From lofts and gapping to bounce and grind, there is plenty to learn about wedges.

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Andy Roberts's picture
By Andy Roberts

Golfers are hitting the ball so far these days that many par-four holes are being reduced to a ‘drive and a flick’ increasing the importance of the high lofted clubs in our bags.

Some pros – and an increasing number of club golfers – are, consequently carrying as many as four wedges in their bags each, they claim, with differing lofts and a different job to do.

The Rules of Golf allow for 14 clubs to be carried in competitive rounds and with a rescue and utility clubs replacing as many as three long irons or a fairway metal, this allows for more ‘scoring’ clubs to be included for shots played upto 100 yards from the flagstick.

1. Lofts

A club which comes within the modern wedge category can have as little as 45 degrees of loft and as much as 64 degrees.

Many leading manufacturers produce upto 10 wedge models rising in 2-degree increments – and with different degrees of bounce (we’ll come on to that) to compliment the loft.

For example TaylorMade is shortly to introduce its rac Black TP wedge series in five different loft and bounce configurations from 52 degrees to 60. The design of the head makes it more versatile, say the makers, to reduce the need to provide more loft options.

2. Bounce

This term refers to the bulbous flange built into the sole of the club. If your local course tends to be wet parkland, wedges with more bounce (8-11 degrees) will be less likely to dig into the ground.

Clubs with less bounce (6-8 degrees) will suit drier, fast-running heathland and links courses. So take into account the type of turf and sand you play on most regularly.

Also more bounce is built into sand wedge to allow them to glide through the sand as opposed to dig into it.

3. What's a pitching wedge?...

The pitching wedge (PW) is the straighter faced of the wedges (45-48 degrees of loft) and normally comes with a set of irons you purchase.

It’s a great all-rounder club for hitting ‘full out’ from upto 120 yards, pitching and punching low to grip and stop or for some delicate chips or chip-and-runs around the green. Minimal bounce is built into it to make it more versatile. An average 40 year-old club golfer would hit it 105 yards (compared to a Tour pro’s 135 yards)

4. ...Gap wedge?

A five-degree difference in degrees between the sand wedge and the pitching wedge in the 1960s has grown to a ten-degree difference. This has created room for club manufacturers to respond by inventing a new club to fill the gap and, of course, encourage us to buy more products, despite probably having an unusable 3- or 4-iron in the bag or gathering dust.

Also known as an Approach, Attack or Dual wedge, the gap wedge (GW) has between 50 –54 degrees of loft for those ‘in between’ shots from around 70-90 yards that prove too far for the sand wedge to handle, yet demand more loft and finesse than a pitching wedge. Not much bounce on this club which allows you to nip it off the turf and gain maximum spin.

Average distance for the club player is 85 yards, but the pro rarely carries one.

5. ...Sand iron/wedge

Heaviest club in your bag, the sand wedge (SW) usually has maximum bounce (10-12 degrees) built into the sole and 54-56 degrees of loft on the face.

Ideal for escaping from sand around the green, allowing you to drive the sole of the club into the sand just behind the ball and lifting it out on a cushion of sand.

Because of its wide, rounded and curved head, it’s good for deft little chips from the fringe (hood the face, hands slightly forward) and for playing those belly-wedge putts from the collar of greenside rough (striking the ball on its equator with the leading edge).

Typical distance for the club player from the fairway is 70 yards, while the pro can propel a ball 115-120 yards.

6. Lob wedge/lobber

Again, the lob wedge (LW) has a big face with maximum loft between 60-64 degrees. Not so much bounce built into these which allows you to create even more loft by laying the face open.

With its sharp leading edge, a great club for slicing under the ball to get it up quickly (with an out to in swing path) over a hazard on to the green. Pros tend to use them from firm fairways to nip the ball off the turf and stop quickly. Needs a lot of practice.

A lob wedge is built more for height than distance, more finesse than power so 30 yards is probably its optimum distance for the amateur. A pro, however, will not only use it over hazard but from the fairway for those 75-95 yard shots that need to land softly.

7. Grooves

Most wedge have around 15-16 grooves etched into them, slightly rounded at the surface to avoid damaging high performance ball but allowing water and debris to escape at impact.

The latest trend is to introduce Y-cutter grooves on TaylorMade wedges to minimise ball damage yet still provide an efficient means of allow debris to escape.

8. Materials

The days of every wedge being coated with chrome over steel are over. Finishes also include, raw (unchromed), beryllium copper, nickel-coated and oil-quenched.

A thin layer of black oxide, can also be applied, which gives a rusty appearance and wears down when it gets wet. However, it can tend to deliver more spin, feel and control.

The softer the face of your wedge the more spin and feel you will get. Unfortunately this tends to wear down the grooves more quickly.

9. Shafts

Wedges tend to be favoured by steel shafts – check out most pros’ lofted clubs and they are like stiff steel pokers. Steel shafts are reckoned to consistently deliver more spin, feel and control.

Graphite shafts, however, are perfectly adequate if your set comes complete with pitching wedge and sand iron.

10. What should you pay?

You can buy a new wedge for as little as a tenner or as much as £160 though most can be purchased for under £100 even from the leading brands.

You might also consider checking your local pro’s second hand stock. Top name wedges that have had an oxide coating and developed a rusty appearance could provide just the tool you are looking for at a bargain price.

Want more short game tips? Check out our guide to chipping like Phil Mickleson and pitching with Jeff Maggert

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Originally published October 2012, updated May 2013.

Golf wedges are not only the sexiest clubs, they are the most important.

With the short game accounting for more than 50% of shots you play in a round, improving your wedge play is the first step to shooting a lower score.

Related: Best wedges 2015 review

Acting as the goalkeepers of our game by saving us shots from both turf and sand, golf wedges come in all different lofts, finishes, bounce and grinds to help us get closer to the pin from anywhere inside of 125 yards. 

Let's take a closer look.

1. Lofts

Wedges have the highest lofts of any club.

Loft is the angle at which the club face lies relative to the shaft. 

Golf wedges can have as little as 45 degrees of loft (e.g. a pitching wedge) and as much as 64 degrees (e.g a lob wedge). 

2. Pitching wedge

The pitching wedge (PW) - the next most lofted club after the nine iron - will usually come with any set of irons you purchase.

The loft of the pitching wedge is typically between 45 and 48 degrees and it is mainly used for shots outside of 100 yards – the average club golfer hits a pitching wedge around 105 yards, while the Tour professional carries it around 125 yards. 

It is the most versatile of all the wedges because it can be used for hitting "full out" shots or "chip-and-runs" around the green.

3. Sand wedge

The sand wedge (SW) typically carries a loft between 54 and 58 degrees, and as its name suggests, is mainly used for bunker play.

The average club golfer hits a full sand wedge 70 yards, while a Tour professional carries it 100 yards.

Because of its wide, rounded and curved head, the SW is ideal for deft little chips from the fringe and for playing those belly-wedge putts from the collar of greenside rough (striking the ball on its equator with the leading edge).

4. Gap wedge  

Gap wedges range in loft from 50 to 55 degrees and are a compromise between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge.

A gap wedge is particularly important to use today because the five-degree difference in degrees between the SW and PW in the 1960s has now grown to approximately 10 degrees. 

This has created room for club manufacturers to respond by inventing a new club to fill the "gap", and of course, encourage us to buy more products.

"I can't begin to tell you how crucial gapping in wedges is," said Titleist master craftsman Bob Vokey

"Most everyday players have little idea about the loft gaps with their wedges. They just take a pitching wedge and sand wedge and go.

"In the old days that was okay because most pitching wedges were around 51 degrees. But now they're 45 to 47 degrees while the sand wedge has stayed at 56. That's a two-plus club difference because now the pitching wedge is essentially the loft of a 9-iron."

Most instructors recommend you should have around four degrees of difference between all of your wedges.

5. Lob wedge

The lob wedge has a loft anywhere between 60 and 64 degrees. 

It is useful for throwing the ball up very high from short distances, also known as the "flop shot" - Phil Mickelson is the expert at this. 

A lob wedge is built more for more finesse than power so 30 yards is probably its optimum distance for the amateur.

A pro, however, will not only use it over a hazard, but from the fairway for those 75 to 95-yard shots that need to land softly with some spin. 

6. What wedges should I carry? 

Most instructors recommend you should have around four degrees of difference between all of your wedges.

"I can't begin to tell you how crucial gapping in wedges is," said Titleist master craftsman Bob Vokey.

"Most everyday players have little idea about the loft gaps with their wedges. They just take a pitching wedge and sand wedge and go.

"In the old days that was okay because most pitching wedges were around 51 degrees. But now they're 45 to 47 degrees while the sand wedge has stayed at 56. That's a two-plus club difference because now the pitching wedge is essentially the loft of a 9-iron." 

It is recommended players visit a certified club fitter to best understand the loft of wedges they should be using. 

7. Sole grind

The sole grind refers to the additional shaping of the sole of the wedge, usually around the heel or the toe.

Companies offer a range of sole grinds in addition to the standard wedge sole, grinding the soles with a machine to suit specific turf conditions or shots.

For instance, a heel grind will remove material from the heel of the sole to allow the face to sit lower to the ground so it is easier to open the face at address.

"A grind can provide shot making opportunities around the greens," says Vokey.

"Our M grind soles allow you to open the face of the wedge without the leading edge coming off the ground. We have all kinds of sole grinds, which we designate with a letter."

Sole grinds, however, do change the bounce of the sole and so it is important to receive advice from a teaching professional on the types of grinds that will suit your game.

8. Grooves

Think of grooves on a golf club as the tread on a tire.

Each groove - there are roughly 15 to 16 - grabs the ball just like the tread grips the road, creating spin and producing ideal shot trajectory.

A recent rule change instituted by the USGA and R&A eliminated the use of deep grooves in wedges - a feature that apparently gave golfers an unfair advantage by creating more backspin.

The new rule now restricts groove volume and edge radius on wedges, resulting in a higher launch angle and less backspin.

As a result of the new rule, there are now two different styles of grooves on wedges: vintage finish and laser-etching.

Wedges with vintage-finish grooves rust in a way that compliments the sound and feel inherent in the metal, while laser-etched grooves optimise the ball-to-face friction to create maximum spin.

9. Bounce

Bounce - the curvy part of the wedge's head - does exactly what the word suggests, says PGA pro Brian Lee of World of Golf.

"It’s designed to prevent the club from snagging or digging into the turf and getting stuck. The bounce is what you see when you place the wedge flat on the floor and the lead edge is slightly off the ground.

"The higher the lead edge is off the floor, the more bounce on the wedge. The importance of finding the correct bounce is related to your own personal swing and style of play."

Clubs with less bounce (0-10 degrees) will suit tight lies and drier, fast-running heathland and links courses, or golfers with shallow attack angles.

If your local course tends to be wet parkland, wedges with more of a "standard" bounce (10-16 degrees) are less likely to dig into the ground. These would also suit players with a steeper angle of attack.

The sand wedge features a combination of a wider flange and higher bounce (16+) to prevent digging and create a smoother gliding action of the sole along the ground - hence that wonderful "thump" sound when splashing the ball out the greenside bunker. 

10. Finish

The days of every wedge being coated with chrome over steel are over.

Finishes now include black nickel, chrome, rusty or raw (unchromed), beryllium copper, nickel-coated and oil can. 

The different the finish makes on most wedges is mainly cosmetic – a case of which one do you most like the look of.

The only real practical exceptions are that the duller-looking finishes do not reflect as much light in the sun, while those with a "nickel coated" or oil can" finish are specifically manufactured to rust over time and typically impart slightly more spin on the ball.

TESTED: Best wedges 2014

INSTRUCTION: Flop shot

INSTRUCTION: Plugged ball in the bunker

INSTRUCTION: Chip and run