54 vs 56 Degree Wedge – Which Sand Wedge?
Looking to replace an existing sand wedge in your set? Have you just bought a new set of irons and want to replace all your wedges?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of buying a 54 vs 56 degree wedge.
What Is A 56° Wedge?
Traditionally 56° was the loft of a sand wedge in a standard set of irons. When I started playing golf 30-odd years ago a full set of irons consisted of 3-iron to 9-iron plus a pitching wedge and sand wedge.
Gene Sarazen came up with the original idea for the sand wedge.
What Is A 54° Wedge?
A 54° wedge probably fits better into the lineups of modern-day iron sets as the lofts have tended to be strengthened down the years. Some sets now have pitching wedges with as little as 45° of loft so a 54° sand wedge probably makes more sense if you want to stick to a two-wedge setup.
54 Vs 56 Degree Wedge: Distance Gapping
Sorry to belabor the point but if you’ve read any other of my wedge articles then you’ll know that in general, I would advise getting wedges at consistent loft gaps to help you hit consistent distances.
So depending on how many wedges you want to carry it might make more sense to add a 54° rather than a 56° wedge.
For example, if you currently had a 45° pitching wedge and your only other wedge was a 60° then I would suggest going for the 54° or better yet a 52°. This would give you a better balance between the distances you are going to hit the clubs.
If you are starting from scratch and are planning on getting four wedges then I would go with the classic combination of 48°, 52°, 56°, 60°. If you’re only planning to go with three wedges and like the idea of a lob wedge then you might be better with a 48°, 54°, 60° setup.
How Many Wedges Should I Use?
If you bought your set of irons some time ago then you probably just got a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. For many players that is fine and they get on quite well with just two wedges.
You may not realize however that there can be a large difference in loft between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. For this reason, many people will add a gap wedge so that they have a consistent distance between each of their clubs on full shots.
Dave Pelz is a big proponent of the four wedge system and as manufacturers have decreased lofts on irons down the years there is certainly more room to fit four wedges into a set.
In reality, all that is happening is the numbers stamped into the bottom of the club have changed. A modern 4-iron has the loft of a 3-iron et cetera so you need to add extra clubs at the bottom of the set to cover shorter distances.
To a certain degree, it comes down to what loft your 9-iron is and how many wedges you want to cover the lofts up to 56°, 58° or 60° depending on your favorite maximum loft.
Why Do You Need A Sand Wedge?
A sand wedge is primarily designed for you to play shots from the sand. Most sand wedges have a significant amount of bounce to help the club glide through the sand when you play a bunker shot.
That’s not to say you can’t chip, pitch or hit full golf shots with a sand wedge. Although the added bounce may make it tricky if you are playing from very firm ground.
How Far Do You Hit A 54° Wedge?
Depending upon your swing speed you will likely hit this around 5-10 yards shorter than your sand wedge (56°) on full shots. The more clubhead speed you have then the greater difference in distance between the two.
For example, if you have a 15-yard gap between your irons then you’re probably looking at around a 7-10 yard gap between your sand wedge and a 54° wedge.
A player with a 115 mph clubhead speed is likely to hit a 54° wedge around 123 yards if they can achieve an optimal strike.
Don’t forget that your iron game is more about consistency and accuracy than the actual distance you hit the ball.
When Should I Use A 56° Wedge?
Beginners and high handicappers are probably best sticking to using their 56° wedge in the sand. As you become more proficient at striking the ball and adjusting your swing, grip and stance you can start to use the 56° in different situations.
It should give you a bit more loft when chipping so if you need to get the ball higher to clear an obstacle it would be a better choice than your pitching wedge.
How Far Do You Hit A 56° Wedge?
On full shots, you’d expect the club to be a few yards shorter than a 54°.
Tour professionals will be hitting a sand wedge around 120 yards or so. Matt Wolff hits his 55° wedge 125 yards.
Most handicap golfers won’t see much difference between the distance they hit a 54° and 56° wedge. It’s likely that their average distances with these clubs will be fairly similar, particularly for players with slower swing speeds.
A player with an 85 mph swing speed will probably hit a sand wedge around 80-90 yards depending on their smash factor. Use this calculator to see how far your irons should go based on your swing speed.
Bounce On Wedges
The bounce angle on a wedge is the angle between the leading edge and the sole of the club.
Having the right amount of bounce on your wedges is important. Amateur golfers usually benefit from having more bounce rather than less.
However, it will depend somewhat on your swing and course conditions as well.
Bob Vokey, who knows a thing or two about wedges, suggests low bounce models (4°-6°) tend to suit players with shallow angles of attack who take minimal divots. They can be ideal for firm turf and bunkers with coarser or harder sand.
If you tend to have a steeper swing or play on lusher courses then you would probably see more success with more bounce (7°-12°).
54 vs 56 Degree Wedge: Conclusion
Whether you should go with a 54° or a 56° wedge is mainly down to what your current set consists of along with how many wedges you’d like to carry.
Try to keep consistent loft gaps between your clubs. This should help you avoid having as many fiddly half shots as possible.
It’s also worthwhile for better players, I think, to have a variety of bounce options on their wedges to suit different situations and courses.
Frequently asked questions [FAQ]
Is a 54° wedge good for chipping?
It comes down to personal preference really. Do you like hitting low running chips or higher shots that check-up?
Using the natural loft on a 54° wedge is going to give you a higher flight and less roll than a pitching wedge. Does that suit your game? If so then a 54° wedge is good for chipping.
Is a 54° or 56° wedge better?
I don’t think it’s possible to draw a conclusion as to whether a 54° or 56° wedge is better. For the majority of club golfers there probably wouldn’t be much discernible difference between shots hit by those clubs.
You should pick the loft that best fits your current set makeup.
Is there a difference between a 54 and 56° wedge?
To be honest there isn’t a great deal of difference between a 54° and 56° wedge.
Most players will hit them a similar distance with a full swing. Chip shots will look pretty similar as well.