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The golf ball is one of the most talked-about pieces of equipment in golf. In a sport where literally everything possible seemingly changes from one shot to the next, the golf ball is the one constant. It is also the place where perhaps the most has evolved and the most advances have been made from previous eras. So this begs the question, do golf balls make a difference, and does it matter which one you play?
There is a reason that there has been an ongoing conversation in golf circles about monitoring golf ball technology. It’s not the only thing, and it might not be the most important thing that matters to your game (depending on your skill level), but it absolutely matters. Let’s take a look at how it matters, why, when it matters less, and what you can expect to change between different quality and styles of golf balls on the market today.
How Are Golf Balls Different?
A golf ball by definition has to be round and of a uniform, symmetrical shape and a specific size and weight. It also has to perform within certain measurable limits. But within these rules, manufacturers have found many ways to try to tweak, customize, and tailor all kinds of variations to fit various needs.
One thing that manufacturers play around with are the dimples on a golf ball. The only rule is that the dimples have to be symmetrically distributed. Most golf balls will have 300-to-500 dimples on them (a ProV1 has 388). The dimples can also mostly be round or something similar but with a slight geometric edge to it.
There’s no need in worrying about 388 versus 348 or spherical vs tetrahedral - leave that to the engineers. As long as the ball has dimples, the differences in patterning are going to be almost indiscernible in modern golf balls, although it is something that engineers try to tweak for fractions of percentage points of difference amongst previous iterations of their product.
Dimples help create spin and drag and lift - all of which are important, but amongst modern golf balls there are other factors that change the performance of the ball far more than the dimple pattern.
By far the most important aspect and dividing line in the modern golf ball is the cover material. As a golfer you basically have a choice, or a crossroads if you will, and that is to play or not to play a urethane-covered golf ball. The video above explains the two major cover materials used in golf balls.
Urethane-covered golf balls are also referred to sometimes as soft-covered golf balls (not to be confused with soft-core or low-compression golf balls). They cost more and wear out faster. So why are they considered “premium” or “tour” golf balls and played by virtually every competitive player? For one reason: spin. There’s just nothing that can perform into and around the greens like a soft-covered, urethane golf ball when it comes to needing as many options as possible around the greens, and getting iron shots to stop on the green.
There are many other options of materials for golf ball covers, but the most common alternative is the “surlyn” covered golf ball. This material is harder and more durable, but the ball will have a tendency to roll out a lot on approach shots and chip shots.
After the cover, the compression is the next most noticeable thing for a player when changing between golf balls.
Most golfers have experienced the feeling of hitting “range rocks” as opposed to a ChromeSoft or ProV1. Compression, however, can be a little bit misleading - as these golf balls are noticeably softer than, say, most range balls, but are still considered high compression golf balls.
Most of the tour-level golf balls used by high swing speed players are high compression golf balls. Meaning the ball is “harder” so it does not compress as easily when struck. Most manufacturers have an “X” ball in their tour lineup (such as a ChromeSoft “X”, TP5 “X” or ProV1 “X”) and this ball is a slightly higher compression golf ball than the other namesake.
Low compression or “soft” golf balls are GENERALLY marketed to lower swing speed players. The reality is that a golf ball will compress with any good strike, even as low as 60 mph, but players want a certain “feel” (which is also subjective and has to do with the club, temperature, and other factors as well).
All this said, it’s not impossible for an elite player to “match up” well with a softer golf ball, despite the fact that they are generally favored by low swing speed players. Generally speaking, a softer golf ball will spin less than a harder “tour” ball or its “X” counterpart. With a slower swing speed, a soft ball might produce a percentage or two more MPH in ball speed, whereas the firmer ball is going to allow the player to control spin more, generally.
Most good golf balls are going to be 3, 4, or in the case of the TaylorMade TP5/x series, 5 layers. These layers help give the golf ball a different reactivity at different swing speeds, making them useful not only for a range of players but getting the right feel and reaction all throughout the bag.
Traditionally golf balls are called white, although most manufacturers make their balls in a SLIGHTLY off-white hue. In modern times, however, there has been an explosion of options on the marketplace.
Most of these options revolve around trying to make the ball “high visibility” either while in the air, against the grass after it lands, or both. Neon yellow is the most popular “alternative” color but you can also see bright red and orange, and some manufacturers go through an entire rainbow of colors in an attempt to cater to players who either want to be unique or find it easier to see a different colored golf ball.
The one “difficulty” with the “tour” level urethane cover golf balls is that they not only spin more around the greens, but they spin more on long shots as well.
For a professional player, this is either something that is easily mitigated OR actually used to their advantage to control ball flights, as most players on tour want to keep a minimum amount of spin on their drives in order for it to have a predictable shape.
For an amateur, recreational, or beginner player many try to opt for a golf ball that reduces spin off of the tee if they feel like they lose more strokes off the tee than they do around the greens or going into greens. Oftentimes, higher handicap players will struggle with a shot that curves too much one way or the other (hook or slice). A tour level golf ball may make it harder to control these!
These golf balls are cheaper, and will not stop as well on iron shots or green side shots, so it is a big tradeoff, especially when wild tee shots are much more likely a technique issue than an equipment issue.
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One of the first rules if you want to hit wedges that spin and bite on the greens - after making sure you have a good lie and a clean club face with good grooves - is you need to be playing with a urethane covered golf ball. Maybe some really good golfers could generate some RPMs with anything but if you’re trying to learn this shot, do yourself a favor and put a good ball in play.
Most players see more of a difference in the feel of their chip and pitch shots than full wedges when it comes to spin and the golf ball they use. We believe that this is one of the most important areas of the game, as a good short game can make up for all kinds of other weaknesses.
RELATED: Does Shaft Flex Matter In Wedges?
The tradeoff for the “best” golf balls is that they do cost more, with the leading manufacturers having long since broken the $4/ball barrier for their “tour” lines (ProV1x, TP5x, etc.).
There are some great options for the player who is serious about developing their game or the casual player who still wants to get that tour feeling, play a nice ball, and be able to generate spin when they need to.
There are several manufacturers offering “tour” type urethane golf balls that are reputed to be very similar in performance to their name-brand peers. Some popular brands are Vice, Cut, and Snell who all make a tour-level urethane golf ball.
Last but not least … all golf balls are used after you hit them one time. Buying used tour-level golf balls is an option for a beginner who wants to learn with a high-level ball. Try to check your sources (almost all golf shops sell used golf balls - but also check online), and get the nicest used balls you can find (many have been hit only once or twice!) and stay away from balls that have been rescued from underwater by divers, as they may have been affected by being submerged for an extended period of time. Other than that, you can find golf balls that are like-new for a fraction of the cost.
Okay, They Are Different, But Does The Golf Ball Matter For Most Players?
This is a tough question to answer, because we have to look at the reality of what “most players” means. Despite how much hype there is about the golf ball and the various options/considerations - including this article - at the end of the day, I’m going to lean towards saying that “no” it doesn’t matter for “most players”, even if that’s a contrarian opinion.
It ABSOLUTELY matters for the competitive tournament golfer. But when we look at the average golfer who, according to statistics, barely breaks 100 … there’s a long long list of things that are more important, to be totally honest. The ball makes a difference, but if you’re losing a lot of balls on tee shots, you might change that by a few percentage points by changing your golf ball, but 95% of the mis-hits are going to be mis-hits and out of play with any golf ball.
Likewise, around the greens, a high-spin golf ball might make the difference between getting up-and-down and getting up and then two putting for a good player, but most golfers who shoot in the 90s are battling double and triple bogeys and using a lot more than 1 chip or 2 putts to finish out a hole. Even if you had the least-spinning golf ball on the planet, you should be able to get down in 2 or 3 from green side consistently, which means a par or a bogey at worst if you got anywhere near the green in regulation. So if you’re making doubles and triples regularly, it’s not the ball.
Does The Golf Ball Matter For Beginners? Does It Make A Difference?
As elaborated on above, it absolutely makes a difference, but for beginning golfers it is VERY far down the list. The reality is beginners are going to lose a lot of golf balls, so you’re going to get the chance to try out a lot of golf balls, and you’ll eventually figure out what your preferences are and manage your golf ball selection.
The reality is that in the long game, the golf ball is going to change something like distance or side spin on an order of magnitude along the lines of a few percent. If you hit a big slice, there is no golf ball that is going to do anything more than just makes it slice a few yards less - and the same with adding distance.
As a beginner you should focus on skill building and taking lessons more than equipment. Experiment with different balls green side, and learn how to get up-and-down using bump-and-run shots and controlling the distance and direction of a basic, “stock” chip shot with all kinds of golf balls before you start worrying about spinning the ball too much or getting out of short-sided situations.
Does The Golf Ball Matter For High Handicappers?
The golf ball matters far less for high handicappers. It’s far more important to develop feel, touch, and consistency in strike with any golf ball and the golf ball is something you can more use to fine-tune your game later.
Does The Golf Ball Matter For Mid Handicappers?
As the handicap goes down, the golf ball starts to matter more. Mid handicappers should start being able to play entire rounds with the same ball, and can start caring about things like holding greens and being able to chip it close from a short-sided position. In these cases it’s time to start experimenting with a “tour” style urethane covered golf ball.
Does The Golf Ball Matter For Low Handicappers?
For low handicappers, the golf ball begins to become very important. While more skilled players have more of the ability to “make anything work” more so than the other skill levels, in order to really score and control the ball you are going to see almost all experienced, low-handicap players switch to using new, clean, “tour” style golf balls almost exclusively.
Does The Golf Ball Matter For Seniors?
Seniors can start to have some options or choices to make, even if they are good players. As swing speed goes down, many senior players start looking for softer and softer golf balls that compress more easily and help them retain an extra few MPH of ball speed and distance. However, there are options on the market for golf balls that still can get the spin that players want around the greens, and are relatively soft.
Do Expensive Golf Balls Make a Difference?
Expensive golf balls, like the ones used by professionals on the PGA Tour and competitive players everywhere, absolutely make a difference. Whether or not they make a difference to *you* is a completely different story.
These balls aren’t expensive just because the pros use them. They are fundamentally constructed differently and perform in a way that is unmatched by any other category of ball when it comes to the ability to produce spin. This is because they all have one thing in common: a urethane cover. This allows the ball to be controlled (i.e. spun) exceptionally well when hitting into the greens.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the type of golf ball matter?
The type of golf ball absolutely matters, albeit it matters more for low handicap players than for the high handicappers. At the same time, better players have the skill to manage the shortcomings or features of any golf ball they come across, but they will see the biggest boost in performance when using top-end tour-level golf balls.
Using the right golf ball for your skill level and game can be a great way to improve your golf game without taking lessons!
Does the way you line up a golf ball matter?
The way you line up a golf ball does not matter.
Believe it or not, this used to be a big controversy in golf when the ProV1 was first invented. The USGA might call it a myth, but for about 6 months everyone on the PGA Tour knew that if you “seamed” a ProV1 by aligning it on the tee properly you could get 20+ extra yards out of it.
This issue (whether it existed at all in the first place) was quickly eradicated and golf balls are extensively tested and made to conform and perform within margins in all directions that they can be orientated.
Does it matter where I draw a line on the golf ball?
The short answer is no, it does not matter where on the golf ball you draw a line. That said, there is one guy who performs at a very high level who would disagree.
If we trust Bryson Dechambeau, then yes it does! He claims ) that if you draw your line haphazardly across a dimple pattern, it can affect the start line on putts 5 feet and in, although there are no other tour pros who corroborate his claim. Because of this, he draws the line on his golf ball down a sequentially-aligned strip of dimples. His claim is that with a slow swing of the putter, the ridges of the dimples can cause the ball to launch slightly off line, but on longer putts the material compresses enough that it doesn’t matter.
Most golfers use a line on their ball to work on their putting. We highly encourage anyone to use the Pelz Putting Tutor as a way to build confidence and consistency on the greens!
Does the age of the golf ball matter?
Yes, the age of the golf ball makes a huge difference! If a golf ball has been stored properly without being exposed to extremes of humidity or temperature, then it will perform the same as it did when it was made, more or less. The only problem is it might be from a previous generation’s technology.
Age of golf balls starts to matter a lot more if they have been let out and exposed to the elements. Sunlight, water, and temperature fluctuations can start to wreak havoc on a ball to the point where they noticeably look and perform differently if you find one that has been, say, in the woods, or even worse - at the bottom of a lake - for an extended period.
Does the color of the golf ball matter?
The color of the golf ball only matters for you or your playing partners’ ability to track the ball in the air or on the ground, or to easily differentiate between the balls in your group without having to look closely.
Some brands will also make golf balls designed for men and women different colors as a marketing tactic.
Beyond that, it makes no difference to the performance of the golf ball.
Does the brand of golf ball really matter?
The brand of golf ball you use is entirely personal preference. The majority of brands make different “tier” balls and different style balls - such as “soft” feeling golf balls with durable covers versus higher-compression, higher-spin urethane cover golf balls.
This is more important than the manufacturer, as two different “style” of Titleist balls (say a ProV1 versus a “SoftFeel”) could vary a LOT in their attributes, whereas many players would get a much more comparable performance out of a TaylorMade TP5 and a Titleist ProV1, despite being different brands.
Final Thoughts: Do Golf Balls Make a Difference, or Should You Buy The Cheap Ones?
Here at Golf Gear Advisor, we believe that golf balls DO make a difference, but not to everybody! Whether they do to you or not is entirely up to you, your preferences, and your tolerance for the (financial) pain of pouring balls into your local lakes, woodlands, freeways, vinyl siding, or whatever your penalty area of choice is!
The thing about the golf ball “ecosystem” if you will is that … it’s kind of a self-regulating thing. As you move up, you use less golf balls, and the price becomes less of an issue. If you’re not good enough to hold on to the same ball for long enough that cost becomes a serious issue, learn to accept the greenside limitations of a cheaper ball. Learn to have fun and practice bump-and-runs and course management to not get short-sided (where an expensive golf ball really comes in handy), and use the savings on more greens fees or lessons. Also consider looking for direct-to-consumer brands like Vice, Snell, and Cut or looking for quality used golf balls whenever you can and stock up when you find a deal.
As you get better and find yourself actually wearing out golf balls before you lose them, the decision becomes a no-brainer to invest in your favorite golf ball and hold on to them for as long as you can!