top of page

Equipment evolution- intensive 1

Sand wedges, bunkers, ball history, and characters from the history of golf.

The club we know as a sand wedge today owes its relatively short history to a number of influencing factors. One of the biggest influencers was the bunker.

Not many facts are known about when and where the bunker really came from, but it would seem our forefathers were not especially aware of the difficulties the holes in the ground with sandy surroundings caused them.

They took little time to create a specialized club to overcome their problems. The likely reason for this was firstly the ball that was in use until the middle of the nineteenth, the feathery, and secondly the different techniques required if using iron clubs.

Etching used for the magnificent George Reid painting shown in the Royal Academy of Art in Edinburgh, Scotland


Perfect land for a links course. Ancient "lawnmowers" strolling on the sandy soil in the foreground.

The struggling golfers with their poor swings could not risk using implements that would destroy an expensive (and sometimes difficult to obtain) golf ball with one bad shot.

The Rut iron. About a third of the size of modern wedges and possessing only half the loft angle. Early models had concave (curved inwards) faces.

For this reason, wooden-headed clubs with their limited play possibilities dominated the game (sets of clubs did not appear until later) into the second half of the nineteenth century.

Although the first iron club to appear had a spurred toe, it was the rut iron that started the iron club evolvement.

An implement used to extract the ball out of the many cart tracks and mud pits to be found on most courses.

The first big evolutionary step in equipment was the rapid popularity of the Gutty ball. Replacing the feathery in the mid-nineteenth century, it was, amongst other improved qualities, far more durable than its fragile predecessor.

The number of iron clubs increased and the golf set was established over the next twenty years. One of the great artists of this transition period was Jamie Anderson, winner of the Open Championship for three consecutive years. Jamie developed his own technique for lofting the ball out of difficult lies.

The animation of Jamie Anderson demonstrates the creative genius the players of the past were required to possess.

Almost as if the great players of this time wanted to preserve their elite status the lofts of the play clubs never went beyond that of an eight iron (compared with modern equipment). The status remained in place into the twentieth century.

John Ball played an impressive shot from the bunker using his Mashie club (8 iron loft).

He called it his "Dunch" shot.

The "Dunch" shot- whose origin comes from the Scottish vocabulary=To knock, bump, nudge.

Even Seve would have been proud of this.

Ball successfully plays the `Dunch` shot. Using a straight-faced iron to negotiate a high-banked bunker.

The method involved a full backswing and a short-through swing. Clearly, he is using the deceleration to add loft to the club-genius

Eight times British Amateur champion and 1890 Open winner

John Ball belonged to a time in the past when the amateurs could compete with the best professionals

The sand wedge was invented and patented in 1928, by Edwin Kerr MacClain.

A struggling amateur had finally started the increased loft proceedings.

"It is an object of my invention to provide a club equipped with a wing or guide so shaped as to impart an upward flight to the .ball'when struck to prevent the club head from sinking too deeply into the material below the ball, thus deflecting the blade of the club upwardly and increasing the ease and accuracy with which the ball may be moved from the sand or any other given spot."

MacClain wrote on his application

MacClain was an extremely poor bunker player and invented the club to reduce his suffering.

Perhaps ironically, it was one of the best players of this time, Walter Hagen who was given credit for the invention. The club was sold by Wilson who stamped the Hagen logo on it.

The club was made with a concave face and had an extremely heavy head weight of 17 ounces, but it was a game-changer.

A desirable item now, the 1929 sand wedge is a must-have collector's piece.

Bobby Jones proclaimed it as one of the greatest trouble clubs he had ever used.

It was Gene Sarazen who put the icing on the cake in 1932.

Sarazen in his forties demonstrating the club and swing with which he became synonymous

There are many versions of how Gene Sarazen "fell" upon the aerodynamics involved to make the club what it is today. The most likely is the one that is also backed up with other evidence.

Years before the important incident Gene had been friends with the great Howard Hughes. Being a fanatical golfer from childhood Hughes had always wanted to be a top golfer. Accounts tell us he played at a near-scratch level. At some point, Gene and Hughes had become firm buddies.

It was during one meeting Hughes took Gene up in the air in one of his collector planes. Gene was talking golf on the flight and lamenting about how he needed a club that could combat the bunkers at Royal St. Georges, where the Open would be played in England. Hughes, genius as he was, explained the effects of negative drag on the plane's wing flaps, while at the same time demonstrating his words.

A brilliant and generous man, one of Howard Hughes many business adventures was ownership of an aircraft company. Perhaps his most famous aircraft was the "Spruce Goose." A wooden-hulled fuselage to reduce weight, and a huge wingspan was a typical experiment for the fearless visionary. The plane was to be used to carry troops and their equipment.

Gene got to work immediately. Ordering a number of Niblicks (the most lofted club of the time, about an 8 iron loft today) from Wilson, he would have the soles "bulked-up" with added steel and ground to the specifications he wanted.

Bounce had arrived.

Obviously many experiments were needed, with trial and error used to the maximum, but within a week Gene had his "weapon" for easily getting out of the sandy lies.

The final chapter of this story was the unveiling of the masterpiece created by Gene. It would happen as planned in the Open, played in Sandwich on the southeast coast of England.

The Squire- Eugenio Saraceni was one of the world's top players in the 1920s and 1930s, and the winner of seven major championships. He is one of five players (along with Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods) to win each of the four majors at least once, now known as the Career Grand Slam

Gene was forced to keep his secret locked up until the event began. He would later admit that he knew his club would have been banned on the spot by the R&A if they had a chance, they had a history of doing that.

Once the Championship had started it was too late.

Gene played the club several times in the first round and continued to play it throughout the Tournament. Although it gave him an advantage Gene still had to play excellently from tee to green. He won, and the club was a proven success.

This is an amazing film that demonstrates how Gene had not only designed the sand wedge but knew how to apply the best mechanics to get the most out of the new sole. Little has changed.

Not so often said is that Ben Hogan was also a brilliant bunker player. Here he is in 1947 demonstrating his prowess with the niblick-wedge

Bunkered-acrylic on canvas-130 x 93cm

339 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page