An in-depth look at what is on offer from three leading brands
If you’re lackadaisical about your equipment, selecting a set of wedges is just about the most straightforward golf purchase you’ll ever make. Simply throw a stock pitching wedge and sand wedge into your bag and away you go. However, if you’re a little more discerning about the range of shots you want to play around the greens, wedges arguably pose more conundrums than any other piece of equipment.
First, there’s the question of how many you need. With irons flying further than ever, you can be left with a large yardage void at the ‘scoring’ end of the bag. Depending on your set make up, you most likely face the prospect of trying to cover a range of distances between a full-out pitching wedge and a 30-yard pitch with just a handful of clubs — hence the recent emergence of the gap wedge.
Then there’s the subject of how your wedges fit in with the rest of your bag. Do you carry three specialist wedges in four-degree increments at the expense of, say, a 5-wood, or do you go for two specialist wedges with six-degree spacing and add a hybrid or rescue club to reinforce your long game armoury? Even if you’re clear in your mind about the role you want your wedges to play, you still have to figure out whether you need a blade or cavity-back, high bounce or low bounce, regular or tour grinds. Unless you’re an accomplished golfer, that’s a difficult decisionmaking matrix.
In this test, there were strong arguments to include Titleist Vokey’s SM5, Nike’s VR X3X and TaylorMade’s new Tour Preferred ATV, each of which have prominent tour presence. However, there was a lot of interest in how the second iteration of Callaway’s Mack Daddy 2 wedges fared against the 2.0 version of Cleveland’s 588 RTX wedges and Ping’s new Glide, which quickly found its way into many of its staff tour professionals’ bags. It was also the opportunity to compare three very different design and engineering philosophies.
As the creator of one of the most iconic wedges of all time in the Ping Eye 2, it is somewhat bewildering that Ping has always been better known for its putters and irons. However, if you were playing golf back in the mid-1980s, chances are you had one of those chunky cavity-backed beauties in your bag. And it was in there for one reason, and one reason alone. While the Ping Eye 2 lacked the soft, subtle and compact curves we’ve since come to expect from a tour-calibre wedge, if you found yourself in a greenside bunker, you simply dropped that thick, wide sole confidently down into the sand and the ball would just magically float out. The Ping Eye 2s also had grooves wide enough to park a bus in and an investment cast stainless steel head that was quite literally bullet-proof.
Fast-forward some 30 years and Ping’s perimeterweighted wedges — including the 2015 iteration of the Ping Eye 2 — are still squaring up against a plethora of bladestyle wedges. This time around, though, old adversaries Cleveland and Titleist have been joined by nouveau wedge specialists Callaway and Nike, making the market as competitive as it has ever been.
Despite the fact that it is perimeter weighted, the Glide is a huge departure from Ping’s usual approach to wedge design. Yes, it’s still a cavity-back but only just. Dare we say it, but this might actually be the first Ping wedge that a serious low handicap golfer would pick up and think I could see myself using that. The promise with the Glide is tour-level performance around the greens and stability on full shots.
Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0
While Cleveland wedges have enjoyed a solid resurgence during the past couple of years, it’s important to remember that the company ‘owned’ the wedge category 15 years ago
with some 30 tour pros — including the likes of Vijay Singh and David Toms — using the equipment. In fact, the main reason why current flagship staff player Graeme McDowell signed for Cleveland was his relationship with the company during his college days at the University of Alabama where he played the 588 wedges. At the European Open in 2002, Michael Campbell showed up at the K-Club, took one look at the course and replaced his sponsor’s wedges with three Clevelands. He went on to win the event and afterwards claimed the clubs saved him four shots a round.
Cleveland was also the first manufacturer to show the wedge-buying public that they meant business.
If you had stepped into the company’s tour trailer a decade or so ago, you would have encountered a mind-blowing array of wedges in different materials, finishes, bounces and grinds. Then something strange happened. Out of the blue, Cleveland switched to a more simplistic marketing message. The company reined in the number of options it offered and, in doing so, allowed several other manufacturers to position themselves as a specialist tour brand.
During the past few years, however, Cleveland has restored its wedge design mojo with a succession of classic tour-inspired wedges and the restoration of a full range of loft, bounce, grind and finish options. The new forged 588 RTX 2.0 is the combination of the company’s most iconic head design with its latest high-performance groove technology.
Callaway Mack Daddy 2
Callaway has been in and around the specialist wedge market now for the best part of two decades without, it is fair to say, really setting the category on fire. In one
respect this is not unusual given that Callaway’s early specialism was creating chunky cavitybacked clubheads. On the other hand, it is surprising when you consider that the company’s chief designer is none other than Roger Cleveland, the founder of Cleveland Golf and the creator of arguably the most iconic wedge ever — the aforementioned classic RTG 588.
That’s not to say there haven’t been a few standout successes along the way in recent years. The X-Forged Chromes were sensational in both styling and performance while the original Mack Daddys also comfortably held their own on tour. By and large, though, recent Callaway wedges have been just a little too conservative to really set the pulse racing.
If you’re wondering why Callaway chose the name Mack Daddy, the answer lies with Phil Mickelson. According to Roger Cleveland, Mickelson was at the company’s test centre in California testing some new prototype designs. After hitting a full-length lob wedge shot that sucked back about 40 feet when it hit the green, Lefty looked at the shredded ball, then down at the face of the wedge, and exclaimed, “That’s my Mack Daddy groove.”
The Tour Wedge Test
Because wedges can be used to hit a variety of shots, each club was tested in a wide range of situations, from full-out approach shots to delicate dinks and bumpand-runs around the green, and from different types of lies. In addition, an indoor component, using Flightscope and GC2 launch monitors, tracked distance, spin and launch rates.
First up was the Ping Glide. The general feeling among the testers was that this is the bestlooking Ping wedge to emerge from Phoenix in many years. While the initial preference was for the slightly slicker and sleeker
head profiles of the Callaway and Cleveland, the Glide’s slimline cavity-back design grew to the point where, after 30 minutes or so, the testers didn’t even notice it. Viewed from above, the club looks like a generously sized blade wedge. It’s not until you flip the club over that you’re aware of the subtle cavity back.
Looks aside, the most noticeable thing about the Glide was how solid it felt on full shots. You might be thinking forgiveness and stability through impact are relatively unimportant considerations for a wedge, but with the distance gap between the regular pitching wedge and specialist wedges growing by the minute, why make the jump from a cavity-back to a muscleback any sooner than you need to? For that reason, there’s a lot to love about the idea of the Glide as a gap wedge to soften that transition — especially if you’re already a Ping iron aficionado.
Although the Glide launched the ball higher than both the Cleveland and the Callaway — an attribute you will either love or hate depending on your shotmaking preferences — it was easily the most consistent in distance control on full-out shots. The testers assumed there would be a trade-off in performance around the greens and on shorter-range pitch shots, but that never materialised. In fact, the difference in feel between all three clubs was negligible. They felt completely confident opening up the clubface and were able to play a full repertoire of touchy feely shots.
Ping claims it has designed the Glide from the hands down, starting with a slightly longer than standard Dyla-wedge grip that has a narrower taper to enable you to maintain control as you choke down for shorter length shots. The grip also features markings to help you alter your hand position to hit shots of different lengths. Although the idea appeals, there are a couple of reservations. First, it’s easy to mistake the markings as a grip alignment aid. Second, testers felt the guide would be more useful if it helped position the top hand on the grip rather than the lower hand.
Overall, the Glide not only is easily the best cavity-back wedge on the market right now it’s also good enough to give the Clevelands, Callaways and Vokeys a serious run for their money.
While Ping appears to be trying to simplify the message around loft, bounce and grind options, Cleveland is currently flexing its muscles in this area. The new 588 RTX 2.0 is available in no fewer than 17 different versions ranging from 46 degrees to a positively stratospheric 64 degrees. Having said that, the company is making a decent effort at steering golfers in the right spec direction with a dot system on the sole of each wedge. A single dot means a low bounce, two dots means medium bounce while three dots signifies maximum bounce on the sole.
One of the challenges Cleveland continually faces is how to improve on its legendary 588 series. Just how do you go about enhancing the most iconic wedge of all time? The answer is that you leave the classic head profile well alone and focus on the grinds and grooves. The sole shaping on the 588 RTX 2.0 is just exquisite. If you’re one of those players who likes to slide the clubhead under the ball, you’re going to fall head over heels for these clubs.
Callaway Mack Daddy 2
Construction: Forged Lofts available: 47°- 64°
RRP $189.99 per club (From the Golf Warehouse)
WITH THE DISTANCE GAP BETWEEN
THE REGULAR PITCHING WEDGE AND SPECIALIST WEDGES GROWING, WHY TRANSITION FROM A CAVITYBACK TO A MUSCLEBACK ANY SOONER THAN YOU NEED TO?