Is it time for new wedges? Here's everything to consider before making a purchase this year
Photo by Dan Winters
Other parts of your bag are loaded with complex technologies and space-age materials, but wedges might strike some as a decidedly simpler part of your bag. Until you look at the increasing array of options in lofts, bounce angles and sole grinds. Some of the current top models, such as the Titleist Vokey SM7 and Cleveland RTX-4, have more than 20 options to choose from—and that’s before you even get to thinking about which finish you prefer. All those choices might have you waving a white flag in surrender, but fear not. Some of Golf Digest’s 100 Best Clubfitters are here to share a little wisdom to get your scoring clubs organized.
The first thing is to make sure your wedges match up with all the yardage gaps in your bag. Most fitters agree that a gap of 4-6 degrees per wedge is best, says John Ioris of The Complete Golfer in New York, a 100 Best Clubfitter: “The equal spacing between the wedges will make it easier for most golfers to control their distances and avoid fewer in between distances.” Additionally, for average golfers more wedges might be more useful than more long clubs. A gap wedge might be more useful than 3-hybrid for a lot of golfers, for example.
The pitching wedge should be the starting point for deciding how many wedges you should have and how they should be spaced apart, says Craig Zimmerman at perennial 100 Best Clubfitter Redtail Golf Center in Oregon. “I think it is more challenging for the average player to swing a bladed wedge full. As such, we will tend to go with cavity-back wedges or the wedges that match the iron set model the customer purchased to allow the player to have consistency with their clubs and distance gaps. We then will add one blade wedge for use out of a bunker or around the greens.”
Your ability level is an important consideration. Just because there are dozens of options in blade-style wedges in lofts that range from the mid-40s to the low-60s doesn’t mean you absolutely must play specialty wedges whenever possible. The same kind of sole and the cavity-back construction in your irons might be exactly what you need for those lower-lofted wedges—because like your irons, they’re going to be used mostly for full swings.
“I break wedges into sections based on the golfer—pitching wedge/gap wedge in one section, then sand wedge/lob wedge in the next,” says Jim McCleery of McGolf Custom Clubs in Ohio. “For most clubs and most players today, the pitching wedge and gap wedge are full-swing clubs, while the sand wedge and lob wedge are used for bunker shots and high-loft partial shots from the rough. Only if the player has more skill and high swing speed will I suggest that the gap wedge be a specialty blade type of wedge.”
While it is often the case that specialty blade wedges can have more precisely milled grooves and surface roughness designed to increase spin, the “full swing” rule is good guidance, says Nick Sherburne, founder of Club Champion, a 100 Best Clubfitter: “If it’s more of a full shot wedge, stick to more game improvement, and if it’s more of a half-shot or touch wedge, you don’t need game improvement. That being said every year the companies are creating game improvement wedges that have soles and spin like regular wedges, just more forgiving.”
As for the subtleties of sole grind (the shape of the sole) and bounce angle (the angle formed between the leading edge, the trailing edge and the ground), it is best to work with your fitter, who even during an indoor fitting can determine what bounce angle works best with the way your downswing comes into the ball. A steeper downswing might best be served by wedges with a higher bounce angle. The type of turf and the type of sand you see on courses you typically play factor in the type of bounce angle your wedges should have. For example, fluffier sand usually means a sand wedge with a higher bounce angle is best, while less bounce is good on tight, firmer turf. It might be the case that you could benefit from one wedge (54-56 degrees) having more bounce and a second wedge (58-62 degrees) having less bounce, or vice versa.
It can be done indoors, but outdoors on a course might provide more answers, says Ryan Johnson at 100 Best Clubfitter Carl’s Golfland in Michigan. “The best way to decide on which is best is to take a few different types out to the range and hit some shots that you typically have on the course,” he said, noting that the wedge with the right bounce should produce the most consistent, solid contact in those situations.
With all those options, though, it can be easy to overlook the most obvious element, says Woody Lashen of 100 Best Clubfitter Pete’s Golf in New York. “Don’t forget the shaft,” he says. “How many players have 65- or 80-gram shafts in their irons, and then use the standard, pro-version 125-gram shafts in their wedges? After they test a 95-gram shaft in a wedge, they find they can actually hit the shots they want to.”