Wedges are the short irons with the most loft. They aren't designed for distance shots; you use them to hit the ball extremely high and land it softly on the green. More than any other club in your bag, wedges are position clubs. They're also versatile, as a well-played wedge shot can get you into position for a short putt or save you a shot when you're in trouble.
There are four recognized types of wedges. Two of these, the pitching wedge and the sand wedge, have long histories and are carried by virtually every player, pro or amateur. The more recent additions, the gap or approach wedge, and the lob wedge, are specialized. You may also hear about an extreme wedge, but these are often just labeled as lob wedges.
There is some variety in the lofts of the different wedges, depending on the manufacturers. (Of course, players can also have the lofts adjusted, just as with their standard clubs.) Pitching wedges are typically lofted between 45 and 49 degrees, and sand wedges between 54 and 58 degrees. Gap wedges, logically enough, fit in the gap between them – around 51 to 53 degrees. And while lob wedges can be more than 60 degrees, the typical lob wedge is 60 degrees while the typical X-wedge is 64 degrees.
When you buy a regular set of clubs – which usually includes a pitching wedge – all the clubs have similar head designs. When bought separately, any of the wedges is available with a choice of bounce. Bounce is the angle between the club's sole and the ground during normal setup. Low-bounce clubs are better for tight lies from the fairway and hardpan; high-bounce clubs work best from soft lies, thick rough and sand. In addition, sand wedges typically have much heavier soles than the other wedges, to better cut through the sand.
Pitching wedges are used for general approaches from the fairway and for chipping. Because they don't have as much loft as the other wedges, they're more forgiving of mishits. Sand wedges, because of their heavier soles and greater bounce, are best for use from heavy rough and sand. Gap wedges are especially popular with big hitters who need an extra club to cut the distance difference between their pitching and sand wedges. And lob wedges are popular for shots where the ball must be thrown extremely high and stopped very fast, especially on hard greens or after a green has been short-sided.
Golfers have traditionally carried a two-wedge setup, consisting of a pitching and sand wedge. By the year 2000, lob wedges had become the standard, a move pioneered by Tom Kite and short game guru Dave Pelz. Standard sets of clubs now include a gap wedge, also known as an approach wedge.