Premium vs. Budget golf balls

Thomas Tanner
Apr 29, 2020
6 minutes
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If you are spending your hard-earned cash on a dozen premium golf balls, you want some assurances that you are getting your monies worth - as you'd get a lot more balls if you went down the budget option. So what are the five key differences between the Ferraris and the Fords of the golf ball market?

The Cover

Let's start with the cover because it's here you'll find the most significant and most tangible difference between the two. Premium balls have a cover made of a substance called urethane. Urethane is soft and grippy, allowing the golf ball to spin, especially around the greens, making them very easy to control. Budget balls generally have a cover made of Ionomer, a blend of polymer materials more commonly used in sealants, which is hard and with this come durability - but it is much more challenging to create spin and control around the green from a ball with this type of cover.

Simply bouncing a ball of each on your wedge or tabletop will give you audible feedback on the two cover materials. One will sound sharp and 'clicky' (hard) while the other will produce a much duller sound (soft).

Urethane and the chemistry of its production make it more expensive than Ionomer to produce and therefore drives up the production costs.

The Inside

The second difference between premium and budget balls reveals itself when you look inside the ball. Premium balls tend to have three, four, or even five layers. Budget balls have a two-piece construction, a core and a cover.

The presence of multiple layers in premium balls makes them highly compressible, allowing them to rebound with very low spin when hit with the driver. With irons, when clubhead speed is lower, the core will not be accessed, and the balls act differently. Final with even lower clubhead speed around the green, just the very outer of the golf ball is engaged to generate maximum spin.

None of this can happen when there are only two layers present. WIth budget balls, you get the same reaction with each club.

The Production Process

The inclusion of multiple layers make premium golf harder to make, over a longer period, and therefore more expensive. There are more steps in the production process, and every one of these steps involves mixing ingredients, and the heating, cooling, grinding, coating, and painting.

Even though a ball manufacturer, like Titleist, can produce up to 300,000 balls in a single day, all the steps involved means each individual ball can take several days to complete. Budget balls, on the other hand, can be produced in just a few hours.

Premium balls are also subject to rigorous checks in quality. For instance, there are 90 checks on a Pro V1, and 120 on a Pro V1x with everything from x-ray, spectroscopy, microscopes, compression, surface chemistry, perfection, roundness, and much more all closely monitored.

The big ball companies also employ engineers and scientists and invest millions into research and development. There have been several calls for a rollback of the golf ball because the top players nowadays are overpowering courses, and that is in no small measure as a result of the advances in the development of premium balls.

Durability

When you spend big money on premium balls, you want them to last! Back in the day, the professionals used to use balata balls. One badly hit shot, and the ball would be scarred with a big smile with most Tour players changing their ball after every hole. Budget balls with their harder cover tend to be durable and long lasting and far more cost effective.

But in recent years there has been huge advances in urethane technology which has seen premium ball duratbility increase substancially. The average Tour player now changes ball every three or four holes, but if you don't lose it, a premium ball should easily last amateurs, and perform consistently, for a full round, maybe more!

The Professionals

The final difference between premium and budget balls is the professional game - each and every professional uses a premium golf ball. They will never blame their ball for losing a Major - maybe the course, the caddies, the conditions, the clubs, but never the ball. They have unconditional trust in their balls over everything else and will often refuse lucrative club contracts if they don't want to switch their ball too.

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Further reading

The idea of a golf ball is to get you from the tee peg to the bottom of the cup. But like cars, which all get you from A to B, some are more expensive than others.

Which golf ball you're teeing up is something most of us don't think about enough, and it can have a significant impact on your game. We have hundreds of pounds worth of clubs in our bags and yet are guilty of pulling a dud ball out of our bag to play a par-3 over water, just in case we might lose a good ball!