It’s the perennial question: ‘How many golf clubs do I need?’ and nowhere is there more choice, more confusion and more debate than in the wonderful world of golf club wedges. I am going to start with a table, explaining the different degrees of golf wedges and how far you can expect the ball to go when you use this club. Then we will delve further into lofts, golf rules, bladed clubs and many other mysteries. By the end of this article, you can be completely confident next time you are stuck in the sand or behind a tree and wonder which weapon you need to get out of this one.
So, to the table. The essential wedges are as follows:
|club||Degree of loft||Average distance (male golfer high mid and low handicap)||Average distance (lady golfer high mid and low handicap)|
|Pitching wedge||47-53 degrees||80-105-120 yards||50-60-80 yards|
|Gap wedge||50-54 degrees||70-95-110 yards||45-55-70 yards|
|Sand wedge||54-58 degrees||60-80-100 yards||40-50-60 yards|
|Lob wedge||58-62 degrees||50-70-90 yards||35-45-50 yards|
Now we have this information we can see that the higher the loft, the shorter the distance ball is going to travel. This isn’t al negative though, the more loft you have on your club, the more control you have. If you want to see what control really is, then check out this video of Phil Mickleson’s three best wedge shots ever.
(It’s good to see even the golf gods get into trouble sometimes and that they sometimes have to play in the rain, just like the rest of us).
Now, back to the learning.
What exactly is loft?
You might be asking this question. Simple answer: it is the angle of the face of the club (measured relative to the shaft of the club). Every golf club has a loft, clubs which are designed for distance, such a driver and the low numbers in the golf set, have a low loft. On the other hand, clubs which are designed to lift the ball into the air, the wedges, have a high loft. Low numbers on your club mean low loft, higher numbers on your club mean a higher loft.
The history of the wedge clubs
It’s strange to think that, back at the turn of the last century, in the 1900s, golfers had just four or five clubs to choose from when they went out on the course. This lack of variety meant golfers could not strike the ball with as much precision and they had much less control, especially when they got into trouble.
For the short game, there was only the golf club, which was called the niblick (its nearest equivalent in the modern set is the nine iron) So our golfing ancestors has relatively little help from the clubs when, for example, they got stuck in the sand or in the rough. Whether that made them better or worse golfers is a subject of endless debate, and probably unanswerable. But from what we know they enjoyed their game just as much as perhaps less choice meant less to worry about. It certainly meant less expenditure, but we all secretly enjoy spending on equipment even if we gripe.
Over time, golf club manufacturers (which was becoming a rapidly growing industry) developed more open-faced angled clubs with higher lofts to help players get out of these hazards. Over time, these clubs became increasingly specialized in giving us the modern clubs we have today.
What are the wedges?
Let’s look in more detail at the high-lofted clubs, the wedges. Two of the wedges have been around for a long time, the sand wedge and the pitching wedge.
The oldest wedge is the pitching wedge, followed by the sand wedge, which made its first appearance way back in 1931.
The sand wedge was invented by golf legend Gene Sarazan, who put more loft on his pitching wedge so he could get out of the sand more quickly and with a more accurate shot.
For decades that was pretty much it. Then, much later the guru of the short game Dave Pelz noticed the need for another, higher-lofted wedge and, working with renowned golf club designer Karsten Solheim added the lob wedge to the wedge family.
Wedges usually increase in increments of four degrees, and each has a variation of a few degrees. The table at the beginning of this article gives the details of the basic set of wedges and the distances you can expect from them, at all skill levels. That, however, is not the whole story. Those ever-innovative golf club designers are continually adding to the list of wedges. Common additions are the approach wedge, which comes after the pitching wedge with a slightly higher loft, and new on the block is the last wedge, the secret is in the name, it has a whopping sixty-eight-degree loft.
Developments in wedges have not just been about the loft. The club faces have undergone constant improvement. This gives a lot of extra control, but there is one word of warning. If you are thinking of buying new wedges, then be aware of The United States Golf Association’s rules. The crucial rule to check here is the grooving on the club face.
Check the USGA’s database, it’s easy to use. Type in the name of the golf club you are thinking of buying and check if it meets the 2010 groove rules.
We’ve talked a bit about loft on the wedge clubs, but they have another characteristic as well. Bounce. Bounce is the angle between the sole (bottom) of the club and the ground. Its purpose is to stop the club from digging into the ground. Here are some useful illustrations which make it more explicit.
How to use your wedges well
What can I do with all this loft and this bounce? You may be asking. The short answer is to control your shot as you get near the green. With the proper use of the wedge, the ball goes high into the air and lands softly on the green, Perfect. Good wedge play can make the difference between success and failure. Tiger Woods, for example, owes a lot of his prowess to his excellent wedge play. Here is a breath-taking example of the master wedge player at work.
(Incidentally, it’s worth noticing here, how many times Tiger runs through this shot before he actually hits the ball. We can learn from that sort of focus and mindset, and the importance of never rushing a shot).
For us mortals, if you need to chip, pitch or get out a bunker, a wedge is what you need. If you are within 125 yards of the pin, then you will often be reaching for a wedge.
Here is a quick guide to which wedge you need to use when
The pitching wedge is for your longest wedge shots, and for pitch and chip shots near the green where you can roll the ball to the pin. Pitching wedges are the easiest of the wedges for a beginner to use, as they have the lowest loft. This means they are more forgiving than the higher lofted clubs. If you miss the sweet spot on the club, face the ball may still go where you want it to. It is the wedge you will use most often.
Next up is the gap wedge, again its purpose is it’s all in the name, (it is a new club which fits between in the gap between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge). You will use this for chipping and pitching near the green where you need a bit more height on the ball (visualise it going up in an arc and then rolling onto the green)
The sand wedge comes next. It is the heaviest club in your set, and its distinguishing feature is a rounded base so you can get under the sand and lift the ball. It also has a lot of bounce.
Lastly the lob wedge. Once you are out of the sand, you may use your lob wedge. This is the wedge with the highest loft in most sets. It is used when you need to stop the ball quickly on the green. It gives a lot of control and not much distance, so it comes in useful when you are near the pin.
You can, of course, use your wedge clubs, for a full swing, when you swing with a wedge club the ball will fly high in the air and then hit the ground with minimum forward spin.
A lot of choices and why it is worth re-assessing your golf bag
If you have been around for some time, you may be getting very frustrated at the constant changes which go on around the wedge clubs. The degree of loft seems to change all the time, the definitions shift, we are no longer sure whether our trusty old pitching wedge is really a wedge at all. And every time the loft of a club shifts, the golf club manufacturers step in with yet another new club.
How many wedges do we need? Surely there is a limit? That’s our beef, but the world is as it is, so we need a strategy before we end up with a wedge club for every degree of loft.
Here is what we suggest you do. Look into your golf bag and ask yourself how many wedges do I need? If you count the clubs in your golf bag and remember you can only carry 14 out on the golf course, you may find that after your driver, putter and lower lofted irons have been included you just have space for a few wedges; three, or four at the very maximum. This being true, we need to choose which wedges go into our bag very carefully.
Making your wedges work for you
Ask yourself a question: what is the degree of your pitching wedge? If it is 45 degrees, which is a good average, then begin to count up four to five degrees. That takes you to forty-nine or fifty so think about a gap wedge to go there. Up again and there is space for a sand wedge between fifty-four and fifty-six degrees. Finally, you can add a lob wedge at between fifty-eight and sixty degrees.
Speak you your golf buddies, perhaps take a coaching session about how and where to use your wedge clubs. It is worth the time and the trouble. One thing which distinguishes top class amateur golfers from the run of the mill hackers is their ability to balance their golf bag, to know what club to use when and to get the most out of each club.
And doing this well takes practice and skill, just as making a good golf shot takes training and expertise. What we have offered you above is a rough guide to get you started. You will need to customize it for yourself, for your game and your skill level. If you are unhappy with the loft on some or even all of your wedges, remember clubs can be adjusted (here is a video showing how it is done).
There are no shortcuts to getting in right for you. Experiment, practice, play a few rounds and see what gap between the wedges is best for your game. Patience here will pay off in fewer shots and your handicap coming down.
One word of warning, when you alter the loft of your clubs, you will also affect the bounce. For every degree you go up, the bounce will go down, so be aware of this before you start.
Different degrees of golf wedges
If you are feeling that your golf set is not quite right, you may be ready to go the whole way and get an entirely new set of clubs. Of course, this is a considerable expense and not a decision to be taken lightly but just consider this. You have a limited number of clubs, only fourteen, which you can take out when you play your course, and to get the most out of them, they need to work together. There can be a significant advantage in buying, and having fitted, your wedges at the same time as you replace the lower lofted clubs.
We hope that has helped you through the complex world of golf wedges. They are there to help you so be patient with them, and you will get your reward as you watch your ball rising into a perfect arc and softly landing on the green.