|Winnie the Pooh's bouncy buddy, Tigger (courtesy of A.A. Milne and the Walt Disney Company)|
Rather than getting bogged down in the technical details, let me try to explain in normal language what bounce is and why it matters. In layman's terms, bounce is the angle that is formed between the ground and a line that is drawn from the point on the sole of the club that touches the ground and the club's leading edge. It is measured in degrees and therefore will be a relatively low number. The picture below, from PGAProfessional.com's golf dictionary should give you the right visual:
The bounce on a club is what allows you to control how likely the leading edge of the club is to dig into the turf when you hit your shot. If the bounce angle is low on the club (say an 8 degree bounce on a 56 degree wedge) then the leading edge will tend to dig more into the ground. This is very helpful when you are playing in dry conditions, find yourself in a tight lie or end up stuck in wet, compacted sand. Remember it this way: lower bounce = lower leading edge = more digging into the ground. On the flip side, a high bounce angle (say 14 degree bounce on a 56 degree wedge) means that the leading edge is higher off the ground so the club will be less likely to dig into the turf as deeply at impact than a lower bounce club. Having more bounce on the club is beneficial when you are playing on very soft, wet grass or fluffy sand. When you think about it, this relationship makes sense since when you are playing in soft conditions, it will be easier for the club to dig into the ground naturally, so you need less help from the design of the club. Here is you cheat sheet: higher bounce = higher leading edge = less digging into the ground. As a reference point, standard bounce on a 56 degree wedge is 11 degrees -- at least for the Vokey wedges. When you go to look at the wedge displays in your local golf retailer, most of the big names have little booklets or guides near the wedges showing what the standard bounce is for each one, so take note of that when you are looking to buy.
As Bob Vokey Would Say, "Make Bounce Your Friend"
So how can you make bounce work for you? First, if you have the cash and the inclination to get a couple of the same wedges with different bounce options, you can choose the actual wedge to stick in your bag based on the conditions of the course you are playing. However, if you are like most of us and this luxury is not in the cards for you, think about the type of course that you play most often. Are you in Texas, where in the summer it is going to be hot and dry and the course will be firm and fast? Or are you somewhere where the course is watered often and always plays soft? If you are always on the firm and dry course, then a lower bounce option is best for you. If you are on a soft, lush course where your club is going to be digging into the turf routinely with ease, then consider going with a higher bounce to avoid taking those huge divots that will leave your fat wedge shot thirty yards short of the green. Or, if you travel all around and play lots of different courses, split the difference and go with the standard bounce. But use this information to make an informed decision the next time you are getting some new wedges!