How Do You Pick a Golf Ball?
By KorryFranke on 5/29/08
Not long ago, I walked into a golf shop to buy some new golf balls. While I'm quite happy with the Titleist NXT Tour balls that I've used the last two seasons, I figured I'd do a bit more research and check out a few other different makes. This seemed like a great idea... that is until I saw the overwhelming number of choices!
Aside from numerous different makes, I began to realize that within each brand there were huge differences, too. 2 piece balls, 3 piece balls, wound balls, synthetic core balls, high compression, low compression, various dimple counts... and why do they have dimples to begin with?!?! For a simple guy like me, it soon became overwhelming. Deciding that I needed to do more research, I picked up a few sleeves of my trusty NXT Tours and headed home, determined to get to the bottom of this great golf ball mystery.
There's no doubt that the game of golf has come a long way since people played with "Featheries" back in the early 1600's. (Oh, and a Featherie? Yea... just like it sounds, it's a bunch of wet feathers stuffed into a hand-made sack and left to dry. Where was PETA then?) Yet, all the choices just make things more difficult. (Oh, to be just starting out in my love affair with golf-a time when X-outs were good enough.) The main differentiator, however, seems to be between increasing spin and increasing distance.
Balls that increase spin and controllability (although at the cost of sacrificing some distance) usually are made with three or more pieces. They have a central core (rubber, synthetic material, or even liquid in some cases), surrounded by tightly woven strands of rubber, and then encased with a soft, synthetic balata covering. Most high end balls are of the three-piece design. In fact, as technology continues to improve, more and more manufacturers are trading in the woven rubber section for more advanced rubber layers. This is adding even greater flexibility (and even more layers) to a golf ball's design albeit at more cost to you and me.
Balls that increase distance are made with two pieces: the synthetic core and the tough outer covering often times made with Surlyn, a very sturdy and durable material. These balls tend to hold up very well over time, and their relatively high density makes for a long-hitting ball; however, what you gain in distance you give up in spin and thus controllability. These two-piece balls are ideal, however, for the novice golfer who hasn't yet developed a great sense of control. (Maybe I should stop wasting money on the good balls since I'm an expert at controlling them into a lake or a bunch of trees!)
The last two main statistics used in describing a golf ball are compression and dimple count. As compression decreases, the ball's density decreases and its "feel" increases. Be aware, however, that a lower compression ball will tend to wear out sooner than a higher compression ball. And as compression increases, the ball's density increases which allows for longer distance and better wear but less spin and controllability.
Dimple count is just that... the number of dimples on the ball. As the number of dimples increases, overall drag of the ball through the air decreases... to a point. Ideally, the number of dimples is somewhere between 350-450 with resulting performance changes as the number of dimples goes higher or lower than that range. The number and depth of dimples has a huge effect on the performance of a golf ball. Stay tuned for an upcoming "Know the Game" column where I'll examine dimples in much more detail.
Obviously, there are a lot of choices out there and just changing your ball probably won't be some miracle cure to your golf game (or mine for that matter!!). But hopefully you now have at least a little more insight into some of the main differences between the various types of golf balls out there.
Email Korry your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Korry Franke is a Boeing 757 and 767 pilot for Continental Airlines where he flies out of Newark, NJ to destinations across the US and around the globe. He lives in Bethlehem, PA where he spends most of his time on days off at the driving range or out on the golf course giving his game the practice it so desperately needs.
[ comments ]
I am a bit of a ball whore. Its rare that I play more than a round or two with the same brand because I am always looking for the perfect ball. With that said, here's my $0.02...
~$20- Top Flite Gamer or Srixon soft feel. Best low end balls I have played.
$30ish- NXT or Calloway CX3 Pro.
If you are gonna spend anymore than 30 bucks you might as well spring for ProV's. Nothing else even comes close. TaylorFade red or black, HX tour, Nike Platinum or black are all poor substitutes. The Srixon Z-URC's are ok, but like I said, if you are spending that much, just get the ProV.
I know there will be some differing opinions, but that's mine. And believe me, I have hit them all.
I have to disagree with TaylorFade's comment about ProV's being on a pedastal all by themselves. Don't get me wrong, I like the ProV1 ball, but the Nike Platinum and HX Tour balls are not much different.
I actually prefer and generally play the Nike Platinum ball just to keep at least one thing about my game consistent. I firmly believe that the ball makes all of the difference in the world as to what you score, but you have to understand how that ball reacts to different shots.
Consistently playing the same ball has had an impact on my handicap dropping from about a 15 two years ago to about an 8 today. I have to give TaylorFade some praise for being able to shoot sub 80 consistently with different balls. That's pretty impressive.
chipotle mg says:
for shorter par 3's and dogleg holes wouldn't it be wise to use a softer more workable ball and for the longer straighter holes a harder ball? or would that throw your feel off when switching so often. do pro's use the same ball type the entire round?
according to usga rules, you can replace a ball during a round, but it has to be with the same type of ball. so, you can't quite go to a low-compression on par-3's and high compression on par 5's.
i am still looking around for the right ball for me, but honestly, for most people in the high 90's and up, it probably doesn't matter. yes, there is a distance difference, but you hardly ever have to "work" the ball, and that's where the difference in feel really comes in.
just hit it straight, dammit!
I have a strong feeling that you get what you pay for. It hurts losing a $3.75 ball in the water.. but when you stick a 7 iron from 160 yds out and it has a little juice on it and it draws backwards.. the $3.75 PRO V1 or IX Tour it worth it. Lastly.. hitting a Top Flite is like hitting a rock, in my opinion.
hondolane...Funny you say Top Flight is like hitting a rock. I have always referred to them rock-flights but my friends look at me funny like they don't understand. I refuse to hit Top Flights but I just thought it was psycological. thanks for the confirmation. I have been hitting Titleist balls since they were classified as 100 or 90 compression back in the 70's and even then I always hit the 100's. I have tried playing lots of different brands but I always go back to Titleist rather quickly.
A former Champions player friend of mine used to refer to "Top Flites" as "Top Rocks". I agree with him and "Hondolane" to a point. I have played a number of Top Flites and Titleist ProV's over the years and found that the biggest difference in ball flight and reaction is mostly between one's gray matter! Whether a golf ball costs $14.95 for a 15-ball pack or $44.95 a dozen should not, and in my opinion, DOES NOT, affect the flight or stopping power/backspin of the ball.
(Titleist vs. Top Flites, continued): If any golf ball, well, most any, is struck properly with the golf club technology of today, even "Iron Byron's" technology has proven that they all carry pretty much the same distance, within a few yards of each other, and if struck with a crisp downswing all golf balls will react pretty much the same on the green as far as stopping power and backspin are concerned. Therefore I contend the biggest difference in golf balls of today is in the makeup of one's gray matter, not the manufacture of the golf ball. Don't be ashamed to check out a bunch of $14.95 packs of golf balls from your local K-Mart, or Target, or even at your local pro shop!
The February 2008 issue of GOLF Magazine has a comprehensive article on golf balls. Of the 54 tested, distance ranged from 259-247, only 12 yards difference, but spin rate with a sand wedge varied greatly. From a max of 13,451 (Nike Platinum) to a low of 5,154 (Pinnacle Gold Soft), its obvious that spin is what you pay for. Whether you're scratch or 36 hdcp being able to stop a ball on the green is paramount to lower scores. I'll go as far as saying high hdcpers will benefit more from high spin balls. So, although grey matter plays a HUGH role in your golf game there are also big physical differences between a ProV1x and a TopFlight Freak.(250yds-12,299 spin vs 251yds-5310 spin)
I have been using Top Flite Freak, Gamer, and D2. I love the feel off the club from all of them. I have found the D2 to be more consistent and will last for 2 rounds. (I generally only use a ball once, then it goes to the woman). For the price, you can't beat them.
High end balls? Bridgestone B330
I am a huge Bridgestone golf ball fan as well - the B330-S is my fav but I too HATE to pay that much for them. I have recently found the Precept U-TRI Tour golf balls from a couple years ago at Target and WalMart at around $23 bucks a dozen - very tough to beat in my opinion. Titleist ProV1 is a great ball, but who wants to play follow the leader? Oh yeah, for those of you who have not hit a Top Flite since they started making the D2 - see if you can find someone who will give you one so that you won't crush your ego/reputation and hit it for a while. There is a HUGE difference between the D2/Gamer and the XL 3000 of old. I had a buddy at Edwin Watts give me a 2 ball sleeve as well as a 2 ball sleeve of the new TaylorMade Burner TP and I actually liked the Top Flite better. Weird to hear that one huh?
Best ball ever in my opinion - STRATA "Professional Balata" got them brand new on E-bay... AWESOME. The nearest ball I've played are the Callaway iX's or the HX tours and the ProV1 or ProV1x. I'm not particularly long off the tee but I'm a big "feel" golfer, I'll pay extra if it "feels good" rather than feels like striking a rock.
After playing about a year with Beta Ti's and Rock-flight's I started to tell the difference between them and others I found on the course. The first year I was in the woods off every other tee box and found alot of lost balls. I noticed with Callaway HX hot's I actually had to club down in some situations due to the extra distance. They stop o.k. but not great. I started using them excusively when I found a lost golf ball website with free shipping. If you search the net you can find them for $6 a dozen. If you don't mind logos on your ball you can save big on lightly used balls. Just stay away from anything with tour in the name unless your good enough for the tour.
Best ball for me is whatever is on sale this week at target, or walm-mart. Why? Because 12 of those 15 I buy will be lost in the woods, water or rough by the end of the week. :)
Try the Gamer it aint no rock.
I've used and lost a lot of golf balls, struggling to get to single figures. Ironically, I played my best round with a "birthday present" golf ball, that I latter found to cost less than $2. Maybe the ball is not the most important thing in golf, but the way you feel about the ball. Mind over matter... ;-)
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