Although your driver and putter often receive the most attention, wedges may be the most used clubs in your bag. Chances are you grab a wedge whenever you miss the green and, depending on how strong you are, you may hit a wedge even if you're 125 yards from the green. To shoot lower scores, it pays to know a little bit about these highly versatile clubs.
For most of golf's recent history, players carried only two wedges in their bags. But despite the increasing popularity of lob wedges and gap wedges, the pitching wedge and the sand wedge remain the mainstays for most golfers.
Most sets of golf clubs include a pitching wedge -- a club with slightly more loft than a 9-iron. The pitching wedge, which has about 45 to 48 degrees of loft, is the "Swiss army knife" of wedge play. Pitching wedges have enough loft to execute longer shots from the fairway, medium-length shots from deep rough and chip shots from just off the green.
For the majority of golfers, the next most valuable wedge is the sand wedge. The club's invention is credited to the legendary Gene Sarazen, who used it to win both the British Open and U.S. Open in 1932. Sand wedges are made with a heavy sole to make them slide through the sand better. The preferred loft of a sand wedge can vary, but 56 degrees is about average.
During the 1980s, golfers began to experiment with newer types of wedges. Former U.S. Open winner Tom Kite became the first PGA Tour pro to add a third wedge -- called a lob wedge -- to his bag. He did it on the advice of short-game expert Dave Pelz, whose research indicated players needed higher-lofted wedges to improve their scoring. Lob wedges, which allow players to hit the ball very high from a short distance, have 58 to 64 degrees of loft.
The most recent addition to the wedge family is the gap wedge, also called the approach wedge. Intended to fill the hitting "gap" between the pitching and sand wedge, a gap wedge has a loft in the low 50s.
The shaft length of the various wedges doesn't vary much; these clubs are already the shortest in the bag, with the possible exception of the putter. However, they do come with different amounts of "bounce." Bounce is the angle between the sole of the wedge and the ground. High-bounce clubs are designed for fluffy or soft conditions, such as thick rough or soft sand. At address, the leading edge of the clubface is higher than the trailing edge, so the club does not dig into the sand. Low-bounce clubs, on the other hand, are better from tighter lies and firmer sand. By buying each wedge separately, you can tailor your wedges to fit your game and the courses you play.
Wedges need to be fitted to your game, just like any other club in your bag. Since you stand closer to the ball with a wedge than other clubs, the lie of your wedges is critical to making good contact. A club fitter also will take your swing shape into account. If your swing plane is steep, you may play better if your wedges have a lot of bounce. Likewise, if you have a flat swing, you may make better contact with wedges that have less bounce. In this sense, bounce is a relative term; 10 degrees of bounce may be a lot for a flat swinger, but very little for a steep swinger. A good fitting will ensure you get the correct combination.