Can a golf ball actually be a tool for game improvement? The marketing efforts that exist today would have you believe that it can. While we don’t necessarily disagree, the degree to which a golf ball can improve your game is relevant to many other factors and preferences. This guide will address what drives golf ball sales from a consumer standpoint as well as address some misinformation. Our goal is to increase your knowledge and offer some good tips on choosing the best golf ball for your game and your budget.
Let’s first look at the factors people consider when buying golf balls. We’ll break them down into performance factors and preference factors. Are these factors an opportunity to improve your game, or rather a way for clever marketing to address demands?
Golf Ball Performace Factors:
In my opinion, the performance factors and marketing claims discussed below are all dependent upon one key aspect – strike. If you can’t strike the golf ball consistently then no golf ball will have a measurable game improving impact. If you battle a huge slice then no ball is going to correct the flaws with your ball striking. Likewise, if your swing max swing speed is 95mph with a driver than it would be hard for any golf ball to improve your distance in a consistent manner. It takes a lot of work and practice to gain swing speed. For each mile per hour increase you’ll only see a minimal distance increase. Worse, you may suffer in the accuracy department.
If your ball striking is not consistent your golf balls performance will not be consistent. Different golf balls will perform better or worse than others, but how you strike the ball will trump all claims made by golf ball manufacturers. That being said, let’s look at the performance factors people look at when choosing a golf ball.
The distance golf ball is a hugely popular golf ball market. People have been sold on the fact that they need a certain golf ball to accommodate a less than tour swing speed. Distance golf balls tend to have fewer layers, usually two or three in order to create less spin and maximize compression. The truth is, you’ll barely notice a difference with any golf ball when it comes to distance. The way balls are manufactured today, they will all compress about the same.
Again, how you strike the golf ball is what mostly determines your distance. Sure you may be able to squeeze out a few yards with the driver but will that really help you take strokes off your score? Most likely not. In reality, distance should not play a large factor in your golf ball decision. I would recommend starting with your scoring clubs (putter, wedges) and working your way back to the tee when choosing a golf ball.
When it comes to golf ball spin there are two types to consider; side spin, and backspin. Unfortunately, you can’t minimize or maximize one without affecting the other. A ball that has been manufactured to increase rpm’s will also produce more side spin with a long iron or driver when poorly struck. At the other end of the spectrum, a ball that is maximizing rpm’s in order to control accuracy and distance will not have optimal short game spin.
Again, strike is very important here. I would argue that it is difficult for an amateur player to notice much difference in the stopping power of a ball that is spinning and 3000 rpm and one that is spinning at 4500 rpm, especially if the ball with the lower spin rate is hit higher in the air with a steeper angle of descent. So, in reality, what do those rpm number translate to? For a tour player who prefers to flight their golf ball down for distance consistency, a difference of 1500 rpm may be very important.
For myself, I don’t strike the ball well enough to notice a substantial difference in most modern golf balls, especially when the price is taken into consideration. At the same time, some amateur players who have trouble hitting the golf ball high could benefit from a ball that spins more and can check and hold the green.
The current buzz word in golf ball marketing seems to be soft. There is an ongoing race to turn the golf ball into a marshmallow that will fly 300 yards and roll our while spinning back on a green. Why the obsession with soft golf balls? In my opinion, it is to address feel. While it is hard to measure distance and spin while testing golf balls, a golfer will get immediate feedback on feel. Of course, the perception of soft will be different for each person but it is something that research has shown as being important to a golfer. A softer golf ball will also spin less which will help with distance and accuracy claims off the tee.
For non-tour-level golf balls, the softness will help bridge the gap of the feel and short game control you are losing by not having multiple layers and a urethane cover, therefore a lower price point and soft feel seem to be a winning combination in the current industry. Although I have listed feel as a performance factor, it could definitely fall under a preference factor as well, and in my opinion, it could be the most important.
Golf Ball Preference Factors:
The following factors have nothing to do with performance but rather personal preference. They are mostly self-explanatory but we’ll touch on each one and their importance when choosing your everyday gamer.
As an amateur golfer who is not supplied with free golf balls, price is the single most important factor when choosing a golf ball. It also appears that I am not alone. The $20-$35 price point seems to be the most popular among amateur golfers, myself included. I refuse to pay more than $35/dozen and even that is pushing it. There are multiple options around $20/dozen that suit my golf game and expectations just fine.
If you struggle to break $100 and are buying Pro V1 golf balls you are throwing your money away. Until you can play a round with a single golf ball or two, you are wasting your money. In this case, your golf ball is not going to improve your scores. That being said you also don’t have to buy the cheapest golf ball available. Use a combination of price and feel to find your happy medium.
**There have also been recent manufacturers using a direct to consumer approach and they are producing high-level golf balls for a moderate price point. More on that in another post.
I often hear players remark that they don’t play a certain golf ball because it scuffs too easily and they are wasting their money on a ball that degrades too quickly. I have a feeling most of these remarks are made about urethane covered golf balls. Urethane golf balls are covered with a clear coat, their polymer counterparts are not. That being the case, the clear coat may scuff and you are still not into the cover of the ball but the damage looks worse than a scuff on a polymer cover. The reality is that durability and shelf life are not much of an issue with any modern golf ball. On the other hand, you will probably want to retire any ball after a few run-ins with a tree or cart path.
This is another important factor for me and I wish there were more options when it comes to color. I have always enjoyed using a golf ball that is another color than white. I have no idea why and I have no preference for a certain color. Maybe I just like options. If you also like options when it comes to color and design there are plenty out there that do not sacrifice performance. If you want to play a unique golf ball I say go for it, be different and you’ll most certainly know which ball is your in the fairway.
Sound may go hand in hand with feel but I think it is certainly a preference that may not correlate to any hard data. The golf balls marketed as being soft are more pleasing to my ear than some distance or tour balls. Once again, I have no data to back this up from a performance standpoint, I just know what I like and I am sure I am not alone.
After examining these factors the question still remains. Are golf ball manufacturers trying to trick us with clever marketing and claims of game improvement? In my opinion, not really. In fact, I will argue the opposite is true. The manufacturers are trying to give amateurs choices that tick the feature boxes above and appeal to many players. If this were not the case, we would all be playing expensive tour level balls that excel in performance but are costly to make.
Golf ball technology has come a long way and we as amateur golfers are lucky to have so many options at different price points. Tour level balls are more expensive due to the manufacturing process. Manufacturers know that not all amateurs will pony up the money for their elite performing golf ball. For this reason, they have given us other options. Lucky for us these other options span a broad range of price and performance so we can all find a golf ball that fits our game and our wallet.
Don’t let all of the options confuse you. There are a few main categories of golf balls available and each brand tends to offer an array of choices in each category. My advice is to first be realistic about your level of play. Second, narrow your selections into a price range you are willing to play and see which balls meet your performance expectations. If there aren’t any, move to the next price level if you can, or choose the ball that comes closest to your requirements. In the end, I don’t think you will see a huge disparity in performance.
Once you try a few balls and find one that you prefer you might gain a sense of comfort and reliability. That is the real goal here. No matter which golf ball you choose, you should know what to expect from it. You should have a familiarity with its performance. If you know your ball has low spin numbers around the green don’t try to hit low spinny wedge shots that take one hop and stop. Rather, play within your ability and the ability of the ball you play.