Ready to take your green-side game to the next level this season? A good short game can drop a 14- or 15-handicap into the single digits quickly, but it’ll take some practice to attain the right combination of feel and skill, and wedges that fit your style of play.
Wedges are your scoring clubs, and good players know that every next shot from inside 125 yards should be a makeable putt.
The big names – Titleist’s Vokey, Cleveland’s ZipCore, Callaway’s Jaws and the Ping Glide lines – have terrific brand recognition, but what do the features they present mean?
To the Iayman, wedge specs are not obvious, which is great for manufacturers trying to sell “club fittings.” I myself got tired of re-reading statements to figure out what they’re referring to. I bet I’m not alone, so I wrote this article with the intention of simplifying the wedge selection process so that you, too, can feel confident choosing wedges that will complement your golf game without the need of a professional club fitting.
In years past, my process was to visit our local golf superstore to see what I liked aesthetically. I’d see what was expensive from the top brands and always had an affinity for Titleist’s Vokey series. Beyond the legend of Bob Vokey, I had no idea why and especially did not understand concepts like bounce and sole grinds.
I’d ask the sales associates what they play and assumed that must be what’s good. They’d tell me the updated M-Grind is sweet, or that they’ve been gaming and loving the K-Grind.
Cool, right? Who knows. Not like I was about to tell them I had no clue what they’re talking about. K is a cool sounding letter, afterall.
Most of these kids are golf professionals or competitive players at some level, are mostly younger than me, play different courses than I do and rock very different golf swings.
I tend to be more of a sweeper of the golf ball, for example (not extreme, but more that way than vertical). I don’t take big divots from the fairway and aim for solid, crisp ball strikes that shave the surface of the grass (yes, I know that’s not ideal if I ever want to be really good). I rarely get good backspin on the ball like lower handicap players do (my handicap typically fluctuates between 7-9), but when I do I’m pretty proud of it.
Although I’ve always made them work and have a fairly solid short game, I don’t think the wedges I’d picked for myself in the past were suited for my golf game. With much more research under my belt, and now experience with other brands’ lines of wedges, I understand why.
In this article we’ll go over the key factors to consider when shopping for wedges so that you, too, can feel confident you’re buying clubs that will make you a better player.
I’ve called out the most important considerations in light green. Everything else can be read for detail, additional color and for the general enjoyment of leisurely reading.
Loft and Gapping
Loft is simply the angle of the club face relative to the shaft of the club. Just like a 3-iron is typically ~ 20 degrees and a 4-iron is typically ~ 25 degrees, wedges have standard loft ranges:
|Pitching Wedge (PW)||42 – 48 degrees (standard: 48*)|
|Gap Wedge (GW)||50 – 54 degrees (standard: 52*)|
|Sand Wedge (SW)||54 – 58 degrees (standard: 56*)|
|Lob Wedge (LW)||58 – 64+ degrees (standard: 60*)|
To start, decide how many wedges you want to carry.
Measured in degrees of loft, gapping is the difference between the clubs in your bag.
Knowing you can legally keep 14 clubs in your bag, do you want two wedges beyond your pitching wedge, or three? If it’s three, you’ll probably have to remove another club or else add/subtract on an ad hoc basis depending on the course(s) you’re playing.
What’s the loft on your pitching wedge, and what’s the highest lofted club you want in your bag?
To determine gapping, first identify the loft on your pitching wedge and decide what you want for the loft of your highest wedge. I feast with my 60-degree lob wedge, so for me carrying four total wedges (three past PW) is a no-brainer.
If I wanted three wedges in my bag, I’d have to create a wider disparity between my 60-degree and 48-degree pitching wedge to ensure I’m not leaving too much of a gap. To make a three-wedge set, it should then be PW (48*) / GW (54*) / LW (60*) (the 54* and 60* would be added to my existing PW).
I prefer tighter gaps, though, and so opt for a four-wedge set of PW (48*) / GW (52*) / SW (56*) / LW (60*). This luxurious 4-degree gapping takes a 1-iron out of my bag, which means on long shots from the trees I’m instead hitting a 4-iron and risk flighting the ball too high and nearer to branches.
As you can imagine, a 48-degree pitching wedge will fly farther than a 60-degree lob wedge, so what you’re ultimately deciding on is how many different distances you want the ability to hit consistently with your full swing. Similar to irons, you should want ~ 10 yards difference with each successive club.
Here is how the gapping looked for my last set of clubs (thank you, Arccos data!):
|Pitching Wedge||48*||124 yards (max: 142)|
|Gap Wedge||52*||113 yards (max: 123)|
|Sand Wedge||56*||101 yards (max: 120)|
|Lob Wedge||60*||87 yards (max: 101)|
The other thing higher loft does, of course, is literally add loft. I love my 60-degree lob wedge because it allows me to hit the ball incredibly high in the air and land it softly on the green surface with minimal run-out. Versus a pitching, gap or even sand wedge, this is advantageous when short-sided, especially if there’s a hazard between the pin and my ball or if I’m chipping to a putting surface that’s running away.
Wedges do not sit flat on the ground, and the bounce of these scoring clubs is the area that actually hits the grass, “bouncing” it through the turf and under the ball at impact. This number, in degrees, is measured by the angle between the leading edge of the club when it’s in a neutral, grounded position and the bottom part of the club’s sole.
Bounce is added to wedges to keep them from digging excessively into the grass or sand, and allows the clubface to get through the surface without being stopped in its place.
How does this affect your game, and how do you know what bounce is right for you?
Generally speaking, the higher the bounce, the less the club will dig.
Higher bounce is ideal for shots out of long grass or light, deep sand, but not off hard pan, tight fairway lies or heavily compacted bunkers.
|Pitching Wedge (PW)||2 – 5 degrees|
|Gap Wedge (GW)||5 – 12 degrees|
|Sand Wedge (SW)||10 – 16 degrees|
|Lob Wedge (LW)||0 – 10 degrees|
At 10 to 16 degrees, sand wedges typically have the highest bounce [as you’d expect hitting off soft surfaces]. Meanwhile, pitching and lob wedges tend to have lower bounce to promote a cleaner strike from more compacted turf like fairways, lightly filled or coarse sand traps and waste bunkers.
For bounce, consider your swing:
If you have a steep swing and tend to take sizable divots, you’ll want higher bounce to help keep the club face from digging in too far behind the ball. If you have a shallower, more sweeping swing, you’ll want lower bounce to keep the club face along the ground for longer.
A sole grind is basically the removal or alteration of part of the club’s sole to change the impact it has with the playing surface, and I’m not personally convinced it does much of anything for the average golf enthusiast.
As I mentioned earlier, L-Grind, M-Grind and K-Grind are all popular these days for Titleist, but the pure lack of standardization across the industry (for example, Titleist’s K-Grind is most similar to TaylorMade’s Wide Grind, which is most similar to Callaway’s X-Grind which I believe is most similar to Miura’s K-Grind and Cleveland’s Heel & Toe Grind, and so on) leads me to think it’s probably not worth “normal players” putting too much thought into. I personally have not noticed any difference in playability or shot results based on sole grind, but that may differ for tournament-level players.
From what I’ve been told, the aim of each wedge manufacturer is to provide a sole grind best suited for players with shallow, sweeping swing planes (eg: Titleist’s L-Grind, TaylorMade’s C-Grind and Callaway’s C-Grind), one for players with an average swing plane (not shallow or steep; Titleist M-Grind, TaylorMade’s Standard Grind and Callaway’s S-Grind), and one for players with steep, up-and-down swing planes (Titleist’s K-Grind, TaylorMade’s Wide Grind and Callaway’s X-Grind).
If you need to select a sole grind, ask which one is designed for the depth of your swing plane and go with that (not “What do you play?” – ha!).
We all want our golf clubs to appeal to us visually. One of the big trends these days for wedges (and to a lesser degree irons, in general) is in going away from the traditional chrome finish. Some players say it reflects sunlight into their eyes, while others just like the unique look of a dark metal. I love the classic, shiny chrome look, myself.
Keep in mind that while shiny surfaces (eg: Chrome, steel, nickel) will best avoid rusting over time, darker finishes eventually show wear. You can see this in my old Cleveland wedges (3rd and 4th from left, top row), for example:
Specific to wedges, many manufacturers also offer raw, non-plated finishes that are actually meant to rust over time. The rust (or wear) can help improve the club’s effectiveness by giving it more spin due to the rusted surface’s added friction at contact with the ball cover.
Also, consider the grooves. The job of grooves on wedges is to grab the cover of the golf ball at impact and have it impact as much of the clubface (and its grooves, all of which add reverse speed) as possible to create high spin. Deeper grooves intensify the grab, adding backspin and brakes around the green (the proverbial “Tour Sauce”).
You should not have to worry about it with most OEM manufacturers, but there are rules around allowable grooves on wedges and all clubs with 25 degrees or more of loft (shown below). Grooves must be consistently spaced, run parallel and not converge, and there is a limitation on how sharp the grooves can be and the maximum volume of grooving allowed. If you have concerns about any particular club, look it up in the USGA Informational Club Database.
Most grooves these days are laser-etched, which ensures they’re perfectly dug, symmetrically positioned and [mostly] rust-proof. Some wedge manufacturers also offer the raw or vintage finish for grooves, though, which allows them to intentionally rust over time to create a more textured hitting surface/added friction via a personalized “sweet spot.”
The most important thing to remember about grooves comes after your wedge purchase: Keep them clean and they’ll perform well.
Shafts should not come into play with wedges. The only time they might is if your pitching wedge is part of a graphite-shafted set. Otherwise, you do not want flex (eg: Graphite or anything other than steel) in the shaft of a wedge as it sacrifices accuracy.
Looking for another way to spice up your wedge game? Many club manufacturers and aftermarket custom shops now offer stamping and engraving to further personalize clubs, and wedges and putters are where you’ll see this most.
My new AR-F18’s from Argolf, for example, are engraved with the WiscoGolfAddict logo and my last name, which I think looks incredibly sharp. Check out my new 60:
My Own Personal Switch in Wedges
As I mentioned above, I recently switched to Argolf’s AR-F18 wedges. As a premium-quality French club manufacturer whose founders came up in the aerospace technology industry, Argolf has a strong reputation (especially overseas) for designing state of the art golf clubs with new age materials, clean lines and incredible performance. These are beautifully crafted golf clubs that feel like butter driving through the ball and sand.
|Pitching Wedge (PW)||45*||5*|
|Gap Wedge (GW)||52*||7*|
|Sand Wedge (SW)||56*||12*|
|Lob Wedge (LW)||60*||10*|
While I haven’t had any issues on the course yet, the only concern I have with my new situation is the large gap between the pitching and 52-degree wedge. 7 degrees (shown above) is a wide difference, but that gap is in an area (115-130 yards) for me where I’m comfortable producing more yardage when needed by stepping on a 52, or by taking a little off a pitching wedge. While I haven’t had any issues yet, I am only three rounds in with the new bag setup.
I’ll be writing more about Argolf’s wedges, irons and putters soon, but if you’re in the market for new clubs this season – especially wedges (they are phenomenal!) – check out Argolf’s American website, linked below:
There’s a lot of science involved in the intricacies of wedge design and performance, but when we boil it all down it shouldn’t be as confusing as club manufacturers and fitters lead you to believe.
You have a swing style, and there are wedges that will aid that swing and ones that will hamper it. Don’t get caught up in the new, sexy sole grind or buy what the local fitter says he uses – who knows if your games are even comparable?
Instead, simplify it to what you understand about your game and the course(s) you typically play. If done right, and with practice to acquire some feel and new shots, you’ll be shaving strokes off your scores in no time.
Other wedge options:
Original photography by Rich Bauer (Rich Bauer Photography) on behalf of WiscoGolfAddict, and by Paul Seifert of WiscoGolfAddict