2002: Golfweek Preferred - Wedges are friends

Reynolds Plantation, Ga.

This is a story about everybody’s new best friend, the wedge. Never have wedges been more popular or more plentiful. Thanks largely to the influence of Phil Mickelson, the wizard of wedge, ordinary golfers have become more creative with their wedges than ever before.

First, however, a minor diversion. While tracking down Dave Pelz, the world’s best-known wedge instructor, I made a discovery: There are few golf developments more surprising than Reynolds Plantation.

This golf mecca, located 90 minutes west of Augusta and less than two hours east of the Atlanta airport, is surprising because of its encompassing beauty. Reynolds Plantation surrounds a golfer with sensory treats. From the pine forests to the meadows to the vistas of Lake Oconee to the best and worst residential lots in the 8,000-acre development, this project is more consistently bewitching than any other mammoth golf development in America.

Surprising, too, is the seriousness with which the developer, Mercer Reynolds, treats his courses and his golfers. This golf extravaganza is not for dilettantes. The language of golf is not diluted by money, although residents here appear to have plenty of it. Reynolds, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, has built four courses using four different designers – Jack Nicklaus, Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones.

I came here to see the latest Dave Pelz Scoring Game School and to spend time with Pelz, my friend for many years. Already Pelz has hosted a handful of three-day schools at Reynolds Plantation. The new Ritz-Carlton Lodge on the property could help make this school the most popular of the five Pelz school locations. The other four are the Boca Raton (Fla.) Resort and Club; the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, Colo.; Vineyard Knolls in Napa, Calif.; and PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif.

Anyway, it’s time to discuss wedges. Do you speak wedge? If you are a serious golfer, you do.

In June, the first Dave Pelz wedges will be shipped by Orlimar Golf. These revolutionary wedges are the culmination of everything Pelz has seen, measured, studied and analyzed in the past 25 years. They are very, very different.

A thumbnail sketch: There are four Pelz wedges (pitching, sand, lob and the 64-degree X wedge). They feature face inserts made of an alloy called DuroSteel, which Pelz believes will provide golf’s longest lasting faces and grooves. They are shorter in length than many wedges, but have longer grips with less taper. They have softer shafts than those usually found in wedges, with the frequency of the Precision steel shaft changing from wedge to wedge. The style of grooves also differs from wedge to wedge, with the X wedge having the most aggressive grooves.

The theory is to make four wedges that produce similar feel and ball reaction.

“I don’t want golfers to be forced to improvise a special swing with each wedge in their bag,” Pelz says. “I want a consistency from wedge to wedge.”

To achieve this, his X wedge has the softest shaft because it is swung with the slowest speed.

Here are some of the standard specifications:

n Pitching wedge: loft, 49 degrees; length, 35.5 inches; bounce, normal; shaft frequency, 5.5.

n Sand wedge: loft, 55 degrees; length, 35 inches; bounce, more than normal; shaft frequency, 5.0.

n Lob wedge: loft, 60 degrees; length, 34.5 inches; bounce, slightly less than normal; shaft frequency, 4.5.

n X wedge: loft, 64 degrees; length, 34 inches; bounce, very little; shaft frequency, 4.0.

Bounce can be difficult to understand. In simplistic terms, it is a measurement of the angle of the sole. A sand wedge, designed to displace a maximum amount of sand with a shorter swing, generally has more bounce than any other club in the bag – often 10 or 12 degrees. Pelz, though, is reluctant to ascribe numbers to bounce.

“An angle alone does not define the bounce,” he says. “Where it occurs is as important as how much it is. I use normal bounce as a reference point because most golfers have an idea what that is.”

Whereas an abundance of bounce is helpful in hitting most greenside bunker shots, a lack of bounce is ideal for finessing a short wedge shot from a tight lie. Thus, the different personalities of wedges. Pelz likes wedges that lay open easily at address, creating even more flexibility for skilled players. Depending on the sand condition and the length of the shot, Pelz teaches his students to use all four of his wedges for bunker play.

Pelz, touting his 49-degree pitching wedge, is adamant that pitching wedges have grown too strong in loft.

“A pitching wedge with 45 or 46 degrees of loft may say pitching wedge,” he says, “but it’s really a 9-iron. The shafts are longer, too. You cannot possibly achieve the accuracy with that kind of club that you should expect from a traditional wedge.”

Pelz is trying to teach golfers to score, not to hit the ball off the far end of the planet. His new four-wedge system is part of that effort. The suggested retail price of these wedges is $129.95 apiece.

The Pelz grooves, which are machined into the face insert, vary from V grooves in the pitching wedge to U grooves in the sand wedge to box grooves in the lob and X wedges. The faces are not sandblasted, but rather are milled to a texture approved by the U.S. Golf Association.

“There are a lot of very good wedges available from a number of manufacturers,” Pelz says, “but there is no question in my mind that I have better grooves and better wedges. On most clubs, grooves start to deteriorate in two or three months as face texture begins to wear smooth. Ours will last much longer.”

Other manufacturers, particularly Carbite and PureSpin, also brag about the durability of their faces. Pelz, not looking to start a wedge war, often has praised wedges from Cleveland and Titleist, and says he will continue to do so.

Pelz conducts three-day schools with an enviable ratio of 16 students to four instructors. He also runs a series on one-day clinics in major cities around the country. His entire focus is the short game – wedge play and putting.

“I want everybody to understand that accuracy is important above all,” Pelz says of wedges. “You show me a golfer who wants to hit his wedges a long way, and I’ll show you a golfer who wastes a lot of shots.”

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