What's the difference between PW, AW, SW, & LW?

Thomas Tanner
Mar 02, 2018
3 minutes

Last updated: 29 November 2023

Wedges are the clubs used for the shorter and more accurate shots in golf. Approach shots, chip shots, pitch shots, bunker shots, lob shots to mention just a few. There are different types of wedges generally defined by the lofts they have. This is measured in degrees and each one is designed to do a certain job. Understanding the different types of wedges and knowing a little about their degree of loft can help you choose the most appropriate one for any situation which may arise on the course.

Pitching Wedge

The pitching wedge is often the final and most lofted club in most modern iron sets. Pitching wedges are generally in the range of 44 to 48 degrees loft and used for hitting the longest wedge shots into a green. Pitching wedges are also quite handy for short pitch and run shots around the green.

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The pitching wedge is often the final and most lofted club in most modern iron sets. Pitching wedges are generally in the range of 44 to 48 degrees loft and used for hitting the longest wedge shots into a green. Pitching wedges are also quite handy for short pitch and run shots around the green.

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Sand Wedge

The sand wedge is more lofted than a pitching wedge, generally between 54 and 58 degrees. As the name suggests, one of its main functions is to hit from the sand in bunkers. To help with this you'll notice sand wedges have a wider, more rounded sole which allows the club to slide under sand but bounce back out the other side rather that getting stuck in it. This of course is not their exclusive use. Sand wedges can be used of regular wedge shots, they’ll just go a shorter distance because of their increased loft.

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The sand wedge is more lofted than a pitching wedge, generally between 54 and 58 degrees. As the name suggests, one of its main functions is to hit from the sand in bunkers. To help with this you'll notice sand wedges have a wider, more rounded sole which allows the club to slide under sand but bounce back out the other side rather that getting stuck in it. This of course is not their exclusive use. Sand wedges can be used of regular wedge shots, they’ll just go a shorter distance because of their increased loft.

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Gap/Approach Wedge

The next wedge is called a Gap Wedge. If your pitching wedge is 46- degrees and your sand wedge 54-degrees there will be a distance gap of about 30 yards between these clubs. A gap wedge is designed to bridge that 30 yard "gap". Your gap wedge will have more loft than your pitching wedge and less loft than your sand wedge. In our example a 50-degree gap wedge would do perfectly! Gap Wedges are also known as approach or utility wedges but "gap" is a very handy way to remember them because that's what they do.

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The next wedge is called a Gap Wedge. If your pitching wedge is 46- degrees and your sand wedge 54-degrees there will be a distance gap of about 30 yards between these clubs. A gap wedge is designed to bridge that 30 yard "gap". Your gap wedge will have more loft than your pitching wedge and less loft than your sand wedge. In our example a 50-degree gap wedge would do perfectly! Gap Wedges are also known as approach or utility wedges but "gap" is a very handy way to remember them because that's what they do.

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Lob Wedge

The final wedge is known as a lob wedge and will be the most lofted club in your bag. Coming in from between 58 and 62-degrees, as the name suggests they are used for very short approach shots where you need to send the ball up high in the air so that it drops and stops quickly on the green.

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The final wedge is known as a lob wedge and will be the most lofted club in your bag. Coming in from between 58 and 62-degrees, as the name suggests they are used for very short approach shots where you need to send the ball up high in the air so that it drops and stops quickly on the green.

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Which wedges does a beginner need? 

The best players in the world can carry up to four wedges so they can be sure they have the right club for any scenario. As a beginner though, two wedges will be plenty. One, probably a pitching wedge (PW), for full shots from around 100-120 yards, and a more lofted wedge, probably a sand wedge (SW), for use around the green and out of the bunkers. You will probably have both of these as clubs within your iron set.

Which one should you get first? 

As a beginner you need confidence in your short game and therefore a wedge, of any loft, that you feel you can pitch and chip with. In terms of loft, a traditional sand wedge is a great option - something from 52-56 degrees. As mentioned above, you've probably got a SW as an extension of your iron set. If not, an investment in to a specialist wedge would be a great option as this will have the correct level of bounce and more specialist technology for a more consistent short game.

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What is a specialist wedge?

We use the term Specialist Wedge  to refer to a wedge that is not part of your irons set. It will be designed to be a wedge through and through with specific technology related to controlling flight and spin around the green. It will look different and most of the time be bladed in design rather than have a cavity back.

Examples of these are the Titleist Vokey, Callaway Mack Daddy, and TaylorMade Milled Grind wedges.

What about chippers? 

If you're really stuck for confidence and you've think you've tried everything, you've probably not tried a chipper. These "wedges" are a great option for golfers who crave a more consistent short game, specifically chipping. Think of these clubs as a lofted putter. They sit upright and allow you to use your putting stroke to pop the ball up and get it running across the green, just like a putt would.

So there you are, pitching wedges to go long, sand wedges for bunkers and shots that go short, gap wedges which go in between and lob wedges for the spectacular aerial shots around the green. Take a look at the best wedges for under £75 to start your journey to a better shot game and better scoring.

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Further reading

Wedges are used in the scoring zone of golf, and just as the right ones can help you make birdie or get out of a tricky situation with par, having the wrong wedges can leave you dreadfully exposed out on the course and cost you shots.

A wedge is a wedge, right? Well, not so hasty! Do you have a steep or shallow attack into the ball, is the sand at your local golf course soft or hard, are the fairways rock hard – or does it always rain where you live; is the rough long or short, what sort of grass is it, do you prefer to run the ball up, or throw it up high?