John Renslow
Golf Columnist

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November 2, 2012
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From wings on a plane to your golf game

Golf legend, Gene Sarazen, was observing the wing of a plane and thought about his golf game.

This is common among us avid golfers. Haven’t you seen someone make a golf swing motion in the darndest places? You’re in a restaurant or hardware store, and there’s some guy making a practice swing. It’s kind of like the air guitar for the musically inclined or the guy pretending to play the drums in his car.

But ol’ Gene had an epiphany that changed golf forever. Before Gene’s vision, the irons in your bag would have been very thin. The woods were made of real wood, and the irons were made of iron or steel. Probably because of weight and early 20th century technology, these irons were quite simple. Each club was about a quarter-inch to a half-inch thick, almost resembling a blade. In fact, the irons were often referred to as “blades.”

This was fine for standard shots from the fairway but left a lot to be desired for trouble shots, especially shots from a bunker. The blade would tend to dig into the sand (rather than moving the ball), and the margin for error was very small. If you were not precise, the results could be quite disappointing.

What Mr. Sarazen saw in the airplane was the shape of the wing, how the wing was curved on top and flat on the bottom. Apparently, he thought the shape that helps a plane move through the air could help a golf club move through the sand. New size and weight was added to the back of the golf club.

This “bulge” on the club created “bounce” through the sand. Rather than a thin blade cutting into the sand, the broad base of this new club would rebound after hitting the sand. The club moves through the sand, the sand pushes back due to the “bounce,” and the ball is almost thrown out by the force of the club and sand.

Over the years, the irons predominantly used in the fairway have been given numerical identification (9-iron, 8-iron, etc.) versus the old names (such as niblick or mashie). However, we still refer to this category of club as a “wedge.” More recently, a variety of wedges has been developed; wedges used from the fairway (known as “pitching” wedges), wedges used from the sand (known as “sand” wedges) and a wedge designed to hit short, high shots (known as a “lob” wedge).

Today, we have become so specific that wedges are made for virtually every occasion. They are identified by the degrees of loft on the face and/or the amount (also measured in degrees) of bounce on the club.

To discuss some details about your game, talk to your local golf professional. I’m sure it will help lower your score to one degree or another.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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The Union Updated Nov 2, 2012 08:43AM Published Nov 8, 2012 06:41AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.