Spending time in the sand is great if you’re at the beach, but not if you’re on a golf course. In modern times, most golfers have a sand wedge to help them out of the bunker. However, before the early 1930s, golfers had only one wedge in their bag: a pitching wedge, commonly called a “jigger.” Many golfers had a difficult time getting their balls out of the bunker.
Golfers and manufacturers experimented with “Spoon” clubs, which offered varying degrees of loft and allowed players to scoop their ball out of sand traps and deep rough. Most of these designs had concave faces and didn’t conform to USGA and R&A regulations, and many were banned.
Along came Gene Sarazen, one of the world's top players in the 1920’s and 1930’s. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Sarazen invented the modern sand wedge. Sarazen had struggled with his sand play and was experimenting with wedge designs.
His idea came in 1931 while he was receiving flying instructions from Howard Hughes. He noticed how an airplane’s tail adjusted during flight, lowering on take-off to help create lift for the aircraft. The idea was that his niblick club should be lowered at the back. He got a bundle of niblicks from Wilson Sporting Goods and began to reshape the clubs with a solder, putting a flange on the back of the club so that the flange hit the sand first.
He built his first prototype in 1931 and used it in play for the first time at the 1932 British Open, which he ended up winning. He snuck it past the officials because he thought it might be deemed illegal. He won the U.S. Open the same year using his new “sand iron” as he called it, and its popularity quickly grew.
Although he never patented his club, Sarazen had an endorsement contract with Wilson Sporting Goods that lasted 75 years. Wilson began manufacturing the sand wedge in 1933 as the Wilson R-90 and it led to a number of wedge designs from Wilson over the years, including numerous iterations of the R-20 and R-90. Sarazen’s wedge was revolutionary in its impact on how we play golf, and it now resides at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
Sometimes, all it takes is just one good idea to change the way golf is played and to help people enjoy the game more. For instance, take putting. Did you know that misalignment is the #1 reason for missed putts? A putt aimed 1° off-line from 10' will miss the target by 2". If only there was a way for you to stand behind your putter and easily align your putt from behind in practice or during competition legally.
Oh wait, there is. Bloodline Golf. Setting a new standard in putter performance. #Gamechanger.
Images:Gene Sarazen swinging his wedge in 1932.jpg
Photo: USGA MUSEUM
Gene Sarazen Sand wedge.jpg
Photo: Robert McGuirk