Most golfers will tell you that the key to winning on the golf course is the short game. If you master the short game you can keep your points and ultimately your handicap super low. But one of the key pieces of golf equipment that you’ll need to achieve that excellent short game is a decent wedge.
Wedges are used for smaller distances and more accurate shots, whether it be approach shots, clip shots, bunker shots or lob shots - you need one or two wedges that can achieve each of these diverse shots with a high degree of skill.
Different wedges are defined by the number of lofts they possess, and each type of wedge is specifically designed for a certain job. An approach wedge - also called a gap wedge - has a loft somewhere between a low-lofted pitching wedge and a high-lofted sand wedge. An approach wedge will enable you to get a steeper angle on your ball once it is in the air.
Understanding the different types of wedges as well as what they do will help you decide whether you invest in an approach or any other kind of wedge before you next hit the golf course.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Wedges?
A pitching wedge has a 44 to 48 pitching degree and is often used for high loft, long wedge shots onto the green. However, pitching wedges are also useful for short pitch and runs, which usually involve half of the normal backswing, catching the ball on the upswing to get it much higher in the air.
These wedges are traditionally used for distances between 110 and 125 yards. You can use this wedge for shorter shots, but you won’t be able to use your full swing and it will take practice to get the distance exact.
Most players will want to practice their swing with their pitching wedge until they achieve a consistent distance.
The sand wedge has more loft than a pitching wedge, with an angle anywhere between 54 and 58 degrees.
The clue is in the name of this wedge - sand wedges are purpose-built to shift more sand. To facilitate this, a sand wedge has a much wider and more rounded sole which allows the base of the clubhead to slide underneath the sand when addressing the ball, but will bounce back out the other side rather than getting trapped in it.
Sand traps can be very hazardous for golfers, but some professionals can navigate them with ease and some of them claim not to need a sand wedge at all!
Sand wedges can be used for conventional wedge shots, however, the distance of these shots will be a lot shorter due to the increased wedge. You might find you can achieve the same results from a shorter, less powerful swing. A sand wedge is extremely effective in the sand and long grass, but you will struggle to use it on hard ground, which is important to bear in mind before purchasing one.
This club will usually be the most lofted in a golfer’s bag, with an angle of somewhere between 58 and 62 degrees.
Again, the name of this wedge indicates what it is built for - this is for shots where you’ll need to get the ball high up in the air, especially if it’s up an incline, landing it precisely down on the green with very little bounce or roll.
Lob wedges should normally be used by mid- to low-handicappers, as these golfers usually have a better sense of the distance they hit using other wedges and how many strokes it will take them to get to the green.
Lob wedges have a higher level of spin on the ball, which gives you a much greater degree of control over your swing. You can more accurately guess the amount of power you’ll need to wield on this club, depending on how familiar you are with it over time.
In short, lob wedges are perfect for those high up impressive aerial shots around the green.
Now finally onto the subject of this review - the approach wedge, otherwise known as the gap wedge.
There can be up to a 30-yard gap between your pitching wedge and your sand wedge, so the gap wedge is designed specifically to bridge that gap! The approach wedge has more loft than a pitching wedge, but less loft than a sand wedge, it is a perfect utility club for narrowing the distance and ensuring that there isn’t any part of your game that is not covered.
So Why Use An Approach Wedge?
The same reason that you might use a 7-iron rather than a 6- or an 8-iron, an approach wedge can sink the ball beyond the distance of a pitching wedge but has less of a distance than a sand wedge.
The approach wedge has a much steeper angle of ascent than a pitching wedge, resulting in a quicker landing onto the green and less roll after landing.
Generally, most golfers will want no more than 4 degrees of loft between their wedges, although for most casual players a 6-degree gap is appropriate. For example, if you have a 44-degree pitching wedge, you’ll want to buy a 50-degree approach wedge and a 56-degree sand wedge.
The Loft Of An Approach Wedge
There aren’t many standardized lofts on a gap or approach wedge, the usual range of degrees lies somewhere between 46 and 54 degrees. The company will generally design its approach wedge depending on the sizes of its pitching and sand wedges.
Why Are There So Many Different Types Of Wedges?
Well, put simply, a lot of it is down to marketing. As golfers get more and more competitive, the company that manufactures their clubs becomes more competitive in producing equipment that will improve any gaps in their game - most notably the gap wedge itself.
Gap and approach wedges have different names, but it is essentially the same club. Most golfers crave a greater distance, especially when getting their ball up onto the green, so golf club manufacturers have jumped into that 'gap' in the market to provide players with more accuracy and power.
As lofts have been reduced on most irons, the pitching wedge has been affected also. What most people don't know is that a modern pitching wedge goes a lot further than a pitching wedge from a few decades ago.
However, the sand wedge has still been useful with shorter chipping on the green, this is why its loft has largely remained the same, resulting in the current significant shortfall between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge.
What Do I Need To Look For When Buying An Approach Wedge?
Approach wedges are not included in a standard set of 8 irons, so you will probably have to purchase this club separately.
As mentioned above, you will need to balance the degrees between your pitching wedge, your approach wedge and your sand wedge. You ideally want a club that sits somewhere in the middle. If you have decided not to carry a sand wedge, just add 4 or 6 degrees to your pitching wedge.
You will be looking for a gap wedge that you can use with a full swing within 90 to 100 yards of the green, although it will take some practice to develop that consistency and accuracy in your swing. If you are accustomed to using a gap wedge, then you should be able to reduce the amount of putts, ultimately saving you a few strokes per game.
Our Final Say
Whilst not as essential as the pitching wedge, a sand wedge or a lob wedge, the approach wedge will help you to create a greater nuance to your golfing bag, even if it does hinge on the capabilities of these other wedges.
We recommend becoming fully accustomed to your pitching and sand wedges, as the more you use these, the more aware you will become of any shortfalls between the two. Understanding the basic attributes of these wedges will help you when choosing each wedge for each particular situation. The bounce of the ball off the green is also something important to bear in mind when using the right wedge.
As with all types of wedge, the club won’t do all the work for you. A club is only as good as the golfer who wields it - you will need to practice honing your swing to hit that specific distance and halt the ball exactly where you want it on the green.
You’ll need a wide variety of lofts in your golf bag, regardless of what they’re called. So make sure that you have a selection of wedges available to you and possess a full understanding of what each one does in terms of performance, accuracy and how well it lifts the ball off varying types of terrain.
We hope that this comprehensive run-down of what makes an approach wedge so unique, as well as how it fits in with other wedges, has helped demystify this complicated and often daunting subset of the golfing world!