As a new golfer, you know the bunker well. You probably bring a beach towel and some sandals with you every time you hit the links, but do you bring the right clubs?
Sand and lob wedges are specifically designed to help you out on soft surfaces, and even come in handy on the fairway and approaching the green. Typically though, neither of these clubs will come as part of a set.
So, what the hell are they? And could one or both of them be the answer to your golfing woes? Well, in this article we’re going to be answering these burning questions and then some.
Perhaps you feel you’ve started to plateau and need to shake things up a bit. Maybe you feel that while the pitching wedge that came with your set is okay, you need something more refined to really perform.
Don’t worry. No matter what brought you to this article, we guarantee it’s going to feel like less of a problem after you’ve read it.
What’s the Big Difference?
The main difference between the sand and lob wedge is the loft. Loft refers to the angle between the vertical line of the club shaft and the line that runs along the clubface.
The larger the number of degrees that make up the loft, the more immediate lift you’re going to be able to achieve. Loft can also refer to the trajectory itself.
Generally speaking, a sand wedge will have between 54 and 58 degrees of loft. A lob wedge will have anywhere between 58 and 64 degrees of loft.
Lob wedges have the shortest shaft length and largest loft of all golf clubs after sand wedges. They’re also identifiable by the subtle flange on the sole that enables a better dig beneath the ball.
You may have heard a lob wedge being referred to as a lofted wedge or an L-wedge. They haven’t been around quite as long as your other clubs.
First envisioned by ex NASA physicist, Dave Pelz, It wasn’t until the 1980s that they emerged in professional and mainstream golf.
They were a response to the burgeoning complexities of the modern game and ever more intricate green designs.
How Should You Use Them?
Lob wedges are a short distance club.
They provide a high velocity, with an almost triangular flight path. Due to this incredibly sudden and high arc, the lob wedge provides a really static landing with a large but immobile bounce and minimum roll.
This makes them handy for approaching shots from the fairway or rough.
Hitting the Green Beyond an Obstacle
This flop shot dynamic also makes them instrumental in navigating obstacles or hazards such as trees, small bodies of water, and bunkers.
The sudden stasis of the ball upon landing makes them ideal for placing shots on the green from behind one of these obstacles.
They give you the power and lift to cross over the hazard, and the controlled drop sets you up for an easy put or longer pitch.
Another fantastic feature of this kind of wedge is that they have great spin potential. More so than other wedges, golfers are able to do a little bit of shaping and create a lot of backspin.
This can reduce the shifting of the ball to an even further degree upon landing.
Before the introduction of the lob wedge, golfers had to execute a precise glancing shot with a pitching or sand wedge to achieve the high arc and sudden stop.
From the Rough
These wedges are particularly useful for pitching out of the rough.
The extra lift they provide you with gets the ball free from the grass as quickly as possible.
Your ball can then take a fairly unhindered flight path back to the fairway or green.
From the Bunker
If the sand is quite thin and compacted, a lob wedge will actually be preferable to a sand wedge.
It will help you get underneath the ball and provide the steeper launch required to place the ball in prime position for your following shot.
Pre 1930s, the sand wedge didn’t exist. It was invented by Gene Sarazen and gained him success on the course starting in 1932.
It has a very open face and a large amount of loft designed to get underneath the ball embedded, not just in sand, but any soft terrain.
They’re used to great effect in mud, roughs, and waterlogged grass.
Sand wedges initially had the highest loft of all golf clubs until the lob wedges broke out onto the scene.
How Should You Use Them?
Sand wedges are designed to skim over a soft surface and strike the underneath of the ball without any digging or burying of the club. This makes them perfect for escaping sandtraps.
The difference between using one of these over a lob wedge is in the distance of the shot and the travel of the ball on the grass.
Pro golfers can hit shots as long as 100 yards with a sand wedge. So, if you need some lift that covers some ground, they’re your perfect weapon.
Keep in mind these shots are difficult as you have to take into account more variables. Since the ball is going to travel further after landing, you’ll need to think about sloping and the state of the surface, anything that affects the final resting place of the ball.
Despite their name, they’re not always suited to use in the bunker. It largely depends on the kind of sand. If the sand is soft and loose.
They’ll be more proficient than a lob as there won’t be any problems digging in underneath the ball.
Pitching from the Fairway
You can also hit some really nice high trajectory pitch shots with the sand wedge.
These won’t be quite as steep as the trajectory gained with a lob wedge, but they’ll have a lot of extra distance.
Do the Pros Even Use Lob Wedges?
We’re all aware that pros will have a go to sand wedge in their collection, so let’s have a closer look at lob wedges in the professional game.
There have been numerous professional players that never used them. Tom Watson and Lee Trovino are often cited in this debate as masters of the game that never dabbled with the lob wedge, and that’s a pretty good point.
It illustrates that they’re not essential, and everything you need to play a hell of a round is already inside you and already inside your bag.
But, let’s think about the time frame these two golfers rose to prominence. Both of their careers peaked in the early 80s, just as the lob wedge was being introduced. Had they been born a couple of generations later, they may well have been avid supporters of the lob wedge.
Now, let’s look at more modern or present day pros. Do they indulge in a lob wedge? The answer is a resounding, yes! Tiger Woods, arguable the best golfer of all time, does use lob wedges.
In fact, pretty much all the top ranked golfers at the minute bring the lob or a variation of the lob along with them. Dustin Johnson - the number one ranked golfer in the world today - often uses a hi-toe wedge with 64 degrees of loft.
Rory Mcllroy was ranked second in the world at the start of 2020. He famously carries four different wedges with him, at least two of which are lobs.
The pros do indeed indulge in the lob! Not to say that every golfer should, but all signs point to it being a pretty useful tool on the course.
Should You Have a Lob Wedge, a Sand Wedge, or Both?
It really comes down to personal preference. The truth is, neither one is going to magically improve your game or lower your handicap.
They’re different clubs with different dimensions that require certain techniques that will take time to master.
One fairly poignant argument against the addition of a lob wedge to your bag is that, with a little bit of practice and skill, you can make a sand wedge do a lot of the things that the lob wedge does. It involves adjusting your grip and opening the clubface a little as you make contact, giving you a few extra valuable degrees of loft.
This is a great technique to learn, but it’s important to note that as you open up the clubface of your sand wedge, the bounce angle of the club will increase. This doesn’t matter on a soft pack surface like sand or fluffy grass, but on some cropped, firm lie, it may cause a problem. It increases the chances of striking the ball in the middle or upper zone, leading to a par destroying skull shot.
So, there are a lot of techniques you can practice to give your sand wedge a bit of versatility, but we don’t think that’s a reason to completely ignore the lob wedge.
In fact, it would probably take a similar amount of time and effort just to familiarise yourself with a lob wedge in the first place. And who says you can’t master both?
Are They Appropriate for Beginner and Intermediate Golfers
There are plenty of purists out there that swear you shouldn’t use a lob wedge until you’ve attained a certain level of proficiency with the sand wedge.
It’s commonly thought that the lob wedge, though capable of awesome things, is much harder to use. It requires longer swings and more precision as you address the ball, especially if you want some of that zippy backspin.
Then at the other side of the debate, we have golfers who acknowledge the difficulty of the lob wedge but think this makes it a separate discipline that should be learned alongside sand wedge technique from the get go.
We see where both sides are coming from, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter which way you lean. Both these methods will work as long as you put in the time and effort.
For the Bunker
Now, we’ve already talked about how, depending on placement and sand type, a lob will suit some situations in the bunker, and the sand wedge will suit others.
If you travel around a lot and play golf on a number of varied and interesting courses, we highly recommend you have both clubs in your quiver. You’ll need to be prepared for anything that comes your way.
However, if you only ever really play your local course and perhaps a couple others on occasion, it might be worth taking a closer look at the sand in the bunkers. Different clubs work better with certain sand types, so you could save some money only using the wedge most suitable for the terrain.
If you constantly deal with different kinds of bunkers, it makes sense to spread the workload out between two clubs for three reasons. Firstly - as mentioned above - different types of sand require different approaches.
Secondly, all clubs deteriorate, but none so fast as wedges used in the bunker. Sand is just powdered stone, so you’re essentially grinding your clubs against tiny rocks every time you’re in there.
Using both wedges as and when necessary, will prolong their life. Thirdly, you’ll need different kinds of lift depending on where your ball lands in the bunker and if it has any raised lips.
If you’re in the front side of a sand trap, you’ll be fine to sand wedge your way to freedom. If you’re towards the back end and facing a slight ridge, you’ll need the quick lift of a lob wedge.
Let’s pit these two against each other in a simple Pros and Cons list using all the information we’ve discussed over the course of the article.
- Larger loft gives you higher trajectory
- You can apply lots of spin to the ball
- Improves accuracy of chip shots as the ball comes to a stop quickly
- Shorter shaft makes them great for shorter shots
- Great to use in certain bunker situations
- Will lift you out of the rough with ease
- Can’t hit the distances a sand wedge can
- Quite difficult to learn how to use correctly
- Great for chipping with some distance
- Perfect for most situations in the bunker
- Can be used for pitching shots on the fairway and approaching the green
- You can achieve a lob style shot with certain techniques
- More versatile than the lob wedge
- Not as accurate
- High trajectory shots are harder
It seems a sand wedge is considered a more essential tool purely because of its longer standing history in the game.
Denying the benefits of owning a lob wedge doesn’t really make much sense to us. It’d be like Nike offering a runner a shoe more suited to the terrain in a coming race, and the runner refusing to use it because he can already run well in his current pair.
We think the most important thing to consider here is the nature of the two clubs. The fundamental question is, do they achieve different things?
And the answer is of course, yes, they do. They’re both distinct in their design and application, and each requires different techniques if they’re to be used properly.
This dichotomy between them makes them both valuable tools on a modern course, and once you’ve gotten the hang of each one, your game will improve and your fluency will lead to an altogether more varied and enjoyable experience.
That said, if you absolutely must choose one, ask yourself which would suit your home course better.