Lob Wedge vs. Sand Wedge (Do You Need Both?)

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    This is a common question that golfers find themselves asking, either when they’re new to the game or if they’re just frustrated with their current level of skill around the greens –

    To get my short game to the next level, should I be thinking beyond the sand wedge? 

    Could adding a lob wedge to my golf bag be just the boost I’m looking for?

    How much difference is there really between these two clubs?

    Sometimes the answers to these types of questions can be more elusive than you’d think.  But thankfully, we’ve got you covered.  Read on as we discuss this matter in depth.

    And if you are looking to add a new wedge to your bag, check out our guide on the Best Wedges.

    Differences Between the Two Clubs

    The main difference between a lob wedge and a sand wedge is the loft. A lob wedge is typically between 58 and 64 degrees of loft and a sand wedge is typically between 54 and 57 degrees of loft. In addition, they are very often used differently on the course.

    What is a Sand Wedge?

    The sand wedge (SW) made its debut in the world of golf in the 1930s.  Hall of Famer Gene Sarazen is often hailed as the inventor of this club.  As the name implies, it was created for players to utilize when hitting a golf ball out of greenside sand traps.  

    A sand wedge will typically have between 54 and 57 degrees of loft.  A standard model will be slightly heavier and be built with extra bounce in the sole (compared to your standard golf irons), so that it can power its way through bunker sand with greater ease, rather than digging in and causing excessively “fat” contact.       

    Occasionally when you buy new irons, the sand wedge will be included in the set.  But most often this is not the case. 

    When do you use it?

    Pretty sure even the non-golfers of the world will be able to guess the answer to this one…after all, it’s in the name, right?

    In truth, though, the SW is hardly just a one-trick pony.  It is often a golfer’s “go-to” club for the majority of their chipping/pitching shots around the green.  And it will be also be pulled from the bag for full approach shots into the green from 80 to 100 yards out.

    What is a Lob Wedge?

    Compared to the sand wedge, the lob wedge (LW) is a relative newcomer to the family of wedges. 

    Most historians of the game agree that it was introduced into the mainstream sometime in the mid-1980s, due to the increasing complexity of the putting greens being designed at the time.  As is often the case in the world of golf equipment, there are competing claims in terms of exactly who was responsible for the original concept of the lob wedge….but you will typically hear short game guru Dave Pelz’s name brought up more than any other.

    The degree of loft on a lob wedge is typically between 58 and 64 degrees, and the club will often feature a thinner leading edge, a slightly shorter shaft, and might also be designed with a bit less bounce than what you’ll get in a traditional sand wedge.

    Like the sand wedge, a lob wedge is not usually sold along with a set of irons and must be purchased separately.

    When do you use it?

    Technically you can use it anytime, anyplace.  More experienced golfers will usually feel equally comfortable using it for their approach shots from the fairway or from the rough.  They will also use it for their chip & pitch shots around the green.

    If you’re a less skilled golfer, however, you may not be as confident about trying the above shots… but you might still see the lob wedge as a club to be used in unique situations such as:

    • When you’ve got to get to clear a greenside bunker and don’t have a lot of green to work with
    • When you need to hit a flop shot around the green (i.e. one that flies high and short and comes down soft, without much roll out)
    • When you’re simply in very deep rough around the green (loft is always your friend in the rough)

    Do I Need A Lob Wedge In My Bag?

    Most teaching pros in the game would answer this question with a pretty emphatic NO, you do not need a lob wedge in your bag.

    After all, at least two of the all-time greats of the game – Tom Watson and Lee Trevino – never played a wedge higher than 56 degrees throughout their entire professional career(!), and they still managed to do okay for themselves (tongue firmly in cheek…. 14 major victories between the two of them!).

    The primary reason that most will give as to why you can get along just fine without a lob wedge: Even if you are a brand new player (and/or someone who struggles to score well), it’s relatively easy to learn the technique of simply adjusting your grip and opening up the face of your sand wedge as you address the ball, which effectively turns your 56 degree SW into a 60 degree LW.  Employ this simple move, put in the practice time, and you’re essentially getting two clubs in one. 

    ** Be sure to be aware, however, that when you open up the face on a standard sand wedge, the bounce of the club will automatically increase, which equates to a bit less versatility with that club (i.e. you’ll be fine when hitting from a “fluffy” lie around the green…. But when faced with a shot off of a firm or tight lie, that increased bounce can often lead to the dreaded thin/“skull” shot for the less-than-accomplished player).

    So the word “need” is not really operative here.  However, as I’ll argue below, perhaps there may be a compelling argument or two that could be made for why even a high handicap golfer ought to still give the ol’ lob wedge a serious look.   

    Should High Handicappers Use A Lob Wedge?

    Basically, the golf world is presently pretty divided on this one.

    You have the camp which argues that high (or even mid) handicappers gain almost nothing from playing a wedge higher than a 54 degree.  They will argue – The lob wedge is a club for those with talent.  And that talent is learned using a sand wedge. 

    In one sense, this conservative cohort certainly has a case.  Despite how sexy it looks on TV when Phil or Tiger pull off one of their buttery-smooth flop shots that go sky high and land like a feather, these shots have a much higher degree of difficulty than those guys make it seem.  Compared to a chip or pitch shot with a sand, gap or pitching wedge, the LW requires a longer swing (greater opportunity for error) and a more accurate strike on the clubface in order to get the ball going on the exact trajectory (and with the right amount of spin) that you were hoping for. 

    Not exactly a game strategy that plays to the strengths of the high handicapper, am I right?   

    However, for every golfer out there with this perspective, you can probably find another who sees things from the completely opposite side.  This group essentially argues – Y’all need to calm it down a little bit.  If you can hit a SW around the green, you can hit a LW.  It’s just a matter of putting in the practice time, and most anybody will be able to figure it out.     

    The voices coming from this camp will extol the virtues of simply starting out with a lob wedge right from the beginning; how the technology being built into lob wedges these days makes them more forgiving than ever, and the almost effortless increase in shot height and ball spin makes this a no-brainer.    

    So who’s right?  Ultimately I’d say that’s for you to decide.  But I think that one of my golf-crazy friends may have summed it up best – “Bottom line, the lob wedge makes the game more fun…. but it can also make ya crazy.  If you’re gonna practice with it a lot, it’s worth it.  But if you want minimal practice, and to just go out there and have a good time?  Then you probably shouldn’t touch it.”     

    Common Wedge Questions

    Can I Use A Lob Wedge From The Sand?

    Most of the time, yes.  Unless you specifically purchase a low bounce lob wedge, you might find that a decent number of LWs and SWs have a pretty comparable amount of bounce out of a sand trap (my SW and LW, for example, have identical bounce numbers).  So hitting a lob wedge out of a bunker should help you get the ball up quicker, and get your ball landing on the green with a bit more spin.

    Using a lob wedge as your go-to greenside bunker club is especially recommended if the courses that you most regularly play are like mine (sand in the bunkers is pretty thin and compacted), and you find it difficult to get under the ball adequately.  Here the added loft of a lob wedge can help dramatically, and keep you from hitting the ultra-deflating sand blast shot that completely “air mails” the green.   

    Conversely, though, if you play most of your golf on courses with deep, fluffy sand, you may find that playing a standard SW is the better play, and will help you power through that beach and get the ball “up and on” more often, albeit with a bit more roll.

    Obviously, the best case scenario would be to find a way to test both clubs out side by side on your home turf, and see which club performs best for you.        

    What Is The Best Degree For A Sand Wedge?

    To best answer this question, I would actually suggest that we steer clear of thinking only in terms of loft numbers for this one club. 

    Probably the more important question to ask would be: “What kind of a gap (in terms of loft) would be ideal for me to have between ALL of the wedges that I carry?”  Start here, and you are much more likely to benefit overall in the short game arena.  

    For example, consider the fact that the standard pitching wedge that comes with your set of irons usually has a loft between 45-47 degrees (although manufacturers keep pushing it lower and lower these days… lofts of 44 and even 43 are becoming increasingly more common for a PW as technology & design continues to improve)

    Now compare that with what we said above, that the average loft of a sand wedge is between 54-57 degrees.

    So we’re talking about a likely 10-12 degree difference between these two clubs.  That equates to quite a “gap” in terms of golf course play (i.e. you’d likely see between 30 to 50 yds difference in terms of your average carry with each club on full shots).

    Because of this, most golfers opt to have a “gap” wedge in their bag (lofted somewhere between 50-53 degrees) so that you have a club to use in between.

    Thus, the best way forward in terms of choosing the right SW loft for you would actually be –

    (A) Discover the loft of your current pitching wedge (unless your current set of irons is very old, a simple online search should give you what you need here)

    (B) Aim to space out the lofts of your remaining wedges (gap, sand and lob) from there, so that there is a relatively equal difference in loft between them.  Note: Most club & teaching pros suggest that 4-5 degrees is the ideal gap between wedges.    

    In my bag, for instance, I have a Ping pitching wedge with 45 degrees of loft.  So I play a 50 degree gap wedge, a 54 degree sand wedge, and a 58 degree lob wedge.  Had I just gone with the “conventional” 56 degree sand wedge, the spacing would’ve been too great between my GW and my SW…. and too small between my SW and my LW (essentially creating a redundancy – not ideal when you have a limit to how many clubs you can carry in your bag).

    Author

    Jason Barbieri

    Jason Barbieri

    Jason Barbieri is an amateur golf enthusiast living in northern Utah. He got hooked on the game in his teen years, and has been an avid student of the game ever since. In addition to golf writing, he also works as an advocate for mentoring youth and young adults.

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