Golf balls are on the front lines of the economic and ethical equipment battles. Some golfers fear that advances in equipment may render some of the game's most storied courses obsolete (although you won't hear them complain about the extra yards off the tee). All we can say is it hasn't happened yet. St. Andrews continues to entertain and challenge golfers as it has for centuries. After all, whether the ball is stuffed with feathers or liquid or rubber, golf remains a game of accuracy and consistency, not merely distance. Because golf balls fly farther doesn't mean they necessarily fly straighter.
As golf technology and developments into golf clubs advance rapidly, many believe the advancements in the golf ball are slower and less common. The truth is golf ball technology has advanced immensely in recent years and now finding the right ball for your game can be as advantageous as picking the right clubs.
While many people are brand-loyal when it comes to balls, there are many different specifications that you should consider when choosing the right ball for you. In this guide, we will explain different terms that you will have heard relating to golf balls, but perhaps never really understood.
The construction of a golf ball is vitally important to the way it will react to contact with a club. Manufacturers are constantly pushing the limits of golf ball construction. Below are the most common constructions.
One-Piece Golf Balls
A one-piece golf ball is the most basic, and least expensive to produce, ball and is designed primarily for beginners, driving ranges and crazy-golf courses. It is seldom used as a playing ball.
Typically, one-piece balls are made from a solid piece of Surlyn with dimples moulded in. It is an inexpensive, soft and very durable golf ball, but does not give you the distance when hit because of its lower compression.
A two-piece golf ball is used by most ordinary everyday golfers because it combines durability with maximum distance.The balls are made with a single solid core, usually a hard plastic, enclosed in the ball's cover.
Two-Piece Golf Balls
The solid core is typically a high-energy acrylate or resin and is covered by a tough, cut-proof blended cover that gives the two-piece ball more distance than any other ball. These 'hard' balls are covered in either Surlyn, a specialty plastic or a similar kind of material.
The firmer feel of the golf ball does produce more distance to a player' game but will also not be as easily controlled as a softer ball. The two-piece is virtually indestructible and with its high roll distance, it is by far the most popular golf ball among ordinary golfers.
Three-Piece Golf Balls
Three-piece golf balls have either a solid rubber or liquid core, a layer of enhanced rubber or a liquid-produced layer and a moulded a cover of durable Surlyn, Urethane, or balata-like material.
They are softer and offer more spin, giving a better golfer more control over their ball flight. The more layers a manufacturer adds to a ball, the more spin-separation they can create, which means more customized performance for a driver compared to an iron or wedge. A three-piece ball is the first level of ball that will feature a noticeable spin-separation advantage.
Four-Piece Golf Balls
Each layer or piece in a four-piece ball has a specific and different purpose. All the layers work together to offer the longest hitting, softest feeling golf ball.
The inner core, the first layer, of the ball is the solid rubber centre that is primarily designed to offer explosive distance especially with a driver. The next, inner cover, layer is in the ball to transfer the energy from the strike to the hot core.
Next is the middle cover, which is the extra layer, compared to a three-piece ball. It offers the complete layer that tries to increase driver distance whilst also producing mid iron spin and feel around the green. The outer cover is where the feel of a golf ball comes from. Usually containing between 300-400 dimples, it is the thinnest layer. Made from Urethane it must be durable yet soft.
Five-Piece Golf Balls
The latest development in ball design is the five-piece ball. TaylorMade were the first to mass produce a five-piece ball when they released the Penta ball in 2009. Since then, several other major manufacturers have added a five-piece ball to their arsenal.
Much like a three or four-piece ball can use more materials and layers to offer more spin separation and performance benefits, the five-piece ball can do that even further. Whilst it will be the most expensive ball in the Pro Shop, the five-piece ball will offer the highest, Tour-level performance.
Typically a five-piece ball will feature three mantle layers, sandwiched between a high speed core and soft urethane cover. Each mantle layer will react to different shots and swing speeds in an effort to produce to the most optimised performance possible.
Low Spin Golf Balls
Lower spinning golf balls tend to decrease side spin of your shots, allowing the ball to fly straighter through the air. The ball may not travel as far in the air, but the lack of spin will result in increased roll upon landing. They are best-suited to players that slice the ball or struggle to find get distance on the ground.
Mid Spin Golf Balls
As the name suggests the mid spin golf ball bridges the gap between the low spinning golf ball and the high spinning balls. They try to incorporate the best of both distance and feel. Aimed towards the widest range of players and suitable to most players, the mid spinning ball will offer solid distance with varied feel and softness depending on brand. Almost all major golf ball manufacturers will produce a mid spinning golf ball that they believe is suitable to all players.
High Spin Golf Balls
Last is the high spinning golf ball. This ball is designed to increase the balls spin in the air. When a golf ball is hit, it is released into the air with a certain degree of backspin; a high spinning ball will increase this spin and create a longer carry. If you are a player that hits the ball right to left with a draw, a high spinning golf ball could be the one for you.
Out of control hook shots are produced by the drawspin overpowering the backspin on the ball; so increasing backspin will help straighten out a hook/draw. The high spinning golf ball will not get the run on the fairway that either a mid or low spinning ball can, however its greatest advantage is around the greens. A high spinning ball will increase feel around and on the greens, which will help players improve control.
Compression is a measure of the deflection a golf ball undergoes when it is struck. It is measured between 0 and 200, with 200 being a ball that does not compress and a 0 being a ball that deflects 5mm (1/5th of an inch) or more. Most golf balls range between 50 and 100 in compression.
A good way to understand compression is to consider a rubber band. Imagine wrapping a rubber band around three of your fingers. Now imagine wrapping it around the same 3 fingers, only this time as you wrap it stretch it so you can wrap it around three times. Obviously, you will feel a difference in the pressure on your fingers. That is compression. You are using the same amount of material and it is occupying the same amount of space, yet it is producing different pressures. That pressure is the result of compression and is exactly how compression works inside a golf ball.
Lower compression balls tend to be softer and compress more to create more distance. Higher compression balls offer more control and are used by better players who can produce faster swing speeds to compress the ball.
For more on softness and compression, please read our Guide To Soft Golf Balls.
Frequently Asked Golf Ball Questions
How Do I Choose The Right Golf Ball?
Whilst other factors such as how many you lose and price will come into play, the different construction of golf balls means that technically you can get one to optimise your performance. Several golf ball manufacturers run golf ball fitting sessions at local golf clubs or their fitting centres, so we would recommend getting measured up or advice from a golf professional if you can.
Alternatively try a few brands out that you like on the course and keep a track of which gives you the best combination of distance, control and feel on the greens. Then play with that make of ball all the time, as changing brands every time you play will not help your game.
Why Do Dimples Help A Golf Ball?
The reason for golf balls having dimples is to do with drag. The moment a ball is struck, it is slowing down. Well-hit golf shots propel the ball at about 120 mph through the air, and the moisture and pressure in the air get right to work and slow the ball down.
The less area you have on the cover of a golf ball, the less area there is to be affected by the air. The dimples on the golf ball affect the air molecules that affect the ball's flight. The dimples cause the molecules to roll and bounce around which creates turbulence in the air on the surface of the ball.
A smooth golf ball would travel far shorter as its area is more susceptible to the force of air pressure. In the early years of golf, smooth feather filled balls were used, and it wasn't until they got scuffed and misshaped that players discovered that a non-smooth ball would travel further.
Are Lake Balls As Good As New?
There is no doubting that lake balls seem an attractive investment, but are they just as good as new? Well, the answer is no.
Tests into the effect that water had on balls resting at the bottom of lakes were carried out and they discovered that balls that have spent time in water travel less than new, or simply dry golf balls.
Balls that had spent 8 days in water produced drives six yards less than the benchmark ball. Balls that had spent 3 months submerged in water travelled 12 yards less, and balls kept in water for 6 months went 15 yards less.
This may sound like a sizeable difference, however for the average golfer a lake ball can be a very good investment. Considering the price of new golf balls in the market today, buying lake balls is a cheap way to enjoy the game. The chance to pay a lot less for some of the best balls around is one that many golfers take and don't regret.
Many lake-ball companies re-cover balls in a shiny gloss that makes them appear new. This cover will wear and the ball may discolour slightly, but will not affect the balls flight or roll.
How Are X-Outs Golf Balls Different?
X-outs are factory overruns or balls with cosmetic blemishes, but they are also brand-new as opposed to the buckets of used or lake balls in some pro-shops. The ones with corporate logos or business names on them are the best of the bunch as they should be new balls that should not have any blemishes.
X-out balls sell for considerably less than top-of-the-line models. Some golfers believe that the price represents some sort of problem with the ball, but for the average player they will play pretty much like a brand new version of the same ball.