Club manufactures naturally want to differentiate themselves from their competitors, so often give their club a unique name whereas in reality it's the same as any other with the same loft. This trend has been changing in recent years, with club manufacturers like Cleveland and the Titleist Vokey series labelling their wedges with lofts and bounce angles, rather than specific names.
Most players carry 3 wedges; a 48-degree pitching wedge, a 56-degree sand wedge, and a 60-degree lob wedge. It's recommended to aim for a 4-degree gap between your wedges, which equates to roughly 20-yards difference in distance. This means many players also carry a 52-degree gap wedge. This wedge spacing bridges the 'gap' between a pitching wedge and sand wedge.
Your wedge distances will depend on a number of factors; technical ability, physical strength, weather, lie, and not least the loft of the particular wedge you are using. That said, most amateur players should expect to hit a pitching wedge between 100 and 150 yards, a sand wedge 80 to 120 yards, and a lob wedge 60 to 100 yards. Getting to know your wedge distances is critical to a solid approach game.
The niblick is a now obsolete golf club which was the precursor to the modern pitching wedge. The word niblick comes from Scottish Gaelic and translates to something like 'short-nose', which neatly describes the club's appearance. A niblick had a smaller head than modern wedges, so would be pretty tricky to hit.
Niblicks first appeared in the late in the early 1800s as wooden spoon-faced clubs designed to gouge a ball from a tricky lie (something we can all relate to). At that time, golf courses were a far cry from the manicured grown-up playgrounds of today. Finding your ball in an unplayable lie would have been commonplace. The niblick was designed to get your ball up and out of such a lie.
You could think of the term 'niblick' like the term 'wedge' today; it refers to a family of golf clubs with a variety of lofts. The design of the niblick evolved over about 200 years. When the modern pitching wedge superseded the niblick, both clubs had around 48 degrees of loft.
Largely superseded by the modern 47-degree pitching wedge, 10-irons are one club shorter than a 9 iron. Though less popular than they once were, they've not disappeared. Callaway's seminal Big Bertha irons featured a 10 iron. More recently, Japanese club manufacturer Honma Golf sell their TW747 irons in 3 through 11. So in the wise words of David Brent, you can still find them.
The 10 iron has a sharper leading edge (i.e. less bounce) than a wedge. This makes it easier to catch a 10 iron 'heavy' and generally makes for a less forgiving club. Not what you want for delicate shots around the green.
Choosing to use a 10 iron instead of a wedge is very much personal preference. Some players prefer the aesthetic of an iron when playing a full-swing wedge shot. Feeling good over the ball, particularly with approach play, really is half the battle.
Pitching wedges today have around 48 degrees of loft. 20 years ago, pitching wedges had approximately 52 degrees of loft, but the relentless strengthening of lofts by club manufacturers means a pitching wedge today has around the same loft as a 9 iron of old.
How far you should hit a pitching wedge depends very much on ability, strength, and conditions. That said, most amateur players should expect to hit a pitching wedge somewhere between 100 and 150 yards. Understanding the unique variables involved in every pitch shot -- wind, heat, lie etc -- will go a long way to helping you judge distance. Distance control is critical in all golf shots, and nowhere moreso than in wedge play.
Pitching wedges have less loft than sand wedges, meaning they go further, but there are design differences between the clubs too. Sand wedges are designed to move more easily through soft lies (i.e. sand). Pitching wedges aren't. Basically, don't use a pitching wedge in a bunker. You'll be making your life more complicated than it needs to be. Golf is hard enough as it is.
Most golfers look for a separation of 4 degrees between clubs. A gap wedge is so-called because it fills the 'gap' between pitching and sand wedges. Pitching wedges are around 48 degrees, so a 52-degree gap wedge fills the space between it and a 56-degree sand wedge.
Some argue that club manufacturers have created the need for a gap wedge by gradually strengthening the loft of their clubs. In the 1990s, a pitching wedge would have been around 52 degrees. In 2019, the average pitching wedge has approximately 48 degrees of loft. However, the loft of a sand wedge has remained unchanged at 56 degrees. This means a 'gap' has opened up between pitching and sand wedges, which club manufacturers are only too happy to fill.
Gap wedges go by many pseudonyms; approach wedge, fairway wedge, and dual wedge to name but three. These are largely the attempt of club manufacturers to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and on the whole, aren't structurally different from one another. Today, many gap wedges have the loft & bounce angle stamped on them, rather than the traditional 'G' or 'GW'.
Like a crocodile or a great white shark, the sand wedge is seemingly immune to the effects of evolution. Its loft has barely changed over the last 50 years. This makes it a rare exception to the ruthless strengthening of lofts by club manufacturers.
The invention of the Sand Wedge is widely credited to Gene Sarazen, who had considerable success with a club designed specifically for playing from the sand.
Sand wedges have more bounce than their counterparts. This means they're easier to hit from soft lies one encounters in a bunker. It also means they're useful for playing from soft lies elsewhere on the course; think soggy ground, pine straw, or bark.
Lob wedges are used to hit high, soft-landing shots. As green speeds have increased in the modern game, the ability to hit high shots which stop quickly is more important than ever. This means lob wedges have become a necessary part of many player's arsenals.
Chipping with a lob wedge can be challenging. The nature of ball flight from a lob wedge requires excellent distance control, something many amateurs lack the practice time to develop. Medium to high handicappers should steer clear of using lob wedges for stock chip shots and favour a lower lofted club.
Lob wedge lofts start at around 60 degrees. Higher lofts are available - 70 degrees is not unheard of – although these are much more specialist clubs. To prevent thin or 'knifed' shots, lob wedges have lower bounce than their sand wedge counterparts.
When choosing the best lob wedge for your game, aim for a 4 degree gap between your wedges. So, if you've got a 56-degree sand wedge, a 60-degree lob wedge would fit the bill nicely. A 4-degree gap equates to around 10 yards in distance for the average club golfer.
A flop wedge is a high-lofted lob wedge. Also known as an X-Wedge or Ultra-lob Wedge, they generally start at 64 degrees of loft and go as high as 70. While considered a specialist club, they've gained popularity in recent years. This popularity is in no small part due to short-game wizard Phil Mickelson, who employs a 64-degree flop wedge almost exclusively around the greens.
Flop wedges are used to high very high, short shots. They're named after the flop shot; a high, arcing shot which stops almost immediately on landing. As with most anything to do with a wedge, Phil Mickelson is one of the greatest proponents of the flop shot.
Flop wedges are not generally part of the modern wedge setup, and it's rare to see them in a professionals bag. This is in part because a flop shot can be hit with a more versatile 60-degree lob wedge by adjusting the setup; namely by opening the stance and clubface.
Wedge names are mostly about marketing; one person's approach wedge is another's fairway wedge. Look past the branding and ensure you carry a selection of wedges which serve your needs. Find the right combination of wedges, and you'll shoot lower scores. Who doesn't want that?