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Gear Junkie 101: An introduction to wedge bounce and grinds

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Since I designed my first line of wedges in the late 1980s, I can confidently say that I have interacted with close to a hundred thousand golfers–whether through countless phone calls, to the thousands of golfers I’ve engaged personally, to the online wedge-fitting platforms I have created, to the near-decade of writing my blog as “The Wedge Guy.”

Through all those engagements with golfers of all skill levels, the most frequent topic of conversation, confusion, and exasperation has to be the subject of bounce and grinds on wedges. And it’s no wonder, with the mind-boggling array of bounce/grind/loft combinations offered by the major and minor brands who engage in the wedge category.

I was honored that GolfWRX turned to me to write the first article in their sure-to-be-a-hit series called “Gear Junkie 101.” My goal with this examination of bounce and grinds is to help you develop a complete, and maybe slightly different understanding, of just how the sole of your wedges works and how to tackle the difficult process of finding what specific sole design will work best for you on a day in and day out basis.

What is bounce?

So, let’s start with a basic definition of “bounce.” Very simply, bounce is the downward angle of the sole of a wedge (or any golf club actually) from the leading edge to the trailing edge, measured in degrees from the pure horizontal plane (i.e. the turf). Typically, the bounce angle as it applies to wedges ranges from mid-single digits (5-8 degrees) to the mid-teens (12-15 degrees). It should make sense that the higher the degree of bounce, the more the sole of the club will tend to be “rejected” by the turf.

That’s pretty straightforward, but the subject is anything but that simple.

The “effective bounce” of a wedge is a function of both that measured bounce angle and the width of the sole. For example, a narrow sole with 12 degrees of bounce might perform almost the same as a wider sole with 8 degrees of bounce. In today’s marketplace, there are narrow sole wedges with bounce angles as high as 30-40 degrees, while the early lob wedges had very wide soles and claimed bounce angles of almost zero (they really were not that, of course). Since you are always making some degree of a descending blow to the golf ball, a negative bounce wedge would be more of a shovel than a wedge. Oh, and if part of the sole has a “negative bounce,” where the sole’s surface slants back upwards from the plane of the turf, then that part of the sole is going to have a very minimal effect on turf interaction.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this image from golfguideforbeginners.com is certainly helpful.

What are wedge grinds?

Now we can add to this expanding high/low bounce equation the myriad of various “grinds” available to golfers by the numerous companies engaged in the manufacture and marketing of wedges. From the custom world, the options are practically endless, and it appears most of them stem from detailed work with specific tour professionals (more on that later). Some like a sharper leading edge, while others want it more rounded. Some like a pretty straight leading edge, while others prefer some curvature from heel to toe. The options are practically endless when you are standing next to the guy on the wheel actually doing the grinding.

They also talk about “toe relief”, “heel relief” and a nearly whole alphabet of specific grinds – ‘C’, ‘K’, etc. But all these are proprietary references by the manufacturers, and there are no set of “standards” as to what each grind really is. That makes it tough on golfers to figure out what will serve you best. The market leader alone offers at least six different “stock” grinds, and other brands have their own countless variations as well. So how do you make sense of all that and choose the sole design that will serve you best?

I will share that, in my experience, only the very best golfers can really tell the difference between grinds and sole designs that differ only slightly from one another. Because tour players spend thousands of hours honing their wedge skills, they can feel things that are barely measurable. And, of course, the major brands bend over backwards to accommodate their staff professionals. These guys and ladies can fully appreciate the subtle nuances of one wedge to another that might look identical to an untrained eye. A one- or two-degree difference in bounce, or a sole width that is only 50 thousandths of an inch wider or narrower can make a difference to these elite players. But then, they get to test and try wedges provided to them for free, so they can experiment all they want, can’t they?

Leading edge, trailing edge, and heel grinds on Tiger Woods’ 56-degree TaylorMade MG2 wedge.

It has been my observation that even the very best recreational golfers typically do not approach this acute level of skill, but I have seen some that can detect differences that would escape notice of even active recreational golfers of more “average” skills.

I’ll get a bit skeptical here in saying that I have long challenged the notion that bounce can be accurately “fitted” through a simple examination of your swing path and/or the turf. My difficulty with that premise stems from those extensive golfer engagements wherein the vast majority of golfers–regardless of handicap–revealed to me that both turf conditions and their swing path are constantly changing. Hmmmm. Then how could you possibly “fit” either variable? That would be like trying to buy a pair of shoes if your feet were different sizes every day, wouldn’t it?

But you have to start somewhere to sort through the wilderness of bounce angles and grinds, so, let me offer you my advice and see if that can’t help you through the process.

First of all, I believe that the potentially negative effect of the “wrong” bounce is much less on full swing shots than it is on the short delicate shots around the greens–clubhead speed can make up for a lot. Unless the bounce angle of the wedge is just a terrible match to your most common full swing path, I think “close is good enough” in this aspect. In general, however, I think if you play the usually lush turf of the northern U.S., you will benefit from a more aggressive bounce and/or wider sole than if you play the typically tighter turf of the south and southwest.

Please understand that is a generalization, however.

Secondly, I do not believe you can fit bounce off of artificial turf, as even the best mats do not really imitate the real thing, where you will encounter different grasses, grain against and/or with your shot direction, etc. There is simply no substitute for trying different bounce options on the course itself, hitting shots you face regularly from the variety of turf conditions you encounter on a round-in, round-out basis. If you are serious about trying to get the right wedge, you simply have to hit a wide variety of shots with it (or one like it) to see how it performs under all conditions and shot types.

So, if you were looking for a shortcut, I just do not have one. In my opinion, to accurately evaluate any of the various bounce angles and grinds in search of the best wedges for YOU, you must take them to your course and hit the shots you hit regularly to see how they react to YOUR technique and conditions. In this wedge trial and testing process, put most of your focus on your bunker shots and a variety of short shots around the greens. Dollars to donuts says that this process will allow you to find one or two bounce/grind combinations that separate themselves from the pack as best FOR YOU.

Hey, this is golf, and if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. William King

    Aug 19, 2019 at 7:02 am

    First, turf and ground conditions alter and for many players who do not travel, this won’t matter that much. But even for those who do come across great variations in club/turf interaction, it may be better to stick with what you know and are confident with than to change to a club that may theoretically be better for the new conditions.

    Secondly, the differences in sand are enormous from course to course, and from dry to wet. That may well make it a good idea to have two or more sand wedges with different bounces.

  2. Harald

    Aug 19, 2019 at 6:50 am

    Very interesting and clearly stated information. But the expression is either ” guys and dolls ” (and long may Damon Runyon’s memory live), or “ladies and gentlemen”

    Keep swinging

  3. Mark Leonard

    Aug 15, 2019 at 1:38 am

    You mention “…you will benefit from a more aggressive bounce and/or wider sole than if you play the typically tighter ….”. Can you please explain what is meant by “aggressive” in this context?

    • Jack

      Aug 15, 2019 at 3:23 am

      Aggressive is high bounce. Cuz if you have a lot of bounce on a tight lie it would be hard to use the bounce without frequent thin bullets across the green. That’s my understanding.

      It is confusing to name it that way. Just think high bounce and low bounce. And also effective bounce by how you deliver your chip shots.

  4. Mel B Inglima

    Aug 14, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    The explanation of the bounce with its picture was helpful. The sole gets “rejected” by the turf. However, the grind discussion, without any picture was less clear.(Tiger’s club picture didn’t fully describe what was going on – I had to use my often wrong imagination!) I’m left to assume that unless I’m a plus handicap golfer or professional, just don’t worry about it! Correct?

    As to trying different wedges on the course – whether the actual club you might buy or ones very similar – how do you accomplish this? I’ve found that equipment stores just do NOT want to lend out wedges. Pro shops may from time to time but they have far fewer choices.

    So, help! How do I really try out several wedges before buying? I’m not happy with my current wedges but very unsure about buying new ones without significant testing. (I’m a single digit)

    Thanks,

    • Wayne

      Oct 17, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      I was thinking exactly the same, this article didn’t help one bit, there isn’t much chance of being given a new wedge to go hit off artificial turf at a driving range, never mind being given one to take out and hit off real turf.
      Surely there are guidelines to the type of bounce and or grind best suited to a very firm links course compared to a much softer inland course, the same for heavy compact sand or light fluffy type sand.

      After reading the last paragraph I’m left wondering how on earth someone can use an online system to find the correct wedge.

  5. Stacey Uchtman

    Aug 14, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Do you think a player will “learn” a specific swing based on the wedges they carry? Meaning in the first wedges they carry, do you think they will adjust and learn to play them and eventually be comfortable with that particular bounce/grind making it difficult to move to another combination? Mainly around the greens and less on full shots.

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Whats in the Bag

Dustin Johnson WITB 2020

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Driver: TaylorMade SIM (10.5 @ 10 degrees, D4 swing weight)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 6 X (tipped 1 inch, 45.75 inches)

Fairway wood: TaylorMade SIM Max (15 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila RIP Alpha 90 X

Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max Rescue (22 @ 19 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Black 105 X

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), TaylorMade P730 DJ Proto (4-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 (soft stepped)

Wedges: TaylorMade MG2 (52-09, 60-10 @ 62 degrees)
Shafts: KBS Tour Custom Black 120 S

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Mini
Grip: SuperStroke Traxion Pistol GT 1.0

Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet 58R (1 wrap 2-way tape + 2 wraps left hand, 3 right hand)

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Top 10 clubs of 2003—inspired by Adam Scott’s Titleist 680 irons

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As has been well documented, Adam Scott recently won the Genesis Invitational with a set of Titleist 680 blade irons, a design that was originally released in 2003. One of the great benefits of being one of the best players in the world is you don’t need to search eBay to find your preferred set of 17-year-old irons. Titleist has been stocking sets for Mr. Scott—even to the point of doing a limited production run in 2018 where they then released 400 sets for sale to the general public.

A lot of time has passed since 2003, and considering the classic nature of Scott’s Titleist 680, I figured now was a good time to look back at some other iconic clubs released around the same time.

Ping G2 driver

This was Ping’s first 460cc driver with a full shift into titanium head design. The previous Si3 models still utilized the TPU adjustable hosel, and this was considered a big step forward for the Phoenix-based OEM. The driver was a big hit both on tour and at retail—as was the rest of the G2 line that included irons.

TaylorMade RAC LT (first gen) irons

The RAC LTs helped position TaylorMade back among the leaders in the better players iron category. The entire RAC (Relative Amplitude Coefficient) line was built around creating great feeling products that also provided the right amount of forgiveness for the target player. It also included an over-sized iron too. The RAC LT went on to have a second-generation version, but the original LTs are worthy of “classic” status.

TaylorMade R580 XD driver

Honestly, how could we not mention the TaylorMade R580 XD driver? TM took some of the most popular drivers in golf, the R500 series and added extra distance (XD). OK, that might be an oversimplification of what the XD series offered, but with improved shape, increased ball speed outside of the sweet spot, and lower spin, it’s no wonder you can still find these drivers in the bags of golfers at courses and driving ranges everywhere.

Titleist 680MB irons

The great thing about blades is that beyond changing sole designs and shifting the center of gravity, the basic design for a one-piece forged head hasn’t changed that much. For Adam Scott, the 680s are the perfect blend of compact shape, higher CG, and sole profile.

Titleist 983K, E drivers

If you were a “Titleist player,” you had one of these drivers! As one of the last companies to move into the 460cc category, the 983s offered a classic pear shape in a smaller profile. It was so good and so popular, it was considered the benchmark for Titleist drivers for close to the next decade.

Cleveland Launcher 330 driver

It wasn’t that long ago that OEMs were just trying to push driver head size over 300cc, and Cleveland’s first big entry into the category was the Launcher Titanium 330 driver. It didn’t live a long life, but the Launcher 330 was the grandaddy to the Launcher 400, 460, and eventually, the Launcher COMP, which is another club on this list that many golfers will still have fond memories about.

Mizuno MP 33 irons

Although released in the fall of 2002, the Mizuno MP 33 still makes the list because of its staying power. Much like the Titleist 680, this curved muscle blade was a favorite to many tour players, including future world No. 1 Luke Donald. The MP 33 stayed in Mizuno’s lineup for more than four years and was still available for custom orders years after that. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a set now you are going to have to go the used route.

Callaway X-16 irons

The Steelhead X-16 was a big hit at retail for Callaway. It offered greater forgiveness than the previous X-14’s but had a more compact shape with a wider topline to inspire confidence. They featured Callaway’s “Notch” weighting system that moved more mass to the perimeter of the head for higher MOI and improved feel. There was a reduced offset pro series version of the iron, but the X-16 was the one more players gravitated towards. This is another game improvement club for that era that can still be found in a lot of golf bags.

Ben Hogan CFT irons

The Hogan CFTs were at the forefront of multi-material iron technology in 2003. CFT stood for Compression Forged Titanium and allowed engineers to push more mass to the perimeter of the head to boost MOI by using a thin titanium face insert. They had what would be considered stronger lofts at the time sounded really powerful thanks to the thin face insert. If you are looking for a value set of used irons, this is still a great place to start.

King Cobra SZ driver

In 2003, Rickie Fowler was only 15 years old and Cobra was still living under the Acushnet umbrella as Titleist’s game improvement little brother. The Cobra SZ (Sweet Zone, NOT 2020 Speed Zone) was offered in a couple of head sizes to appeal to different players. The thing I will always remember about the original King Cobra SZ is that it came in an offset version to help golfers who generally slice the ball—a design trait that we still see around today.

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Today from the Forums: “The importance of wedge fitting”

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Today from the Forums we delve into a subject dedicated to wedge fitting. Liquid_A_45 wants to know if wedge fitting is as essential for golfers as iron fitting, and our members weigh into the discussion saying why they feel it is just as imperative.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • Z1ggy16: “Super important if you’re a serious golfer. Even better if you can get fit outdoors on real grass and even go into a bunker.”
  • ThunderBuzzworth: “The biggest part of wedge fitting is yardage gapping and sole grinds. If you have a grind that doesn’t interact with the turf in your favor, it can be nightmarish around the greens. When hitting them try a variety of short game shots with different face angles etc. with the different grinds to see which one works best for what you need.”
  • Hawkeye77: “Wedge fitting I had was extremely beneficial when I got my SM6s a few years ago. Mostly for working with the different grinds and how they interacted with my swing and on different shots and having an eye on my swing to help with the process and evaluate the results. My ideas of what grinds were right for me based on researching on Titleist, etc. just were not correct in 2/3 of the wedges I ended up with as far as the grinds were concerned. Good to have an experienced fitter available to answer questions, control variables, etc.”
  • cgasucks: “The better you get at this game, the more important wedges are.”

Entire Thread: “The importance of wedge fitting”

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