There are three kinds of wedges in common use today:

Pitching wedge
Over the years, this has become less a wedge than a higher-loft continuation of the numbered irons. Most pitching wedges today come as part of a set of irons. They typically have the same length as the 9-iron in the set, and the same swingweight or only slightly higher. Their loft and sole shape are a logical extrapolation from the other irons. In short, they're not really a "wedge", and I won't say much more about them here.

I know someone is going to mention "gap wedge" (AKA "attack wedge"). But it's just a pitching wedge with a higher loft. When the big club companies started competing through "loft wars", the strengthened the loft of the PW until there was a huge gap between that in the sand wedge. They solved that problem (a problem for the golfer, an opportunity for them) by selling another club with an in-between loft. The gap wedge loft is usually pretty close to what a PW loft was in the 1980s.
Sand wedge
A heavier club, designed for the major purpose of escaping from greenside bunkers. Typically, it has a large flange with a lot more bounce than any other club in the bag. (Often a bounce in double digits.)
Lob wedge
Also generally heavy, its purpose is for short, high pitches that land softly and don't roll much after landing. It has a substantially higher loft than a sand wedge.

Sand wedges and lob wedges should be cut to the same length as the 9-iron and pitching wedge used by the golfer, unless there is specific reason not to. Don't worry about the swingweight; it will be distinctly heavier than the other clubs, but that's not a problem. These wedges are seldom used with a normal-length, normal-speed swing anyway, so a markedly different swingweight isn't a big deal.

Some considerations in the design of wedges:

This is the most important single feature of a wedge. Lob wedges are generally higher loft than sand wedges. Sand wedges have lofts between 52 and 58 degrees, and lob wedges between 58 and 64 degrees. (Yes, there are clubs outside these ranges, but they're distinct outliers.)

Try to choose the lofts on your wedges to avoid "gaps" or "doubling". For instance, if you have a 48-degree pitching wedge and a 60-degree lob wedge, it doesn't make much sense to get a 58-degree sand wedge. It would "double" for the loft of the lob wedge, and also leave a 10 gap between PW and SW. Instead, go for more like a 54- or 55-degree sand wedge. Alternatively, you could get a 56- to 58-degree sand wedge and trade in your lob wedge for:

  • An even higher loft, in the 62-64 range, or
  • No lob wedge at all, since the sand wedge can double as a slightly strong lob wedge. There's no law that requires a lob wedge, and in fact most golfers don't carry them. And many who carry them should not. They can't use them. It is not trivial to hit a lob wedge well. My rules of thumb for whether to use a lob wedge are: (a) If you haven't practiced this shot recently, don't even try it, and (b) Only use the lob wedge when no other club will do the job.

Sole shape
The second most important characteristic of a wedge is the bounce of its sole.
  • A sand wedge requires a large bounce (8 to 15 degrees), so that it doesn't bury in the sand.
  • A lob wedge's bounce might be high or low, depending on the golfer and his/her needs:
    • If you use it a lot off tight lies, and your swing with it does not have a lot of shaft lean, then the bounce should be modest at most.
    • If you want to use it from the sand or heavy rough, you need a sand wedge kind of loft -- and you need to practice with it.

Many heads with the loft of a lob wedge are made with a bounce more appropriate for a sand wedge. This can be both a curse and a blessing. Of course, you have to be more careful when chipping with such a wedge, especially from the fairway or hardpan. On the other hand, it can be handy to have a super-loft sand wedge if you're in a bunker with a very high lip to an elevated green. I own such a wedge, and can personally attest to its usefulness in such situations.

Weight placement
I find no advantage to a "cavity back" in a club lofted more than 50 degrees. The heel-toe weighting at this loft buys very little, but a very low CG is important. For that reason, I prefer wedges to have a large, heavy sole flange and a thin, flat upper back. The Cleveland wedges are paradigms of this design, though more and more manufacturers are catching on. (I ought to add "again", since this was the most common wedge design before the advent of peripheral weighting. Sometimes the old ways are best.)

But let me present an opposing view as well. In 2013, Hireko offered a sand wedge with two interchangeable weights, which allowed moving 17 grams between the bottom flange and the top of the back. The low-front flange position gave conventional wedge behavior. The high-back position significantly increased backspin, due to gear effect. The result was lower initial launch angle but [paradoxically] higher peak ball flight, and more backspin upon landing. (I can't vouch for it personally. But I do have one of the heads, and should get around to trying it sometime.)

Lob Wedges

It's worth pointing out one reason that many golfers don't carry a lob wedge. It's not very easy to use, and it's as important to know when not to use it as to know how to use it.

The most important part of using any wedge is to keep the hands ahead of the clubhead right through impact. This assures hitting down on the ball; "scooping" with a wedge is a sure-fire recipe for a terrible shot: fat, or skulled, or a little pop-up from a fluffy lie. This is especially true if you have a sand-wedge style bounce. Keeping the hands ahead of the clubhead will reduce the effective bounce at impact, and allow the leading edge of the clubface to get under the ball.

When should you have second thoughts about using a lob wedge?

  • From a lie in the rough where you ball is sitting above the ground. It is possible to slide an extreme-loft club right under the ball and get no forward motion at all. Where you really need the height a lob wedge gives, be sure to get the middle of the face on the ball. I find it helps in such cases if I try to drive it low; the loft will get it high anyway, but I tend to get batter mid-face contact that way.
  • From an uphill lie. Remember that the slope of the hill adds to the effective loft of the club. I have hit a lob wedge from an uphill lie, only to have the ball go almost straight up, land within a couple of feet of its starting point, and bounce down the hill and away from the target.
  • From a tight lie on hardpan, especially if the club has a bounce flange.

I'd like to thank Bob Dietrich for these suggestions on "how" and "when not to". I had given up on my lob wedge for several years, because it left me worse off more often than better off. Bob pointed out why it's valuable on the courses that we both play.

Last modified May 17, 2017