rounds because they all have to plumb-bob their two-footers for double.”[/quote_box_center]

“The marshals need to manage the flow,” said Murray, a Canadian playing in the crowded spring sunshine of Palm Desert. “There’s no reason a round of golf should ever take more than four hours.” He said that right before suggesting that I abandon the two-minute search for my errant Callaway, “and just drop one over there, somewhere.”

“At one course I used to work at, the marshals had to enforce a ‘keep your shirt tucked in’ rule,” Paul, a retired fire captain, told me in La Quinta. “Then a few years ago they noticed that nobody under 30 was playing the course anymore so they relaxed that rule.”

That makes you realize how far we’ve come since the day when golfers routinely wore their ties tucked into their dress shirts.

“I had to require a gentleman to play barefoot on the front nine one time,” Gary told me when I rode the circuit backwards with him at a course in the Inland Empire. “If you can believe it, he was wearing baseball spikes! He said he’d forgotten his golf shoes. He borrowed somebody’s tennis shoes for the back nine, but when I saw him on No. 15, he was barefoot again because he said he liked the feel.”

When I played one high-end course a few years ago, a marshal warned our group on the first tee where the restrooms were located that if a patron were seen urinating in public on the course he’d be asked to leave with no refund. For the next four holes my bladder strained with every swing. I never did see a marshal, but I felt like there was one watching me from behind every tree.

I called the course a few days ago to ask if this rule was still in effect. The assistant pro said that was never the official policy as far as he knew, and that it must have just been something the “first-tee host” added on his own. Now they tell me.

Most of the time, marshals work two or three days a week and then can play for free the other days, though sometimes not on Saturday or Sunday morning primetime.

[quote_box_center]“When we’re not working,” Gary said, “we’re still making sure that no one is tearing the course up — driving too close to the greens in their carts, for instance.”[/quote_box_center]

“I’m always fixing people’s ball marks on the greens,” Bob told me at an LA County public course. “I’ll rake a trap if I see someone didn’t and pour sand in divots in the fairway. You have to care about the course if you’re going to be a good marshal.”

None of the marshals and none of the players I talked with had a real horror story about the “ranger from hell.”

Murray, the Canadian, said that’s probably because “marshals really don’t have any authority.”

Don’t suggest that to Stan, a white-haired players’ assistant at a public course run by a national golf course management company.

[quote_box_center]“You don’t want somebody on a power trip throwing golfers off the course,” he said. “But I’ve heard of foursomes being told to skip a hole to relieve a backlog. Then, after they finish 18 and the course isn’t so crowded anymore, they can go back and play the hole they skipped.”[/quote_box_center]

The best marshals, according to Michael, are the ones who see where a problem has developed and then try to help out.

[quote_box_center]“I’ll fore-caddy for them a bit, help them find their shots for a hole or two until they catch up.”[/quote_box_center]

Just the marshal being around for a few holes usually speeds players up, he said.

[quote_box_center]“Or I’ll suggest to cart riders that they each go to their balls to prepare to hit rather than watching each other go through their pre-shot routines until they’ve caught back up.”[/quote_box_center]

Personally, I think I usually play a little worse when I know a marshal is monitoring our group. It’s as good an excuse as any for some of the shots I hit.

And if sometime your group catches the watchful eye of a course ambassador, don’t give him a hard time. Ask him which way the greens break, or tell him a joke. He’ll probably tell you a funnier one in return. You never know; that might be you someday when you’re 68 years old and your only cares in the world are getting out of the house for a few hours and playing golf for free.

Do you have any marshal stories, good or bad? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

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Tom Hill is a 9.7 handicap, author and former radio reporter. Hill is the author of the recently released fiction novel, A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth, a humorous golf saga of one player’s unexpected attempt to shoot a score he never before thought possible. Kirkus Reviews raved about A Perfect Lie, (It) “has the immediacy of a memoir…it’s no gimme but Hill nails it square.” (kirkusreviews.com). A Perfect Lie is available as an ebook or paperback through 7-ironpress.com and the first three chapters are available online to sample. Hill is a dedicated golfer who has played more than 2,000 rounds in the past 30 years and had a one-time personal best handicap of 5.5. As a freelance radio reporter, Hill covered more than 60 PGA and LPGA tournaments working for CBS Radio, ABC Radio, AP Audio, The Mutual Broadcasting System and individual radio stations around the country. “Few knew my name and no one saw my face,” he says, “but millions heard my voice.” Hill is the father of three sons and lives with his wife, Arava Talve, in southern California where he chases after a little white ball as often as he can.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. me

    Apr 9, 2015 at 9:12 am

    I feel like a lot of times the rangers are just unable to identify where the real problems are on a course. I’ve had a few times we were politely told to move it along on a course, when we were actually playing at a good pace. Was playing a nice semi-private course one day and we were a 4some playing in front of a 3some of members. They were up our a$$es the first 5 holes, and we were keeping a good pace. I wanted to let them play through but the course has a “no play through” policy (I guess their view is letting groups play through will just create more backlog behind you, which is true to a certain extent actually). So the ranger approached us as we were approaching the 9th tee box and told us to speed it up. At this point we were at 1:45 in. When I reminded him of that, he just looked dumbfounded. And he just said, “oh….ok….I guess you’re doing alright. I’ll let the members behind you know.” So apparently the members complained and he made a false accusation to us without the facts.

    While I agree that no one ever wants to play a 5+ hour round of golf, the main reason we are out there is to relax and have a good time. So if it takes 4:45 to play a round, then so be it. If you are that strained for time, only play 9. And let the rest of us enjoy our round.

  2. jonno

    Apr 8, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    (i’m not american and don’t live in america – where i live golf participation is up by 8% for men and 6% for women)

    last trip i had to the US i played several high-end public golf courses and the over-bearing marshals were awful, pace of play is more important than having a good day out it seems.
    The carts which were incredibly slow (health and safety) wouldn’t allow you within 100yards of the green – or made sure you stuck to the cart paths.
    So you’ve got an oxymoron right there, you want faster play – give people slow carts and make them walk 100 yards to their ball. Most of my rounds were played with my father who’s 70 years old and has had multiple operations on his knees / ankles, plays off 9 and still drives the ball 250-260yards – it however took a LONG time for him to play rounds of golf having to walk 100 yards to his ball after driving his cart which was only marginally faster than I was walking beside him.

    It is hilariously ridiculous if i’m honest.
    Then you get these clocks everywhere and marshals pestering you all day, mixed with health and safety slow carts and silly cart parking rules – THIS IS WHY GOLF IN THE US IS DECLINING.

    The difference between a 4 hour round and a 4 and a half hour round is NOT the problem. Kids these days can’t spend 4 hours doing anything an extra half an hour is not the thing that stops them playing golf.

  3. JOE

    Apr 8, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    How do courses determine pace of play? If they use four single-digit handicaps playing, a four hour or less pace of play is very doable. If you have four twenty plus handicaps playing, there is no way they will meet the four hour round for eighteen holes. In my opinion, there are more twenty plus golfers playing than single digit handicappers so the place of play should reflect the longer time to finish eighteen holes…

  4. Geoffrey Holland

    Apr 8, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    I was a marshal for 5 seasons at one public course. Lots of fun.

    Some keys to being a good marshal that I learned the hard way.

    Always talk to the entire group at once, or make sure to talk to each member individually. Telling one guy that the group is slow never works.

    Never hang around and piss a group off by following them. Talk to them, let them know the situation, be friendly, and then get out of there. Check back on them from a distance, or even forecaddie for a hole or so as suggested. No one likes being watched by the marshal.

    The looking for balls 20 yards behind where the group is looking is gold. I just told them that it got caught up in the rough so it didn’t go as far as usual. Lol, as if.

    Getting the men’s club and ladies club on your side is huge. Being a public course, they were at risk of losing their times if they were slow, so I had a great relationship with the men and they worked really hard to keep things going. The ladies made their own problems. They’d tee off at 5 minute intervals because they’re all such short hitters, so at the first par 3 there would be 5 groups backed up. Once the starter understood that no, he didn’t have 3 extra tee time after the ladies, things worked out alright.

    I found that wearing a stopwatch on a lanyard was useful. People knew I was serious anyways. Knowing the times it should be taking a group to get around was useful as well.

    I’ve always felt that early tee times should be reserved for fast players. Getting a slow group out early would be death for the entire round, unless some groups no-showed.

    Worst story? One day I worked the afternoon shift, and the front 9 was packed. Waits everywhere. I scooted over to 18, then 17, then 16…nothing. Found a group on 15 green, everything backed up behind them. They were 4 hours in. I told them to hurry up and “miss them quick” and get finished. They weren’t happy. Tough luck. 4:40 with an open course was brutal.

    One ladies day it was stormy and nasty out. No one teed off, then finally there was a break so a bunch of them went out. Naturally it started up again, thunder, lightning, the whole works. I drove out to check on them, and they were all huddled under the only tree within 40 yards. “LADIES! Hiding under a tree is not what you do during LIGHTNING!!.” Fortunately none of them got hit.

  5. JD

    Apr 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I start, ranger, pick the range, pull carts up, put ’em up. ALL that good stuff. LOL The best thing to understand, Clint, help me out. A man must know his limitations.. Play the tees that accommodate your skills. Most golfers do this and then there’s the ones who watch way too much TV. TV has ruined golf.. 98% that plumb bob have no idea what the heck they’re doing.. Seen it on TV no doubt. Yes, a good pre shot routine is valuable.. But, Do it and get it done.. There’s no green jacket waiting on you.. Maybe a straight jacket for the groups behind you.. I’ve noticed that cart path only is faster than 90* rule. The golfers will take a club or 2 and hit the ball, then the 90* rule, They’ll look at the distance , then put a club in hand, then a bird may fart and they change clubs, then the wind stops and then change clubs again.. WHY??? oh, WHY?????. Rangers have a job,, move pace along.. Some get it, some don’t. I’ve been cussed, I’ve been ridiculed and I’ve been appreciated. Its all good and sometimes its not worth it.. The players have the best opportunity to help golf and make it enjoyable for all..

    • TR1PTIK

      Apr 8, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      I know what you mean about people watching too much golf on TV and pre-shot routines. My pre-shot routine is pretty simple. For most shots, I grip the club from behind the ball, find my target, approach the ball and get into posture, then swing. I might take one more look at my target or fidget a little bit with my setup to make sure I’m comfortable, but two things I NEVER do are waggle or take practice swings. They waste time and do little good for most amateurs. My putting routine is the exact same.

      • JD

        Apr 8, 2015 at 12:36 pm

        I’ve actually seen someone line up their ball on the tee as if they’re fixing to putt.. WHAT????

      • me

        Apr 9, 2015 at 9:01 am

        Certainly agree on the practice swings….Personally, I stand behind the ball and take one, approach the ball, make sure my feet are square, and hit away. My routine doesn’t take long. What kills me is seeing the guys that will take 3, 4, or even more practice swings, then shank it in the woods. No one should ever take more than 1 practice swing.

  6. Roosterredneck

    Apr 8, 2015 at 9:08 am

    It’s not easy when people who know better but won’t follow the pace of play rule. I Ranger at a state park course and I have very few problems with few exceptions. I have had a few who think they own the course and just ignore some of the rules like stay on the path while at the green and drive up to the green rather than park 15 feet away on the path . Then there are those who come to drink beer first and play golf second. When their round is over they sit on the cart and drink rather than turn the carts in and finish their beer at the lounging area . Most always players will and do follow the course rules and I thank them . I have a problem with those who come late and stay till dark thirty and believe this is ok. We have to go out and ask them to come in when they know you can’t hit what you can’t see.. All said I still enjoy golf and Rangering .

  7. Jay

    Apr 8, 2015 at 5:47 am

    When I retired a few years ago I joined a golf course that has memberships and is also open to the public (non-members). The course offers a special price for green fee and cart on Mondays. When I first became a member I did not know that Mondays was nick-named by the members as, Circus Day. I tried to play a few times on Monday’s and soon learned that acupuncture would be fun compared to going through that. Just about everything posted here takes place on the Mondays. Most of the golfers are just wanting to have fun. But there are so many people that it’s impossible to play very fast. If this is what I had to go through all the time to play golf, I know that I’d have to take up another hobby. Oh, one more thing. Texting and talking on Cell phones is very popular on the golf course.

  8. Kelly

    Apr 8, 2015 at 3:49 am

    Once a year some buddies would come to my house and we would drive about 30-40 mins to a 36 hole facility to play 36. We would make an early tee time in order to finish at a decent time. The starter sent us to the back and we took off without anyone in front. We’re flying through the round when on our 12th or 13th hole the Marshall comes up to me talking about our pace of play and how we need to speed up. At first I thought he was joking but then realized he was serious. I just said that I thought we were moving pretty good and he disagreed. We finished our first 18 in about 3 hours and were back at the clubhouse we see the Marshall and he tells me that he sees we speeded up. I said not really and that we played in about 3 hours and he said nah, you didn’t. To this day I don’t know if he was clueless or had a problem with me.

  9. Ken

    Apr 7, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    While not an actual, certified, bona fide ranger, I did volunteer as a starter at my local course. It was a 3 month gig, but the free golf didn’t offset my desire to play when I wanted … so I joined. It was an education. Twenty handicappers playing the tips, more beer than clubs, 1st tee shanks. I loved the guys who would ask about the pond at the end of the dogleg on the opening par 5. “Hey, how far is it to the water … can I reach it?” “Eventually, sir…it’s 280-ish.” “Yeah, I should use my three wood.” They generally fell short by 120 yards.

  10. Macca

    Apr 7, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I have a marshaled myself just a few times, but here is my take on what I have seen and what I have done.
    For the most part, I have seen very few marshals who do much of anything other than ride around in a cart and look completely bored. The BEST marshals I have seen and what I learned from them the few times I marshaled at my local course:
    – First and foremost, be courteous and an ambassador for the course. You have no idea, generally, who I am and if this is my first time to this course or even my first time in your city, so make sure I feel WELCOMED.
    – HELP ME. If you are watching us drive off the tee box, watch the shots and point out if one of us went offline, where it ended up. Offer to get out and take a quick look if you see us looking for the ball (help the speed of play)
    – Ask us how it’s going. Hows the pace of play in front of us or are we being pushed from behind? Lot’s of times guys don’t want to just simply rat out someone, but if you ask like you are willing to help, we will tell you.
    – When I was a Marshal and I ran into a slower paced group, I would approach them and watch them tee off and then ask how their day was going as we went down the fairway and then if they were falling behind, I might ask, “Hey, guys can you help me out. I have a full tee sheet today and it’s already backing up a little. You guys are doing pretty good, but if we could make up a little time on this hole, I can get the other groups to move as well. This would really help the flow.” Then if they did agree and they helped out, I would come back and THANK THEM for doing so.

    At the end of the day it’s amazing how easy it is to get people to help you if you help them and you are considerate. Everyone wants to have a good round for the money spent, but spending money does not give them the right to make the experience crappy for everyone else.

    I play a high end course and I rarely see the marshals out and if they are much less doing anything other than riding around. What’s the point of having a marshal?

  11. other paul

    Apr 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    marshalls usually seem like pretty nice guys go me. I just stopped going to the courses that take 6 hours to play.

  12. Brian

    Apr 7, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    why do people keep “shanking” the votes on stories like this and the Rory/Nike commercial? How cynical you must be… Hope I’m not in your foursome ever.

  13. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    In 2000 I treated an old friend to a round of golf at Pebble Beach. Lodging, caddies, spa, drinks, food… the whole thing. My friend is one of the slowest golfers in the world… so I don’t play with him often. I’m one of the fastest golfers in the world but the default is the speed of the slowest player. On the 9th hole the assistant pro drove a golf cart out to speed us up. My friend just grumbled. On the 10th hole (easily a mile from the clubhouse) the head pro came out to get us to catch up. My friend snarled at the pro, “Hey, I’m paying for this round, I can play at any speed I want.”

    • Gubment Cheez

      Apr 7, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      How fast does it take you to play 18…on average??

      • JD

        Apr 8, 2015 at 12:38 pm

        IF the course is straightforward. a 4some could play it in 4 hours.. A harder course with hazards, fast, undulated greens, could go to 4 1/2. My opinion,, NO ROUND SHOULD LAST 5 HOURS. PERIOD…

    • RG

      Apr 8, 2015 at 12:04 am

      Guys like that are the problem with pace of play. Yeah you paid for it, and so did everyone else that’s behind you. Everyone on the course can only play at the pace of the slowest player/group. Selfish and inconsiderate attitudes cause 5+ hr. rounds.
      As a single a can play a round of golf in 1 hr 45 min. hitting every shot, putting every putt. (Okay I don’t pull every flag)
      If a round takes more than 3 1/2 hrs. to play it is because there is a selfish hack somewhere in front of you.
      If your buddy had done that at my course I would have told him it was time to leave, refunded his money, and on his way out reminded him to never return. Guys like that should be band.

      • Geoffrey Holland

        Apr 8, 2015 at 6:33 pm

        The joke was that the OP paid for the whole thing. Buddy Slowplay didn’t pay a cent.

  14. TR1PTIK

    Apr 7, 2015 at 11:59 am

    My biggest frustration with some of the marshals in my area is when they tell my group to speed up even though we’ve had to wait on the group in front for the past 2 or 3 holes.

    Best experience with a marshal was at a local muni. I was playing by myself and walking, but was steadily gaining on a foursome in carts. Before it even became an issue, the marshal requested the group ahead wait at the next tee box and let me play through. I never held them up and their slower pace never messed with my game. Win-Win. Wish more marshals would pay attention like that.

    • JD

      Apr 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      Thats good, It shouldve been up to the group you were following though.. Thats disrespectful on their part.

      • Geoffrey Holland

        Apr 8, 2015 at 6:14 pm

        No, that’s a good marshal doing his job to make sure that there was no problem.

  15. Nate

    Apr 7, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I decided to play a mid-morning round with my buddy at a local Arnold Palmer course. We had a 9:15am tee time and were going off as a twosome. The course had a number of golfers out on the course but they were by no means busy for a Saturday. The starter warned us ahead of time that the 9:08am tee time directly ahead of us was a fivesome, which were only allowed with special permission. He warned us ahead of time that pace of play would be slower than normal. The starter encouraged us to get to the tee box early because it was open so that we could avoid any pace of play issues. We rolled up to the first tee at about 9:05 and the fivesome was not in sight, so we prepared to tee off. While we were on the back teebox with clubs in hand, the fivesome arrived. They told us that they had the 9:08 tee time and that they had places to go after the round, so they couldn’t wait and let us to tee off. We tried to reason with them but they were persistent. We were shocked at their unreasonableness but let them tee off because we did not want to offend them. They proceeded to stretch, take numerous practice swings, and all hit two off of the first tee (they played from the tips and most of their shots did not clear the women’s tees. They should have been playing from the white or red tees). They did not clear the fairway until almost 9:30am. The 9:23am and 9:30am tee times were already at the teebox with us waiting for the fivesome to clear the fairway. The marshal showed up because he saw the backup and then asked us why we hadn’t teed off yet. We explained to him about the fivesome and his only response was “Well, you were notified by the starter that pace of play would be slow today and they did indeed have the 9:08am tee time. You should have hurried and got to the first tee sooner than you did.” We were incredibly mad at the marshal for not sticking up for us. It took us about 45 mins to play the first two holes. We caught them on the 3rd tee and were again rebuffed and told that they didn’t want us to play through, so we skipped them. The fivesome then complained to the marshal that we passed them. The marshal then caught us on number 5 and told us that we should respect other golfers on the course. We were annoyed, but apologized. We finished 18 in about 4:15 minutes and didn’t run into anyone else on the course. We grabbed lunch after our round and ran into one of the groups that had a tee time right behind us. They too got stuck behind the fivesome and quit after 9 holes because they couldn’t take it any longer. They invited us to join them at the bar for a post round beer, where we proceeded to rip the marshal and the course for not protecting pace of play. I haven’t played at that course since that day and have no desire to go back.

  16. PK

    Apr 7, 2015 at 11:34 am

    A few years back at Trump National in LA, I got a sudden case of the “shanks” just as the Marshall was passing our group by. I was playing decently, but it just came upon me all of a sudden for a hole and the Marshall drove up to my buddies and suggested that I play a scramble. They never laughed so hard. When they told me what he said, I was so pissed, it ruined me for the rest of the day, and I still get grief about it now and again. It’s funny now that I think about it.

  17. Brian

    Apr 7, 2015 at 10:33 am

    My brother and I decided to go out and get a quick 18 in on a Wednesday afternoon. We got a cart, and with the front 9 completely empty, we finished our first 9 in about an hour and a half. When we got to the 11th tee box, we were surprised to see a 5some of guys in their 60s still on the tee box. We figured we would be able to play through them pretty quickly, but after watching them drive off the tee box for the next 2 holes, we decided to just skip the par 3 13th. As we were teeing off on the 14th hole, they started yelling at us from the 13th green. We assured them we would be out of their way before they even got to the tee box. As we got to our drives in the 14th fairway, a marshal shows up and starts talking to us. He was very understanding of our frustrations, and said that they have had problems with that group of older guys before. As he was talking to us, a ball came flying through the back of his cart, and hit the front windshield. His face got red, he told us to have a good round, and drove straight back to the tee. We could still hear him yelling at the group behind us as we were leaving the green.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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