Wedges are the highest-lofted clubs in a set of golf clubs, designed for short approach shots (for most golfers, 120 yards and in), strokes played out of sand, chip shots and pitch shots, and generally any shot for which the golfer wants the ball to ascend and descend sharply.

Wedges are also irons, but golfers think of wedges as a sub-set of irons, or as specialized irons. They are often thought of as their own category of golf clubs.

From the 1930s until the latter part of the 20th century it was common for even the best golfers to carry only two wedges.

  • Pitching wedge: The lowest-lofted of the wedges (the one that hits the ball the farthest), pitching wedges (abbreviated PW) are usually included in a set of irons. The PW is considered one of the basic clubs every golfer carries.
  • Sand wedge: Designed specifically to make hitting shots out of bunkers easier. Abbreviated SW.

In the late 20th century, as more specialization entered golf, golf companies began making additional wedges. Today, the other two wedges that are common are:

  • Gap wedge: So-named because it falls in-between the pitching wedge and sand wedge in loft. The gap wedge has more loft than a PW, less loft than a SW.
  • Lob wedge: Usually the highest-lofted club a golfer will carry. The lob wedge creates a very steep angle of ascent and descent, for shots that must get up very quickly (perhaps, for example, to get over a tree) and for shots that you want to hit the green with a minimum of roll.

The gap wedge, sand wedge and lob wedge are often sold separately, or, sometimes, as a 3-club sub-set. Sand wedges are sometimes included in a basic set of irons, but it is unusual for a gap or lob wedges to be included in a packaged iron set.

Because the focus with wedges is on accuracy—trying to hit a short shot as close as possible to the flagstick—wedges are often referred to as the "scoring clubs."

The Characteristics of Wedges

Wedges feature the shortest shafts and highest lofts of any golf clubs. In fact, wedges are often identified by their loft rather than their name. A lob wedge might instead be called a "60-degree wedge," for example.

Sand wedges were invented to make shots out of sand bunkers easier. Typically, sand wedges have lofts from 52 to 56 degrees.

As lofts on irons have decreased over time (e.g., a 5-iron today might be lofted at 26 degrees, whereas 30 years ago a 5-iron would have been lofted at 32 degrees), it has become more popular to carry additional wedges.

A typical lob wedge might have a loft of 60 degrees to 64 degrees. As its name implies, a lob wedge allows a player to "lob" the ball high into the air, from where it will drop steeply down onto the green, with little or no roll.

With pitching wedges typically lofted from 42 to 46 degrees, the gap wedge is so-called because it closes the "gap" in loft between the pitching wedge and sand wedge. A typical gap wedge might might be lofted from 48 to 54 degrees. The gap wedge also goes by the names A-wedge, attack wedge and approach wedge.

(In the early 2000s, a fifth wedge—usually called an X-wedge—started showing up in the bags of some low-handicappers. X-wedges have the highest lofts of all, 64 to 70 degrees. Today they are still rare outside of the professional ranks, and even most pros don't carry one.)

All irons, including wedges, feature a design property known as "bounce angle," often just called "bounce." Bounce is a physical property of the sole of a golf wedge. And bounce is a concept that even golfers who have been playing for decades may not understand, or may misunderstand. So no beginner should worry too much if he hears other golfers talking about "bounce" and doesn't have a clue what it means. You're not required to at this point.

So the short version: The amount of bounce a wedge has can make the club more or less resistant to digging into the turf when the club hits the ground in the swing. Different golf course conditions, different uses for the wedge, different types of golf swings require more or less bounce.

If you do not purchase a sand wedge right off the bat, you'll want to use your pitching wedge for sand shots around the green.

When to Use a Wedge for a Golf Shot

As for the appropriate time to use other wedges, that will, of course, be determined primarily by the yardage of your shot. On full shots from the fairway, a typical recreational male golfer might hit a sand wedge about 65-75 yards; women, 45-60. A lob wedge would be 40-50 yards for men, 25-40 for women. A gap wedge would fall in between your pitching wedge and sand wedge yardages.

And these clubs will, when properly struck, produce a very high, arching shot. So if you need to get over a tree, for example, a wedge comes in handy. Or if you're off the green with a big bunker right between you and the flagstick, a high, arching shot with a wedge is a good choice. Because wedge shots have such a high trajectory, they tend to roll very little once they hit the green. More accomplished players can produce a great deal of backspin with a wedge, causing the ball to back up (or "bite") once it hits the green.

Any wedge can also be used for chipping around the green.

Which Wedges Do Beginners Need?

Beginners need not concern themselves too much with wedges other than the pitching wedge. Gap wedges and lob wedges are common in the bags of better players, and sand wedges are fairly common for all players. But beginners should not feel obligated to pick up a sand wedge right off the bat. These are specialized clubs for specialized uses and beginners should learn how to use the basic clubs first and the sand wedge should be the first addition.