How To Succeed at Bunker Shots: Here Are The Best Sand Wedges

When looking to upgrade their golf clubs, most players will first consider the putter, driver or iron set.

Wedges are often the last to consider.

Overall, the knowledge of players regarding the best golf wedges is lacking. Think about it: most of your golf course chats will most likely discuss drivers and putters more. 

However, that shouldn't be the case: a number of studies have shown that almost 25% of shots made by pros came from the wedges, and legends like Ben Hogan even put wedges as his top 3 most important clubs.

For that reason, it is extremely important to be able to get your hands on the very best golf wedges. And the golf industry knows that: they come out regularly with brand new golf wedges for you to take to the golf course. 

Our focus of discussion today will be the sand wedge. Most players will know that as the name suggests, the sand wedge is especially useful for shots on sand bunkers and traps.

In modern golf, sand wedges are more versatile than ever, and many pros are now using them for almost any shots from fairway to the greens.

By the end of the article, we will also give our recommendations for best golf sand wedge available in the market. Yet, let's begin by understanding a little deeper about sand wedges and their applications.


Questions & Answers

What are the different types of golf wedges?

There are generally four different types of golf wedges:

The Pitching Wedge (PW)

The most common wedge, mainly because it's often included in an iron set. Typically, the loft angle of a pitching wedge is around 44 to 48 degrees and the bounce angle is around 2 to 5 degrees.

48 degrees Loft Angle
5 degrees Bounce Angle

Primarily, the pitching wedges are used for longer chip shots, including long shots into the greens.

In modern golf, pitching wedges tend to have lower loft angles, which are intended to complement the current trend for longer-hitting irons. To choose your pitching wedge, make sure that the loft angle is not too far apart from your irons.

The Sand Wedge (SW)

58 degrees Loft Angle
16 degrees Bounce Angle

The topic of our discussion today. When it was first invented, the sand wedge was designed for shots on the sand bunkers, hence the name. Characterized by a heavier and wider sole design, and high bounce and loft angle.

Typically sand wedges have a loft angle of around 54 to 58 degrees and bounce angle of 10 to 16 degrees.

For quite a long time in golf history, the sand wedge is the highest lofted of all club and is the bread and butter club for chips and bunker shots. Nowadays, however, they are more versatile, partly because of the introduction of the lob wedges. 

In this article, we'll show you how to pick the best golf sand wedges. ​

Gap Wedge (GW)

As the name may suggest, the gap wedge is designed to fill the gap between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge.

Sometimes also called utility wedge (UW), or attack wedge (AQ).

Being a gap wedge, you can expect that the loft angle is above that of the pitching wedge, but below that of the sand wedge, thus, around 50 to 53 degrees.

The same thing will be found regarding the bounce angle, around 5 to 10 degrees, although some specialty gap wedges can have up to 12-degrees of bounce.

Commonly used to make a fuller shot to bridge a distance gap, but sometimes can be used to add more variety for pitches around the green. Typically, you won't use it for longer chips.

53 degrees Loft Angle
10 degrees Bounce Angle

Lob Wedge (LW)

A relatively new wedge design, and now is the highest both in loft and bounce angle.

Typically, the loft angle is around 60 to 64 degrees, which is the highest among all wedges today. On the other hand, the bounce angle on the lob wedges is the lowest, sometimes as low as 0 degrees, to enhance their precision.

Those features will produce more flight trajectory and spin, making the lob wedges ideal for chip shots, bunker shots, and flop shots.

How many golf wedges should I carry?

The answer to this question will vary depending on your current skill level, and many other factors. Considering you can only carry a maximum of 14 different clubs, will carrying all 4 wedges be worth it?

At the very least, most players will carry a pitching wedge, which is often included when they buy an iron set. The gap wedges are increasingly important for modern golf plays and should be considered as your second wedge.

How about the other two, and especially our discussion focus today, the sand wedge?

Let's look at how the pros play: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, and Paul Casey are carrying all four wedges. On the other hand, there are those who are carrying only three, such as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day.

Here are the common wedge systems you should consider:

  • Two wedges with a pitching wedge and sand wedge
  • Three wedges with a pitching wedge, gap wedge, and lob wedge, take notes that using the lob wedge for bunker shots is significantly harder over the sand wedge
  • All four wedges

Here at Golf Influence, we thrive on only reviewing the best equipment - that is why we will show you the best wedges currently in the market.

When do I need to use a sand wedge?

The bounce angle is designed to literally bounce off to soft sands, hence the sand bunker is especially useful for bunker shots. You can also use it when the ball lies on thick grass or muddy grounds because it can bounce to the surface, and the angled sole will

The sand wedge, however, is a very versatile club, and you can use it anywhere from fairway to the green, as long the ball is not sitting on a hard ground or other firm surfaces.

Look at some of the best sand wedge applications on the greenside bunker on this video below.

And some best of the best shots from the fairway bunkers here.

What are the advantages of using sand wedges over other wedges?

The main benefit of the sand wedge is the high bounce, which differentiates the club from other wedges and irons. The high bounce accomplishes three things:

  • The head is heavier due to the bounce design, and thus moving the center of gravity low and forward for higher flight trajectory
  • More flexibility to address the ball, allowing the player to perfectly line the ball in the center because the leading edge of the sole is lifted off the ground
  • The angled sole (the bounce angle) allows the club to bounce off soft sand, thick grass, or muddy ground, allowing it to be ideal for bunker shots or similar shots to bring back the ball to the greens.

The overall design makes the sand wedge more versatile than the other wedges. They are also shorter compared to other clubs, which in turn will make it easier for golfers to put more spin.

What characteristics should I pay attention to when I buy sand wedges?

First things first, answering this question will depend on the condition of the golf course you frequent.

Depending on the condition of the golf course...


More shallow sand conditions

More shallow sand conditions

If you regularly play with more shallow sand conditions, then you will generally need a shallower sole, moderate bounce angle of around 7 to 11 degrees, and a swing weight of around D-5 to D-8. This type will also work well from the fairway green.

Grainy and loose sands

Grainy and loose sands

On the other hand, if you regularly play in grainy yet loose sands (think of a gravel), you will need more bounce angle of 12 to 15 degrees, wider sole and generally more swing weight of D-5 to E-0.

Powdery sands with trips

Powdery sands with traps

Lastly, if you play in powdery sands with a lot of buried traps and lies, you will need even more bounce angle of 16-20 degrees, even wider sole, and heavier weight of D-7 to E-2.

What if you change courses frequently? The well-rounded choice will be a medium to wide sole, a moderate bounce of around 12 to 15 degrees, and D-5 to E-0 swing weight.

What is the usual loft of sand wedges?

Typically the usual loft of sand wedges is around 54 to 58 degrees, although some can go up to 60 degrees and up. Choosing your loft angle will depend on the loft of other wedges and irons, try to not make it too far to each other.

54 degrees Min Loft Angle
60 degrees Max Loft Angle

How far can I expect to swing with a sand wedge?

Most skilled players with decent swing speed can achieve 80-110 yards of distance.

Of course, it will be dependent on your swing speed. Also, the sand wedge will naturally produce more spin, which in turn may suppress distance when you cannot control the spin properly.

Loft angle will, of course, affect the distance potential. Refer to this table here

The higher your loft, generally the lower the potential distance will be, in exchange for easier lobs and chips to get out from traps and bunkers.

This short video will help you understand how to swing the sand wedge properly.


Product Recommendations

Callaway Mack Daddy PM-Grind Wedge

We can all agree that for the wedge games, Phil Mickelson is among one of the best to grace the history of the game.

His stop and drops, chips, and almost all of his wedge shots around the greens will amaze just about everyone.

Many will say the secret of his wedge shots is his wedge itself, the 20-year+ old Ping Eye 2, which is very rare today, unfortunately.

The Mack Daddy PM (PM stands for Phil Mickelson), is Callaway's attempt at recreating the Ping Eye 2 with modern touches.

With Phil Mickelson and Roger Cleveland at the helm of its design, we can safely expect many great things from this wedge, so what's it all about?

First things first, there are four different loft angles available for the Callaway Mack Daddy PM: 56,58, 60, and 64-degrees. All loft angle versions have 10-degrees of bounce angle, excepting the 56-degree loft, which have 13-degrees of bounce angle.

You might notice that although the 60 and 64-degrees versions are better suited as lob wedges, they have a very high bounce angle, which isn't ideal for lob wedges.

You can think of the 60 and 64-degrees version as specialty wedges, a sand wedge with very high loft, or a lob wedge that can really bounce.

Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind
Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind
Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind

Here are some unique advantages you will get from the Mack Daddy PM-Grind sand wedge.

PROS OF THE CALLAWAY MACK DADDY PM

Unique Shape

Unique Shape

The first thing you will notice from the Mack Daddy PM wedge is the shape, which is totally unique for today's standard. The wedge is based from the Ping Eye 2, and you will find many similarities, albeit modernized.

The toe is very high and triangular, yet the leading edge is very rounded, creating an offset design. The face is basically covered with grooves from all sides, which is a good thing, and the center of gravity (CG) is moved backward to improve feel.

The result of this unique shape is more spin, more consistent distance, and more versatility, which is our next point.


Versatility

Versatility and Playability

The overall unique design and the wide sole allows a secondary bounce to an already excellent bounce angle, making it easier to do delicate chips and touch shots.

There are 39% more groove area compared to other wedges, giving you more forgiveness, especially when you shot with an open face around the green.

A unique bounce and loft angle combination, especially on the 60 and 64-degrees versions, will further improve its versatility. Simply put, the Mack Daddy PM just might be one of the most flexible and versatile sand wedges available today.


Versatility

Easy Escape From Any Traps and Bunkers

The unique shape of the Mack Daddy PM, paired with its relatively high bounce angle, allows even more bounce when used on thick grass, muddy situations, and all kinds of sands. Combined with its high spin, great forgiveness from the grooves, and versatility, you can easily get the ball back to the green consistently.

The unique combination of bounce with a shallow angle of attack will help those with steep attack habits, giving you more control and forgiveness to get out from tricky situations.


Feel - Review

Great Feel

The unique shape and weight might take some time getting used to. However, once you get into practice with the Mack Daddy PM wedge, you will realize how great of a feel this wedge actually provides.

Although the stock swing weight is only D4, it feels heavier than it should, because of the unique shape and weight distribution. In turn, the Mack Daddy PM will allow better momentum as you hit the ball.

CONS OF THE CALLAWAY MACK DADDY PM

Sound Golf Driver

Sound

The sound produced is a little bit muted and dull, with a relatively moderate feedback. Although it won't matter much for a lot of players, the sound is definitely not a reason to buy or to avoid this wedge.


Practice

Takes practice

There is no doubt that the unique shape of the club head will need some time for players to get used to. The offset design might be a problem for some players, especially for tight fairway shots.

Bottom Line

Can you buy Phil Mickelson's short game with this Mack Daddy PM wedge? Yes! Well, almost.

You can't expect to throw this club in the bag and get amazing results anytime, as the unique head shape will definitely need some practice time.

It is especially good for bunker shots or to get out from thick roughs, of which the Mack Daddy PM is very easy to use and very accurate. However, it is a little difficult to use it on the fairways, as the offset design and shallow leading edge will make it harder to make clean contact.

You might think that being a signature club, the price tag will be costly, but that's not actually the case. 

The verdict? If you are willing to invest some practice time with the Callaway Mack Daddy PM wedge, it might just be one of the most versatile sand wedges around.


Cleveland RTX-3 Wedge

The Cleveland 588 RTX series is massively successful, selling over 10 million clubs ever since its invention in 1988. The latest entry, the RTX-3, superseded the popular RTX 2.0, and of course, we can expect great things from this wedge.

The RTX stands for Rotex face, which is the process to micro-mill the face to create more roughness between the grooves, which in turn, create more grip and forgiveness. You can choose a wide variety of loft angles from 48-degrees to 60-degrees, and the bounce angle is designated with the dots behind the clubface. 

Cleveland Golf Men's RTX-3 Wedge

One dot = low bounce angle, two dots = medium, and three dots = high bounce angle. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Golf

If you are familiar with the RTX 2.0 model, the grind is significantly changed in the RTX 3, to what Cleveland dubbed as the V-Sole Grind.

Here, the grind is far narrower than before, in fact, narrower that most of the wedges out there, allowing more versatility and easier time to go through thick turfs. Cleveland claimed that with the V-Sole, you will lose 23% less speed with every impact, which is definitely significant.

For the sand wedges, with lofts from 54 to 60 degrees, the V-Sole is wider and dubbed the V-FG, which also comes with high, three dots bounce angle.

One thing to also keep in mind is that the RTX-3 is a bladed wedge, which naturally will be less forgiving, as the sacrifice for giving more control and versatility. However, the rough Rotex face will compromise that forgiveness, and it is actually one of the easiest wedges to use through even the tightest lies. If you need more forgiveness, however, a cavity-back model is also available.

The Center of Gravity (CG) is placed near the heel but is closer to the center compared to that of the RTX 2. As a result of this new approach, the RTX 3 feels more balanced and on-point, which can dramatically improve your accuracy.

Compared to the Mack Daddy PM above, the RTX 3 has a lower natural flight trajectory. This will translate to a better control since you can have an easier time in judging distance. The spin it provides is also exceptional, so you can easily shape shots with the RTX 3.

Cleveland Golf Men's RTX-3 Wedge
Cleveland Golf Men's RTX-3 Wedge
Cleveland Golf Men's RTX-3 Wedge

Here are some of the advantages of the RTX 3 over its competitors.

PROS OF THE CLEVELAND RTX-3 WEDGE

Control

Control

The close to the center CG position, combined with its natural feel from the overall design, will produce a naturally lower flight than expected from most wedges. Yet, the Cleveland RTX 3 still provides a lot of spins for you to shot shape or to put backspin stop.

As the result, it is easier to judge and control distance with the Cleveland RTX 3, far improved from the RTX 2 and is among the best compared to other wedges in the market today.


Feel - Review

Feel

The Rotex face provides excellent feel, soft impact, yet with enough roughness thanks to the Rotex technology. Will give you more than sufficient feedback anywhere you strike.

The true highlight regarding the feel is when you swing the RTX 3 through the turf. More leading edge from the V-Sole design, along with the exceptional bounce angle will allow the wedge to smoothly glide through the tightest lies and turf, even if you mistime your swing so that you catch the ground before the ball.

The great feel will help to give you more confidence as you make your chips and lobs.


Looks, Design

Looks, Design and Sound

Regarding looks, the Cleveland RTX 3 is one of the better-looking wedges out there. A clean, classic muscle back design which will truly appeal to a lot of golfers. A little more rounded compared to the RTX 2, which, in our opinion, is an improvement.

The Cleveland RTX 3 is also one of the better sounding wedges and can give you plenty of feedback by sound alone.

CONS OF THE CLEVELAND RTX-3 WEDGE

Versatility

Versatility

Not saying that the RTX 3 is not versatile at all, but it is less aggressive compared to other modern wedges we can find in the market today, such as the Mack Daddy PM, which we have discussed above.

The high-bounce (three dots) grind, in particular, is less versatile compared to the mid-bounce model.


Distance

Distance

Although distance won't be the main focus for your wedge games, it will be a nice bonus to have. Simply put, the RTX 3 is not built with distance in mind.

The distance is exceptionally consistent in windy situations, though.

Bottom Line

The verdict? As a bladed wedge, it is obvious that the Cleveland RTX 3 is designated for mid-high level players with consistent accuracy. The forgiveness it provides is decent enough, and there is also the cavity back model as an option.

Regarding feel and control, the Cleveland RTX 3 is one of the most satisfying wedges today and will be satisfying for decently skilled players.


Mizuno S5 Blue Ion Wedge

The Mizuno S5 is Mizuno's answer for the modern demand for larger-profiled wedges. The S5 is the result of collaboration with Luke Donald, and we should say, it's a very satisfying forged wedge.

The S5 has a longer and deeper face compared to its predecessor, the Mizuno MP-T5, which in turn, will give you more forgiveness. It frames the ball very well, making it an ideal wedge for low-to-mid handicap golfers. It will also appeal to more skilled golfers, thanks to it's classic, very soft Mizuno feel.

It is forged from just a single billet of 1025 carbon steel. It will give a very soft feel, yet with excellent response and feedback.

Also, it provides a lot of options regarding bounce and loft angle selections, providing six lofts options from 50-degrees to 60-degrees alone, with a 2-degrees gap. You can even ask Mizuno for a customized in-between loft and bounce angle of your choice. Adjustability and personalization are always a nice option to have.

In the looks department, the blue ion finish is exceptional, although it's also available in white satin for more conservative golfers. The shape is rather unique, with what Mizuno dubbed the silhouette shape, somewhat of a hybrid between rounded and teardrop shape, common with Mizuno clubs of the past.

It is of average size and average weight, with a rounded leading edge for easier swings through the thick turfs.

Mizuno Golf- S5 Blue Ion Wedge
Mizuno Golf- S5 Blue Ion Wedge

Here are some of the key advantages of the Mizuno S5 compared to other wedges available today.

PROS OF THE MIZUNO S5 BLUE ION WEDGE

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Definitely the highlight of the Mizuno S5. The long and deep face will allow more margin of error with every shot, paired with what Mizuno dubbed the Quad Cut CNC.

The milled grooves technology allows the grooves to vary in width, depending on the loft to generate the right level of spin for more control.

The lower lofts have a deeper and narrower golf, and in the case for the sand wedges, wider and shallower ones for easier chips and lobs.


Looks, Design

Looks

One of the better-looking wedges out there, especially the blue ion finish. The back of the club accentuates the thickness, which in turn give a very beautiful curve.

The silhouette shape is a nice, modern looking upgrade from Mizuno's older models. If you are a player who cares about the fashion inside your golf bag, this might just be the right choice for you.


Feel - Review

Feel and Sound

Very soft feel, thanks to its fully forged clubhead, yet with exceptional feedback. Great grip and balance, as expected from forged heads. Also provides a nice, classic Mizuno sound.

If you are looking for the great feel of a forged wedge, the Mizuno S5 is definitely a decent choice.

CONS OF THE MIZUNO S5 BLUE ION WEDGE

Control

Control

It is a common knowledge that with more forgiveness, you will sacrifice control and shot-shaping abilities. Unfortunately, that fact is also true with the Mizuno S5. It's not really lacking in control, as it will still give you sufficient spin and feedback, but there are simply better wedges for that.


Distance

Distance

Simply put, the Mizuno S5 is not built with the emphasis on distance. It provides a decent distance, but not exceptional.


Versatility

Versatility

Less aggressive grind compared to other models available today. It's still decent, but again, there are better options. The versatility is actually better in the lower lofted models, which sadly is not the focus of our discussion today. For higher lofted models (sand and lob wedges), the versatility feels a little bit basic.

Bottom Line

The verdict? The Mizuno S5 is one of the most forgiving wedges available today. Regarding the higher loft for the sand wedges, the forgiveness is even more exceptional with wider and shallower grooves, allowing easier chip shots and lobs.

With great forgiveness, usually there will be a sacrifice in both control and feel, but that's not really the case with the Mizuno S5. It still provides a great, very soft feel with excellent feedback.

Yet, the same thing can't be said regarding control. Although it still provides a decent enough control and versatility, more aggressive players might want to look another way.


Editor's Choice

The three wedges we chose can be differentiated this way:

  • Callaway Mack Daddy PM for those looking for versatility
  • Cleveland RTX 3 for feel and control
  • Mizuno S5 for forgiveness

As you can see, each of the three will cater to different types of golfers, and choosing just one absolute best is definitely a daunting task.

However, if we really must choose just one, our choice goes to:

Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind

Callaway Mack Daddy PM

Besides the fact that Phil Mickelson is at the helm of Mack Daddy PM's design, it is, in our opinion, the most well-rounded of the three. The uniquely-shaped club head, as mentioned, will provide exceptional control and versatility.

Yet, it also has quite a decent forgiveness level, although not as much as the Mizuno S5, and a decent feel, although not as balanced as the Cleveland RTX.

The Callaway Mack Daddy PM is especially exceptional for bunker shots, of which a sand wedge is truly designed for.

It will take a little bit of practice to get used to, due to its unique head shape. Yet, when you are familiar with it, it is one of the easiest wedges to escape sand traps and bunkers, not to mention the excellent control and versatility you can get from it.

That's not to say the Mizuno S5 and Cleveland RTX 3 are far behind. They are pretty close to each other both in features and quality. However, as an all-around sand wedge, we felt that the Callaway Mack Daddy PM is an overall better pick.

If you have any question or suggestion, don't hesitate to leave a comment below! We will be really glad to help. If you liked this article, don't forget to help share the words around to fellow golfers. Stay tuned for our next articles on the best golf wedges - we'll post as soon as we get a chance to get our hands on brand new wedges.

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