HISTORY ~ ~ The Wilson Sporting Goods Company started life back in 1913, as the result of a Chicago based slaughterhouse looking for new and innovative ways to use the by-products of their gruesome trade. They hit on the ingenious ides of using pig’s bladders in the manufacture of American footballs, and thus the Wilson company started its existence. Their first venture into the golf market was the manufacture of golf bags, using the hide of the animals they had slaughtered, when in 1916 they set up a company called the “Indestructor Caddie Bag Co.” ~ ~ In 1920 they signed up the famous American golfer of that era, Jock Hutchison, (naturally enough, of Scottish origins) as their very first endorsed athlete, and began the manufacture of golf clubs called, appropriately, the “JH” range. In 1922 they signed yet another famous name, when golfer Gene Sarazon became the first golfer to be employed directly by the company in what has now become their renowned “Wilson Staff Advisory” section. Sarazen was an inspired choice, as he went on to win three PGA titles, a British Open, and the US Masters title, eventually ending up in the USPGA “Hall of Fame”, (always wondered where dooyoo got that name) and he really put Wilson on the map in the golfing world. ~ ~ Wilson have always had a reputation for being forward thinking, and in 1933 one of their advisors, golfer Willie Ogg, came up with a revolutionary new design of club called the “Ogg-mented Irons”, which are now considered to be the forerunner of today’s perimeter weighted irons. ~ ~ The late 1930’s see yet another famous name in the Wilson stable, Sam Snead, and in 1938 a set of clubs named after his birthplace was launched called “Blue Ridge”, that were to remain in production for fifty years, right up to 1988. The next year (1939) golf was revolutionised by the manufacture of
a set of woods called “Strata-Bloc”, using a never before heard of process of hydraulics to bond together several different layers of wood in a criss-cross pattern. These added far more power to the tee shot, and also gave the golfer more control over direction, as well as having a far longer life span than any woods previously marketed. ~ ~ The innovation for which Wilson will always be famous was also introduced in the late 1930’s. The brain-wave of Gene Sarazen, it was called the sand wedge, and was a iron with a rounded back flange to allow it to glide easily through the sand in a bunker, thus making it a far simpler task for a golfer to extricate the golf ball from one of these hazards. The “R-90” sand wedge was first club ever of its type, and all modern sand wedges, even today, use the same basic design as was used on this original. Replicas of the very first sand wedge are still sold by Wilson, and still used by golfers the world over, more than sixty years after they were first manufactured. ~ ~ Wilson continued to be leaders in golf club design, and their next major breakthrough came in 1962, when they became the first golf club manufacturers to use matched shafts in each iron of a set in order to achieve the same “feel” in each club in the bag. They hit the headlines again in 1971, when the “Wilson Dynapower” iron was used by American astronaut Alan Sheppherd to hit the very first golf shot on the surface of the moon. (The longest golf shot ever hit, because of the moon’s lack of gravity) THE “WILSON STAFF PROGRESSIVE” IRONS ~ ~ These irons first came on the market in 1992, and were immediately adopted by the famous professional from Fiji, Vijay Singh, and used by him to great effect on the USPGA golf tour. ~ ~ Up until this time, golfers had a simple choice when it came to buying a set of irons. They could buy the
traditional “blades”, which gave great feel and feedback with the shorter irons in particular, allowing the golfer to manoeuvre the golf ball with greater ease. Or they could buy the newer “cavity back” irons, with a much larger sweet spot on the club head that made them far more consistent in general play, but meant the player lost “feel” on their short shots around the green. ~ ~ Wilson came up with the clever idea of combining the two different types of club. The two iron through to the six iron were built as “cavity backs”, and from the seven iron to the sand wedge were designed as “blades”. This meant a golfer now had the best of both worlds. They now had extra “playability” and consistency of a cavity back with their longer irons, but retained the extra “feel” of a blade iron, that can make all the difference, with the shorter iron shots into the green. ~ ~ The idea was so simple it is surprising that no one had thought of it before, although, needless to say, it was very quickly copied by other manufacturers shortly thereafter. PLAYABILITY ~ ~ I can vouch for these clubs first hand, as I purchased a set new in 1992, shortly after they hit the market, and am playing with them to this day. ~ ~ From 1985 to 1992, I played a set of “Ping Eye 2” irons from Karsten. As I said in my opinion on the Pings, I found them a wonderful club, but could never get used to being without the extra “feel” that you get from a blade iron when playing shorter and “finesse” shots to the green. So I simply didn’t use the shorter irons from the “Ping” set, but stuck with an old set of Ben Sayer’s blades I’d had for years from the eight iron through to the sand wedge. ~ ~ The “Staff Progressive” solved this problem for me, and meant I no longe
r had to walk around with a golf bag full of clubs that didn’t match, and thus looked as if they’d all come from a jumble sale as a result. ~ ~ Now I consistently hit my longer irons further and straighter than with a regular set of blades, and can still retain that vital “touch” with my short irons that is so essential if you want to shoot a good score. I’ve had these clubs for nigh on nine years now, and have no intention of changing in the near future. They’ve been through about seven or eight sets of grips, and are on their third set of shafts. (I don’t believe in changing for the sake of it; if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it!!) COST AND AVAILABILITY ~ ~ Bought brand new in 1992 these irons cost me a total of £680. (Irish Punts) They have not been produced for around two years now, having been superseded by yet another innovative new design from Wilson called the “Fat Shafts”. (but that’s another op) You will probably find the odd set knocking around second hand in either a professional’s shop or one of the larger golfing superstores such as the “American Golf Discount Centre” or “Nevada Bobs”. As with most items these days, your best bet is probably on the Web, where a simple search with a good search engine such as Google will produce a plethora of results. You should be able to pick up a set in good condition for around £200 to £300. ~ ~ One word of warning though. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend that you would buy these clubs without first giving them a “test run”, as they are more for the lower handicap golfer than the occasional or weekend golfer.