Approach Wedge vs. Pitching, Gap & Sand: What’s the Difference?

Short approach shots to the green are one of the hardest parts of golf to master. This is especially true if the shot’s distance is between clubs, too close for a pitching wedge but too far away for a sand wedge.

That’s where an approach wedge comes in. It slots in between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, giving you another option for approach shots. More options mean more control so that you can laser in on the green.

Without the right equipment, you’ll have to take a shorter swing with the pitching wedge or try to blast your sand wedge. Both options can get you into all sorts of trouble. It’s not so easy to control distance by shortening your swing, and things can get wild when you try to blast a shot.

What is an approach wedge?

An approach wedge, also called a gap wedge, is a golf club that fills the gap between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. Approach wedges have more loft than a pitching wedge but less loft than a sand wedge. This means you’ll be able to hit the pitching wedge the furthest, followed by the approach wedge and then the sand wedge.

approach wedge

Why was the approach wedge needed?

The approach wedge was needed because manufacturers started lowering the loft of pitching wedges – well, irons in general. However, they kept the loft of sand wedges the same. This created a large gap between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge.

It meant that golfers might hit a pitching wedge 110 yards, while they only hit a sand wedge 90 yards. That 20-yard gap is too big of a difference for one club. If you only have a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, that makes those 100-yard approach shots much harder.

Without an approach wedge to offer an alternative distance, golfers can “choke down” on a pitching wedge and take a shorter swing. This allows a player to hit the ball a shorter distance, but it’s a hard shot to pull off successfully. Your swing must be very consistent to get the distance right on those shots.

Blasting a sand wedge is another option, which often leads to an out-of-control shot and tons of trouble. When you swing the golf club super hard, it increases the chances of something going wrong. You can mess up your tempo, break your posture, and lose your balance.

That’s a recipe for disaster in the world of golf.

So, taking a shorter swing with the pitching wedge isn’t the best option, neither is swinging like Bryson DeChambeau with the sand wedge. It’s better to take a controlled full swing rather than shorten the swing or swing like you want to murder the ball.

That’s where the approach wedge came in to fill the gap. You can take a full, controlled swing with an approach wedge for those 100-yard approach shots. Using an approach wedge makes it easier to hit the proper distance and land on the green.

Loft/Degree of an approach wedge

The loft/degree of an approach wedge varies, usually ranging from 47-52 degrees. There’s no standardized loft for golf clubs, and different golf club manufacturers have different lofts. For example, the Wilson D9 approach wedge has a loft of 47 degrees, while the Callaway Mack Daddy has a loft of 52 degrees.

This variation in loft applies to pitching wedges and sand wedges too. But all three clubs usually fall within a loft/degree range.

The table below shows the loft ranges for the three clubs. It also gives the range of expected distances for a pitching wedge, approach wedge, and sand wedge. These distances are based on the average player but will vary depending on the individual.

ClubLoft in DegreesDistance in Yards
Pitching Wedge42-46110-120
Approach Wedge47-52100-110
Sand Wedge54-5890-100

As you can see, the approach wedge fills the gap between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. It’ll roughly give you that extra 10 yards on the sand wedge and fall about 10 yards short of the pitching wedge.

This gives you a much better chance of hitting the green from about 100 yards out. Step up and take a full, smooth swing with your approach wedge and knock the ball onto the green.

You can check out our buyer’s guides for the best wedges on the market here and the best wedges for high handicappers here.

What loft/degree of approach wedge should you use?

The loft/degree of the approach wedge you should use depends on the loft of your pitching wedge and sand wedge. You want to have optimal spacing between each club. That way, your distances will be spaced out for the best results.

A good rule of thumb is to space the loft of each wedge out by 4-5 degrees. Each one-degree increase in loft adds about 2 yards distance. So, a difference of 4-5 degrees in the loft will give you about 8-10 yards variation in distance.

Let’s say your pitching wedge has a loft of 46 degrees, while your sand wedge is 54 degrees. A gap wedge with a loft of 50 degrees would be a good fit for you. That’d fill the gap nicely.

It’s a good idea to work with a professional club fitter to get this honed in. They’ll work with your stats and find the best fit for you.

Should every golfer use an approach wedge?

Yes, every golfer should use an approach wedge. That’s unless you want to make the game even harder for yourself.

And come on, who wants to do that? Golf is already hard enough as it is. There’s no need to make it any harder.

If you’re new to golf, you’ll soon see how much easier it is to get the distance right when hitting a full shot. And it’s great for your confidence when you know your approach wedge goes 100 yards with a full swing. At 100 yards out, you just have to concentrate on stepping up and making a good swing.

When you’re thinking about taking a half swing or a three-quarter swing, it can mess with your head. The indecision can lead to a bad shot. We know from experience that being stuck between shot decisions will more than likely lead to a terrible shot.

The approach wedge can get past all that. So it really should be in the bag for every golfer.

Approach wedge vs. pitching wedge

We now already know that approach wedges have more loft than pitching wedges. But there’s another critical difference between the two clubs. That’s the bounce.

Bounce is the amount of curve on the sole of the club. The more curve there is, the higher the bounce. The higher the bounce, the less the club will dig into the ground.

Check out our article, Wedge Bounce Explained, for a more comprehensive look at bounce.

A high bounce makes pitching easier because it allows the club to bounce through the turf. This helps stop the club from digging too far into the ground and causing duffed pitch shots.

An approach wedge has a higher bounce than a pitching wedge. Together with the higher loft, this makes approach wedges better for pitch shots.

You won’t always be 100 yards from the green and able to hit a full approach wedge. Sometimes you’ll be 50 yards out. The approach wedge is better for these shots compared to the pitching wedge.

The higher bounce makes the shot more manageable, and the higher loft means you can launch the ball higher in the air. That makes for a softer landing and less roll. Exactly what you want from a pitch shot.

Around the greens, the pitching wedge is better for playing bump and runs. This is a chip shot where the ball rolls out towards the hole. The lower loft of the pitching wedge will give you a lower trajectory and more roll.

Approach wedge vs. sand wedge

We already know that approach wedges have less loft than sand wedges. And bounce is another critical difference between these two clubs.

A sand wedge has more bounce than an approach wedge. This helps the sand wedge glide through the sand without digging in. That’s super important for those dreaded bunker shots.

If the club digs into the sand, you’d be lucky to hit the ball a few yards. And the sand wedge has more loft so you can get the ball high into the air to clear steep bunker faces.

But bunker shots aren’t the only time a sand wedge will work better than an approach wedge. If you have to hit over a hazard, like a bunker, a sand wedge will help you launch the ball high and land it softly on the green.

Also, if you’re in deep rough around the green, a sand wedge will serve you better than an approach wedge. The higher loft and bounce will allow you to pop the ball up into the air and out of trouble.

Final thoughts

The approach wedge fills the gap between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge. It was needed because golf club manufacturers lowered the loft of pitching wedges but kept the loft of sand wedges the same—an approach wedge slots in between them.

The lofts of these three clubs vary, and you should choose your approach wedge loft based on the loft of your pitching wedge and sand wedge. The right choice will give your game the most benefit.

Also, you can choose different bounce angles for approach wedges. That’s another factor to consider. A higher bounce makes it easier for you so that beginners will benefit more from a higher bounce.

But no matter your level, get an approach wedge in the bag. It’ll make your golfing life so much easier. And that’s something everyone needs.

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Joe Morelli

Joe Morelli is the founder of TopRankGolf, a passionate golfer with 25 years of experience playing and coaching golfers around the world. He's dedicated to helping golfers learn and enjoy the game of golf.