A long, long time ago in a galaxy that barely resembles the one we find ourselves in today, golfers were not privy to the short game. Up and downs from near-impossible lies around the greens were considered preposterous. Players didn’t carry wedges in their bags because wedges hadn’t been invented yet. It took a group of true visionaries to turn the game of golf upside down forever. In this special edition piece brought to you by Cleveland Golf, we celebrate the birth of the wedge and its subsequent evolution.
Fast-forward to 2016, and you won’t see a golf bag that doesn’t have a wedge. Yet less than one-hundred years ago, golfers didn’t acknowledge the most important part of their game; that is, the short game. The wedge was barely existent in professional golf.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re Stewie Griffin and can travel through time effortlessly. How different would the wedge look? How much has it changed? You’re about to find out.
Before the 1930s
A “niblick” might sound like an insulting term you’d scream to your caddie after he hands you the wrong club, but it was actually the short club of choice during the 1930s. A niblick was roughly equivalent to today’s 9-iron or pitching wedge in loft, but had virtually no sole and a flat angled face. The niblick was therefore extremely unforgiving in soft lies and sand traps, making the short game very difficult.
The “jigger” was considered the rescue club of choice for these tricky lies. Although it was better for bunkers than the niblick, it was still very hard to recover because of the low launch angle and relatively high resistance to the club moving through the sand.
It wasn’t until a renegade pioneer by the name of Gene Sarazen that the modern wedge was created.
In 1931, Gene Sarazen coined the wedge that we all know today. According to his daughter, Sarazen went flying with Howard Hughes – the infamous aviation tycoon, movie producer and scratch golfer – in the late 1920s. When Hughes’ plane took off, Sarazen made a connection between the flaps that helped lift the plane, to the loft of a club that could help lift the ball out of sand. Genius, right?
Sarazen built his first prototype in 1931 by taking a niblick and soldering extra lead to its sole to add mass, then adjusting the angle of the sole to about 10 degrees from level with the ground. He found this to be the optimal angle to prevent the club from digging into the sand, as the jigger would do. The resulting club head profile was roughly wedge-shaped as opposed to the blade-like style of high-lofted irons. And the name “wedge” was born.
Sarazen brought his newly developed wedge to the 1932 Open Championship and told no one in fear that rules officials would deem it illegal for play. He went on to annihilate the field, winning the tournament with a record score at the time. That same year, he also captured the U.S. Open title with a final-round score of 66 that would stand as a tournament record for almost 30 years.
We’re clearly all in agreement that Gene Sarazen was a total badass, but what happened next formed a multi-million dollar industry that continues to thrive today. Soon after his creation was deemed legal by both R&A and USGA authorities, the wedge was quickly adapted by golf manufacturers around the world in the 1930s and 40s, mimicking Sarazen’s work, and making the club a staple part of any golf bag.
Bye bye, niblick and jigger.
Fast Forward 20 years
The wedge gradually changed over time from the steel shafted wedge that Saracen created, into the wedge we all have in our golf bag today.
Golf manufacturers made changes to the loft, grooves, and bounce of the club, but it wasn’t until the Cleveland 588 Tour Action wedge that U-shaped grooves came on to the scene. These grooves allowed the golfer to produce higher ball flights and greater spin than ever before. It was the pinnacle moment for the wedge, becoming the best selling golf club of all time.
As technology advanced, so did the wedge. Innovation was at the forefront of the industry and Cleveland Golf was winning the game.
The introduction of innovative Zip Groove technology featured consistent milling of each groove to maximum conforming dimensions. The absolute integrity of these grooves, says Cleveland, was “maintained by the application of a proprietary coating to each groove for protection during the face sandblasting process.”
Cleveland Golf’s wedges pushed the boundaries with sharp grooves and micro-milled Rotex face patterns, creating the most surface roughness the USGA would allow. Like Sarazen, Cleveland Golf was pushing innovation to the absolute limit.
In 2010, the USGA made a ruling against the U-grooves, saying that manufacturers like Cleveland Golf were making golf too easy. That’s right, the USGA wanted golfers to suffer. Monsters.
This barbaric rule changed the way manufacturers had to measure the grooves and spacing. Up to now, manufacturers only had to concern themselves with the groove width, depth and space between the grooves. Those requirements and measurements haven’t changed, but the USGA added a fourth measurement requirement that defines a formula for the volume of groove dimension per inch of face. Why? Because they get to create silly rules to make golfers more miserable.
And alas, we find ourselves in the present. Cleveland Golf have done it again. They’ve introduced a new wedge that pushes the boundaries of innovation to a whole new level. Led by a team of the greatest golf engineers on the planet, Cleveland Golf released the RTX-3 wedge in September 2016, a truly innovative product that will surely catapult every golf manufacturer to follow suit.
Cleveland Golf has shifted the center of gravity toward the center of the face, which decreases vibration and maximizes head stability at impact. To do this, they have hollowed out a part of the hosel (the part of the club that holds the shaft and the head together) and made it shorter, which gives them 9 grams of weight to redistribute back in the face of the club.
They’re putting the center of gravity right where you need it and not where it’s always been. You can get your hands on this product by visiting Cleveland Golf. This is game-changing stuff to help you get closer to the hole.