Which golf ball should you be using?
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!
But having the right ball for you could save you several shots per round.
First, what's important to you?
Let's start by asking what you want from your golf ball – distance, control around the greens – may be a bit of both? Sadly there is no magic formula, so trade-offs will need to be made. Premium golf balls get close, and those trade-offs are less significant, but they're still there.
Feel is tangible
As with the grip on your golf club, the golf ball's cover is the only bit you can touch and, therefore, can be viewed as one of the most critical aspects. You feel it on the clubface when you hit the ball, and we all have different preferences.
You won't notice soft and hard as much with woods and long irons, but when pitching and putting around the green where spin and control are super important, feel is everything. Having the right ball to match your preference will give you confidence in executing the shot well.
The way a golf ball feels is determined by the material on the outside and the number of layers on the inside.
Hard vs. soft - how do they differ?
What we call 'hard' golf balls have a tough outer layer made of a substance called ionomer or surlyn, a type of ionomer. An ionomer is a plastic polymer that's durable and resilient. It tends to be in the more budget-friendly golf balls.
They feel hard and clicky, but they have an advantage in that they are often longer than their counterparts. That's why you'll often see the word 'Distance' in the name or on the box to grab your attention.
But because the outer layer of these balls is so hard, they tend not to spin (grip the clubface at impact) as much as other more premium balls with a softer cover.
Balls with a softer cover feel as if you can dig your nail into them thanks to a skinny outer layer made of a substance called Urethane.
Urethane is a great material for golf balls because it's both soft and relatively durable. Because it's soft, when you a shot in or around the green, the clubface almost bites the urethane cover at impact and makes the ball backspin more. More spin makes the golf ball much more controllable.
So the really top balls on the market will have a soft urethane cover on the outside, but they will also go really long distances when hit, and that's because they have a different inner construction which we'll talk about next.
So, which should you be using? Hard or Soft
Layers and construction
If you've ever gone to a driving range, the balls there are often one piece of solid surlyn - or made of two pieces, a ball of plastic (a core) and then covered with surlyn. They make them that so they won't go as far as normal balls, people won't steal them, they won't fly outside the range area, and the surlyn cover makes them last ages.
Away from the range and onto the golf course, more budget-friendly balls that last a long time are two-piece balls too. This time the core is made of a much higher grade resin engineered for distance, and then it's covered by that tough cover of ionomer or surlyn.
There are two-piece balls with softer covers made of Urethane that give you similar distance and durability but a softer feel with more spin around the greens.
Then at the top end of the market, you have three-piece, four-piece golf balls!
Three-piece golf balls will have a core, then another layer of a type of rubber and then the outer layer. The extra layer makes the golf ball behave differently in how it spins when hit with a driver and when hit with an iron or wedge.
So in multi-layer balls, the engineering starts to get very clever. The layers can be made so that when the ball is hit with the driver, the inside layer can do its thing and ensure the spin is perfect for distance. When hit with an iron, the middle layer can kick in with its role of adding spin and control. And then around the green, the outer layer comes to the fore with its feel. It's called spin separation. You can read more about how the manufacturing makes golf balls so expensive here.
Examining the layers
The more layers a golf ball has, the more spin-separation can be engineered, and that's why four (and five-piece) balls are the top of the line.
- The inner core is made of a solid rubber material to deliver a reactive explosive smash and distance
- The second layer is there to help transfer the energy from the strike into the centre core
- The third layer takes charge when the ball is hit with an iron and produces spin
- The outer cover is where the golf ball's feel, spin, and control comes from on short shots around the green
As you can imagine, apart from all the research that goes into 4 and 5-piece golf balls, a huge amount of labour goes into making them. At the end of the day, golf balls are plastic and rubber, heated and cooled time and again. They take much longer to make, the tolerances need to be exact, and that's why they are more expensive to buy.
So how many layers should your golf ball have?
Without getting too technical, this decision is largely down to swing speed and your ability to access (compress) the layer that's designed for the shot at hand.
- Slower swing speeds might only be able to access two or maybe three layers, so they will not benefit from more layers or spin separation.
- Players with faster swing will be able to penetrate more layers with their driver and then benefit from more spin separation in their game.
- As a general rule, the slower the swing, the fewer the layers.
Compression - what is it?
Compression is a measure of how much the golf ball squashes when it is struck. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 200. Zero being the squishiest, one that deflects 5mm or more when hit and 200 being a ball that just does not compress at all.
There is an almost universal agreement that compression is nowhere near as relevant as it used to be and has been usurped by layers and spin separation.
Colours and patterns
Golf balls are traditionally white in colour, but other colours like yellow, orange and even pink are growing in their popularity. As a result, the colour should no longer indicate ball quality.
Why might you use a yellow (or another colour) ball?
There's a world of colour and pattern, so don't be afraid to experiment!
- Low light levels
- Easier to find
- Easier to identify in your group
If you only take one thing away, make it this...
Go out and try all the golf balls you can get your hands on, experiment with them, you can even get a golf ball fitting session done. When you find the ball that works best for your game, stick with that ball! Fill the bottom pocket of your bag with just that ball. It'll give you consistency in your game, you'll know your yardages and trajectories of your shots so much better, and you will play better and score lower.
Titleist Golf Ball Selector
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.
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.