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A Study That Changed the Way Golfers Think About Wedges

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Ever wonder: What’s the difference between my wedges and the ones used on the PGA Tour? The DNA is identical, but the actual clubs on tour are normally unique to each player.

More than any other type of club, the modern wedge was borne of and by the best professional golfers in the world. Its place in design results from the demands and navigation of the most difficult competitions and courses. But the obvious question of whether “tour wedges” are necessary or even suitable for average golfers may help shed light on our clubs in everyday use.

Commercially available, or “stock” wedges, are sold as essentially the same tools that tour professionals use, however, professional golfers have customized their wedges forever. Tour heads are naturally heavier to allow for the extra shaping. Players grind them to their liking in terms of sole, head shape and leading edge shapes. Generally, measurements have less importance than how the club looks or how the wedge works with their game. Specifications get recorded after modifications have been made. Manufacturers use the tour prototypes to share with the public the same basic equipment as the best players in the world use, but often the modified “one-off” clubs aren’t exactly the same as the final products found on the shelves.

At the heart of the matter: THE BOUNCE, or the angle of the sole plane relative to the ground plane, has always been a source of disagreement and debate. It used to be a widely held belief that tour players used wedges with extremely low bounce values. The perception was that the better the player, the less bounce was required and vice versa. While that may have been true in a few limited cases, normally clubs with low bounce angles had wider soles. Another way of saying that is the distance from the leading edge to the trailing edge was longer.

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A wider sole acts like it has more bounce, and it does when the player opens the face. The leading edge of the club lifts higher off the ground when the sole is wider, acting like extra bounce. Another wedge contour called “camber,” the roundness of the sole from the leading edge to the back of the sole, can substitute for additional bounce.

Whether genius or completely misguided, wedge manufacturers regularly published bounce values that were substantially different from the absolute values found on the clubs themselves. Even as recent as 1998, conventional wisdom regarding the amount of bounce used by PGA Tour players in so-called lob wedges was about 3 degrees. We now know that this was laughable. Better players are steeper… yes? So why would they use wedges with knife-like leading edges and soles? They wouldn’t with the exceptions of a few very rare cases. It turned out to be urban legend.

Typically, a very low bounce angle would incorporate a wider sole and more camber (roundness) to counter the effects of a flatter bounce angle. Wider soles act like added bounce, especially with an open face. These features are commonly found in so-called “game improvement” wedges for average golfers like Callaway’s Sure Out or the XE-1… you know, the one from the infomercial on Golf Channel.

Early on in my career at Cleveland Golf (I worked for Cleveland as The Senior Designer from 1998-2004 and consulted with them until 2009), we discovered that our documentation (brochures and other collateral materials) reflected inaccurate wedge bounce specifications. This was true of both consumer and “tour-only” products. Upon learning of these discrepancies, Cleveland Golf CEO Greg Hopkins (founder and owner of Hopkins Golf) dispatched me, a Cleveland consultant at the time, to travel the U.S. professional tours to measure and document all of the sole properties of every wedge in use in American professional golf. This was a gigantic undertaking involving more than 1,000 golf clubs. Over the course of several months, I traveled to PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours to measure wedges and document everything in a master database. We considered anything north of 45 degrees loft to be a wedge.

My Measurements

  • Bounce Angle (in three places): Toe, heel and center.
  • Sole Width (in three places): Toe, heel and center.
  • Rocker Radius: The roundness from heel to toe.
  • Camber Radius: The rounded contour from the leading edge to the back flange.
  • Leading Edge Roll: The sharpness or dullness of the leading edge.
  • Every Player Was Asked the Question: “Which loft is your primary sand club?”

Before this study, the task of creating tour wedges was something of a “black art.” It was iterative and often wasteful. We often had to custom fabricate many wedges for a player to get one in their hands. The results of the study might well have been one of the most revealing research projects in the history of the game. As a company, we were no longer guessing; we knew what wedges professional golfers needed and used, and it made our job a lot easier. We now had a primmer and a robust template to go by.

Through the study, we discovered the average loft progression for three-wedge sets was a six-degree spread: 47, 53 and 59 degrees. Almost no one played with a stock 56-degree sand wedge unless it was part of a four-wedge set, which was rare. The 56-degree wedges were normally bent to 54 degrees, and usually much of their flanges had been ground off usually to make them narrower (it should be noted that doing that actually INCREASES the measured bounce angle). The most common four-wedge loft progression was 46, 51, 54-55 and 59-60 degrees. We also saw many “pitching wedges” that were not matched to the iron sets. These didn’t look like 10 irons, but more like real wedges.

Finally, we learned that the vast majority of PGA Tour players had one wedge with higher relative bounce and one with lower relative bounce.

RELATIVE BOUNCE DEFINITION: If two wedges have identical sole properties (bounce angle, sole width, leading edge roll, camber radius and so on), the higher-lofted wedge will dig more and the lower-lofted wedge will act as though it has more bounce potential.

And most EXPLOSIVE of all, we learned that the average lob wedge (58-60 degrees) had 12 degrees of bounce angle. At the time it was stunning, to put it mildly. These high-bounce lob wedges were being used as the go-to primary sand clubs for the best players in the world. The so-called “sand wedge” (a 56-degree wedge with about 14 degrees of bounce) had become all but a dinosaur. The modern primary sand club has about 59 degrees of loft and 12 degrees of bounce.

The results of the research effort gave birth to several new concepts and a complete cultural change in Cleveland’s wedge programs. I like to believe that this was a paradigm for the entire industry at large, and we had contributed to the game.

  • We rid wedges of letters SW, DW, PW, and LW in lieu of loft numbers.
  • We conceived, developed and documented the concept of “net bounce,” a mathematical algorithm that predicted and derived sole specifications (bounce angle, sole width, camber and so on) for new wedge products at any loft. That is a part of the wedge development doctrine at Cleveland Golf to present day.
  • We introduced the concept of multiple bounce options for any loft, known as the “Dot” system. Shortly afterwards, almost all other golf companies followed suit.
  • Internally, we started to use the vernacular “primary sand club” with all of our fitting programs and wedge packages. And this was the way we communicated that to the tour as well.

We essentially changed the definition of what a sand wedge was. The subliminal connotation was that there were several sand clubs, not one dedicated to the purpose. Of course, we all now view sand play as achieved by using several different wedges. Within the context of the wedge business at the time, this was a very disruptive and pioneering set of actions, but we were only following the lead of what the tour was already doing.

Interestingly, wedges never really fit into the concept of the matched set. While the design of a wood or iron set with a “family-like” progression of features seems pretty straightforward, wedges don’t fit that mold no matter how similar the shape to its iron siblings. Average golfers mistakenly identify wedges as the shorter end of the iron set, basically the 10-13 irons. Well, IRONS they’re not! Wedges are in a class all by themselves. They are definitely not irons in the same way that hybrids are not fairway woods. As a matter of fact, modern wedges share more in common with putters than irons.

In the first place, wedges are used in a tactical way. Think of the difference of “tactical” versus “strategic.” A driver, fairway wood or long iron deliver more strategic results…in other words, long-range targeting to a larger area. Tactical means close in targeting to a smaller area.

Wedges facilitate delicate distance control because of their weight, high loft values, low centers of gravity and deep faces. Because of the large surface area of the faces, wedges offer a diversity of points which to strike the ball and get varying results. Furthermore, with the roundness of their leading edges and often their little offset — or even onset faces — wedges allow their faces to be opened substantially without the hosel getting in the way. Opening the face increases the loft for higher short range shots and increases the bounce potential of the wedge. Complex geometry of the sole lets the user orient the wedge with a diversity of setups. Large cuts on the toe or heal called “shelving” facilitate a more vertical or flatter setup by the golfer depending on the need.

Wedges have been likened to an artists’ paint brush or knights on a chess board. Similar to an artist’s paint brush, wedges are used differently than other clubs and produce shots differently every single time they are used. These are the tools of skillful golfing artisans. And like the adept use of the knights in chess, wedges deliver an obscure and invented type of shot, yet deadly results that confound the competition who has limited understanding of this part of the game.

Indeed the wedge game has become the modern signature of the very best players in the world. And if you think about it, it makes total sense. The modern wedge was developed with professional golf in mind.

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Don Wood is a 25-year veteran of the golf industry, and is the owner of MyGolfIQ.com. He has worked in golf equipment R&D, design and manufacturing for companies such as Cleveland Golf, Golfsmith, Wood Brothers Golf and more, and spent many years working with some of the best players in the world on their equipment needs. Don has many U.S. Patents pertaining to fitting and short-game golf equipment. He is currently a member of the instructional staff at Common Ground Golf Club in Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Tony Wright

    Jul 11, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Don an absolutely great article thank you. Unless I missed it, I do not see any discussion about the shafts used in tour wedges. Do tour players use the same shafts in their wedges as they use in their irons? If not why not, and what are the trends? Would love to hear your thoughts on this thanks.

    • Don Wood

      Jul 12, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Thank you Tony!
      As a general rule, shafts in tour wedges typically get a little softer. Wedge shafts can be basically “8 iron” shafts. But because the wedges have heavier head weights, the flex is softer. That’s not true for all as some tour players want their wedges to be the stiffest ones in the bag. And the wedges are almost always steel…even if the player has mostly graphite throughout the bag.

  2. Golf Code Weekly

    Jun 20, 2017 at 9:24 am

    What a great article!

    That was the most educational thing i have read in a long time, really interesting to learn about this stuff from someone who clearly knows a lot

    thanks!

  3. Bill

    Jun 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Please ignore trolls ooffa and SH. The discussion is informative.

    • Don Wood

      Jun 19, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Thanks Bill,
      Trolls are a very important part of our society these days. Their numbers…or lack of them tell a lot about the vulnerability of what we say. Golf Trolls Are people too. And if they cannot contribute to our game, they at least have the desire to be a part of the discussion. Let’s give em a break.

      • ooffa

        Jun 21, 2017 at 8:52 pm

        I’m sorry I didn’t mean “often incorrect”.
        I meant to say always.

  4. tazz2293

    Jun 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks for the article Don.

    Very informative and a great lesson.

  5. ooffa

    Jun 18, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

  6. Hack

    Jun 18, 2017 at 2:51 am

    1. Trial and error. You’re gonna have to own several lofts and bounces and rotate them according to what you’re going to encounter that day.
    2. 1968? Well they had, basically, rubber balls back then. Rubber could grip the surface, if the surface is sticky-clean enough, and won’t need too many grooves to get spin. Think in terms of Table-Tennis. Flat surface of rubber against plastic balls – the balls spin plenty from the friction (given that the balls are, yes, very light, but still the principle is the same). Modern balls are hard, even with urethane, and need grooves to spin them. But then again, that is why we got rid of square grooves, as those were grabbing the ball and spinning them too much

  7. Don Wood

    Jun 17, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Hello Bubba,
    Thank you for your question.
    I had driving range access and knew many of the players and player reps.
    Most of the time the players were pretty accommodating and didn’t mind a few measurements. All but a small handful had no objections. The other manufacturers really didn’t get the full understanding of what we were doing as it may have gone unreported by their player reps.

    Net bounce became important because a nominal bounce angle measurement wasn’t a reliable indicator of how the sole would behave without knowing its other properties. Also, a single measurement in the center isn’t indicative of the behavior of the sole on various types of shots.
    I’m not at all surprised at the bounce readings of your wedge.

  8. bounce

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Don, I don’t understand how grinding off the flange increases bounce angle? Wouldn’t the bounce angle stay the same, unless part of the high point of the camber was ground down? Can you help me understand that. thanks.

    “The 56-degree wedges were normally bent to 54 degrees, and usually much of their flanges had been ground off usually to make them narrower (it should be noted that doing that actually INCREASES the measured bounce angle).”

    • Don Wood

      Jun 17, 2017 at 8:56 pm

      Thank you for your question.
      The answer has to do with the camber or the roundness from leading edge to back of the flange edge.
      Bounce angle is measured from a tangent at the center of the sole equidistant to the edges of the leading and trailing edges. And so if one of these edges is moved towards the center as a result of grinding, the tangential center point migrates to the opposite side…along the arc of the camber.

      • bounce

        Jun 17, 2017 at 10:30 pm

        Ok that explains it. But if you measure it that way, how is knowing that # useful to anyone? You can have exact same wedges, both high points in camber intact, but 1 has relief on the trail edge. The one with relief is still playing the same way as the stock, as long as the high point in camber is still in tact after the grind. It plays the same way on everything except when the face gets wide open. Why call it “low bounce” just because sole length got shorter? It doesn’t tell the whole story.

        • Don Wood

          Jun 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

          Actually, the entire surface area of the sole has a dramatic effect on the “bounce potential” of the wedge at nearly any face orientation in the circumstances of thick contact. So if we grind the back flange to narrow the sole, that quantity is reduced. While a perfectly solid shot hit with a square face may not be affected, once we travel outside of those pristine strike conditions, we need to disperse the friction over a larger area.

          • bounce

            Jun 19, 2017 at 2:17 am

            don, anyone seriously putting relief on the trail edge is doing it to get the leading edge lower on open face partial shots.

            They could careless how it performs when you take a 10 inch divot, because this player simply doesn’t do that.

            Am I wrong?

  9. Rex

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Where’s the part about wedges?

  10. Desmond

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Appreciate the history lesson.

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Bethpage Black

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Bethpage’s Black course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened for play in 1936. It was immediately considered one of the best tests of golf in the world, and it has tested golfers coming from all over the world in its 83-year history. Bethpage State Park itself has five courses. The Green was the first course built and was originally called Lennox Hills Country Club. In the early 1930s, the Bethpage Park Authority purchased Lennox Hills CC and other adjacent property and turned the whole thing into what is now known as Bethpage State Park. Course architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel what would become the Green course as well as build the Blue, Red, and finally the Black. The Yellow Course was designed by Alfred Tull and opened in 1958.

Bethpage first hosted a major championship in 2002 when it hosted the U.S, Open. What is somewhat forgotten 17 years later as it hosts its third major, is how much the course had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. Luckily, the USGA could see through all of that and helped fund a complete restoration that was overseen personally by Dave Catalano, the larger than life (in both stature and personality) head of Bethpage State Park. Dave had been working at Bethpage since he was a kid in 1967, picking up papers in the picnic area. It was his baby, and with Rees Jones by his side, they painstakingly restored the Black to its former greatness and into a true championship test of golf. After the PGA Championship, the Black will be back in the spotlight 2024 as host of the Ryder Cup, joining a very short list of courses to host a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship, and a Ryder Cup.

Playing the Black is one of the most unique experiences in the game because of what it takes to get a tee time. There are a very limited number of tee times. They are easier to get if you are a NY resident, but for most of us, it’s first come, first serve. Which in practical terms means they have a parking lot with numbered spaces and people start showing up the day before to sleep in their cars to play. In fact, I can proudly say that the last three times I slept in my car it was just to play at Bethpage. One of those times I didn’t even get out on the Black and had to settle for playing the Red! Should have eaten dinner in the car I guess….

Every time I have slept in the car I have had a great time. It’s a party in the lot with a bunch of golfers hanging out all excited to play the next day. There’s usually a few beers around and one of the times, someone called a cab and went and got 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s at 1 a.m. to show us all some top-notch NY hospitality! That’s definitely not an experience you will have going to play any other top courses!

Once you finally do get to sleep, the staff wakes you up around 4 a.m. to go get in line and get your tee time and course assignment. Then you can go back to sleep or go eat breakfast or hit balls or whatever you want until it’s your turn to tee off. On your way to the tee, you see the famous WARNING sign telling you that the Black Course is an extremely difficult course which they recommend only for highly skilled golfers. Hopefully, you didn’t lose your tee ticket because you will need that to get onto the tee and trust me, they aren’t messing around with the rules!

The golf course itself sits on a huge, sprawling, fantastic piece of land with abundant elevation change and lots of random contours. The bunkering is big and bold and not to be messed with. There is abundant long fescue and numerous trees off to the sides of the holes which combined with the beautiful bunkering makes for a very beautiful setting.

The first hole is a downhill, almost 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is pretty flat and so is the well-bunkered green. The key for the player is to put their drive into the right place in the fairway to get a good angle to the hole location. From here you cross Round Swamp Rd and head to the second, which is a short, uphill par 4 of 389 yards. The fairway slants a little right to left and the green is elevated and can be a challenge to hold. The third is a par 3 that plays about 160 yards normally but has been brought back to 230 the PGA. This is one of the more interesting greens on the course; it’s wide on the right and falls away as it gets to the back and tapers to a smaller, more narrow section on the left. Bunkers flank the short left and right side of the green.

The fourth hole is vintage Bethpage Black and probably the most photographed on the course. A huge bunker flanks the left side of the fairway off the tee of the 517-yard par-5. Another, even more huge bunker looms at the end of the fairway cut into the from right to left. The tee shot is downhill but the rest of the hole is uphill. There is a second fairway to layup over the big bunker where you will have a partial view of the small, flattish green that falls away slightly and is protected by two more deep bunkers to the front and left. The fifth is a monster par 4 of almost 480 yards. A massive fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway which is also the best angle to come into the small, elevated green guarded by two deep bunkers short and one over the green.

FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK – MAY 15: A general view of the fifth green is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

No. 6 gets back into the more open and less tree-lined part of the property. The tee shot is semi-blind and over a hill. The landing area is pinched by bunkers on both sides. The long hitter who can carry the hill should have a very short shot into the flattish, oval shaped green that’s open in front and protected by bunkers on both sides. No. 7 is a converted par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the PGA. At 524 yards, it’s very long and the tee shot requires a long poke over another large fairway bunker. The green is again pretty flat and protected by deep bunkers in front.

The eighth hole is unique for the Black as it’s the only hole with water in play. A 210-yard drop shot to a green with some slope from right to left and front to back and a ridge running on a diagonal angle through the middle of the green. The shot must carry the pond short of the green and there is a deep bunker left and a hillside right. Nine is a 460-yard hard dogleg left that drops down off the tee and back up to the green. Another very deep bunker guards the left side and can be carried by the longer hitter. The right side of the fairway is the safe play off the tee but leaves an awkward shot out of a gully up to the green. The green is heavily guarded in front again by deep bunkers.

As the players make the turn, they are confronted with another long, tight par 4 of just over 500 yards. Hitting the fairway is key here as the fairway is heavily guarded by bunkers and fescue. The green sits on the other side of a little gully and is guarded once again by a set of deep bunkers. The 11th hole is 435 yards and has probably the most interesting green on the course. It has a little false front and two distinct tiers with some nice internal movement. A really good green on any course it stands out on the Black amongst what is mostly a flatter set of greens. 12 forces the players to carry it 285 over a massive cross bunker on the 515-yard par 4. The green is back to the more typical flattish oval, and characteristically is guarded in the front on both sides by deep bunkers. 13 is a par 5 of over 600 yards. One of the least bunkered holes on the course, there are a few bunkers on the left and a great little cross bunker about 60 yards short of the green that obscures the view of the green and will make the players think twice about going for the green in two. 14 is the best chance for birdie on the course. A par 3 that plays only 160 yards over a valley to a narrow, long green.

After walking off the 14th green the players cross back over Round Swamp Road to the home stretch of the course. 15 is always the hardest hole on the course for me when I play the Black. The hole plays 460 yards. The tee shot is flat to a fairway that bends slightly right to left and has no bunkers. The second shot is massively uphill. Over a hillside set with bunkers and a small section of fairway to a green set into the top of the hill and guarded by the deepest bunkers on the course. A very hard hole to make par if you miss the fairway or miss the green. The 16th has a downhill tee shot that will test the player’s judgement of the wind if there is any present. The green is well guarded especially to the right and is small with a little slant to it. The 17th is an uphill brute of a 210-yard par 3. The green is 45 yards wide and is huge. However, it does not look big from the tee as it is set amongst a veritable minefield of bunkers waiting to swallow up any wayward shots. The players walk up a hill to the 18th tee and stare down at a fairway that gets severely pinched in the middle by the huge bunkers on both sides. The green is then back uphill, it’s medium sized with a slight kidney shape and two deep, artistically shaped bunkers set into the hillside short.

All of this adds up to a great test of championship golf.  The course is pretty straightforward. There is not a ton of strategy other than hit it long and straight and make as many putts as you can. The greens are mostly pretty flat so there should be a lot of chances for birdie for those that can reach the greens in regulation. That said, the course has a ton of character when it comes to the land movement and elevation changes as well as the massive, artistic bunkers. New Yorkers are VERY proud of the Black and for a very good reason. It’s a fantastic golf course. Golf needs more top courses like the Black that are accessible to everyone and challenging to even the best players in the world.

 

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The 19th Hole (Ep 79): Miura’s new HB wedges and the Art of Golf

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Miura Golf COO Bill Holowaty talks about the new High Bounce wedges and other offerings from the legendary clubmaker. Also features Lee Wybranski, renowned artist and creator of the official posters for golf’s major championships.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Making the Weekend: PGA Championship 2019

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Ryan Barath from the “On Spec” podcast breaks down the leaderboard of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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19th Hole

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