Technical Tips

July, 2007

Core of the Matter: from Golf Digest Equipment Planner 2002

Choosing the right ball is easier than it used to be. Here’s why

Let’s face it: golf balls look pretty much the same. They’re white, they’re round, and they’ve got dimples. They’re also marketed pretty much the same most with universally grand promises of “distance”, accuracy and feel like no other.” And then there’s the issue of product testing. How many golfers have the empty fairway or field—much less the skill—to demo balls? The good news—and this isn’t marketing hype, but the gospel truth—it’s hard to buy a bad golf ball. The latest advances in technology, for both the ball’s core and what’s underneath it, have raised standards for almost every box of balls on that long, long shelf. Leading the charge is the so-called multiplayer ball, whose three-piece, solid core construction enables it to perform equally well whether struck by a driver or short iron. “Golf ball aerodynamics have also come a long way in the past 20 years,” says John Calabria, a veteran golf-ball designer and Golf Digest Technical Advisor. “Through the use of wind tunnels and computer-aided design, dimple patterns have progressed exponentially. The dimple patterns we use today are more effective in keeping the ball in the air as well as in offering a product that is more forgiving and consistent.” The key is to select a ball with the set of performance characteristics that best match your swing and shot making objectives. If you can save a buck or two in the process, all the better. There are four basics types of balls, each designed to appeal to a different type of player. Think of the ball market as a spectrum, with the liquid-center wound ball at the “distance” end. Almost all major ball manufacturers now offer a selection of balls whose performance ranges across spectrum. Here’s how the basic types of balls compare, as well as some advice on what kind of golfer is best suited to play them. To match these types of construction with specific products, read the packaging information or simply ask your golf retailer or pro for a selection of balls within a particular category.

Two-piece solid ball

Two-piece solid
Hard cover over a large core. Core resiliencies vary by ball.
Who its for: Golfers who seek maximum distance a straighter ball flight more "bang for the buck."

These balls are designed to leave the clubface with less backspin and a higher initial velocity. That translates into more distance, sometimes as much as the U.S. Golf Association distance limits allow. Less backspin also means less sidespin, so these “distance” balls reduce the curvature of a slice or hook. Not all two-piece solid balls are created equal, though. Ball makers vary the compression of the core to allow golfers of varying swing speeds to optimize how efficiently energy is transferred from club head to ball. Generally, the lower the compression of the core, the more benefit to the slower swinger. Softer covers have added a new degree of “feel” to these balls, while retaining durability. Such enhancements have brought the distance ball more into play for the better player searching for maximum yardage with adequate feel. Two-piece balls are also the least expensive. The bottom line: A two-piece solid ball is for golfers who want maximum distance provided by a low-spin, hardcover ball. It’s also for those who seek a straighter ball, and for those on a budget.

Liquid-center wound ball

Liquid-center wound
Soft cover over rubber windings wrapped around a liquid core.
Who it’s for: Golfers who seek feel and workability over distance.

With a soft cover and high spin rate, this ball works best for golfers who can control the trajectory and shape of their shots. However, with that “workability” comes a sacrifice in distance. A high-spin ball will also magnify a slice or hook, which makes it a poor choice for golfers who want a straighter ball. Because of their construction—rubber windings over a liquid-filled core—would balls are also among the most expensive. <BR
The bottom line: Buy this type of ball if you want the feel or workability of a high-spin ball, and don’t mind giving up some distance for it. Also, consider this ball if you hit it short but straight and rely on a sharp short game to score well.

Solid-core wound ball

Solid-core Wound
Soft cover over thin layer of rubber windings a large rubber core.
Who its for: Golfers who want control with-out giving up too much distance.

In between the traditional “feel” balls and the “distance” balls are the solid-core wound balls and the multilayer balls. The large rubber core of the three-piece wound ball is designed to produce nearly the distance of a two-piece ball. The rubber windings are designed to increase the spin rate off the short irons. Consequently, most solid-core wound balls lean slightly toward the feel or workability end of the spectrum.

The bottom line:
This ball is for golfers who want control without giving up too much distance.

Multilayer ball

Soft cover over thin hard mantle and large resilient rubber core.
Who its for: Golfers who want nearly the control of a wound ball and nearly the distance of a two-piece ball.

This three-piece ball features a large, solid core, a thin, firm inner layer and a soft but durable cover. On iron shots, the inner layer is designed to work with the cover to product a high spin rate. Off the driver the core comes more into play, with the inner layer having less effect. On tee shots the multiplayer performs much like a two-piece ball, resulting in less spin and more distance.

The bottom line:
This ball is for those who want distance without giving up too much control. These last two types of balls—the three-piece solid-core wound and in particular the multilayer ball—have been embraced by many tour professionals. Though among the most expensive balls, they’re also good options for most amateurs. It used to be that tour-caliber balls lacked distance and spun too much for most amateurs, but in the past few years they’ve nearly closed the distance gap, with lower spin rates where you need it—off the tee,” says Ed Bowe, director of instruction for the Golf Digest Schools. “Nowadays, I don’t hesitate to recommend these high-end balls to higher-handicap players.”

What about ‘recycled’ balls?
We know what you’re thinking: If all these balls are so good, why not save a bundle by simply stocking up fro the used-ball bin—or by buying water balls pulled out of a pond? For starters, you may not be saving as much money as you think: Most manufacturers offer value packs that compare favorably in price to “recycled” balls. Then there’s the more important question of performance. Be aware that a golf ball that has been submerged in water—some ball experts say for as few as four days—will be negatively affected both in terms of distance and accuracy. A Golf Digest study found that a two-piece, Surlyn-cover ball that’s been in the drink for eight days will lose nearly six yards off a driver, after three months the loss was more than nine yards in total distance. For a three-piece wound ball, the yardage drain was worse over time: After three months it was 12 yards shorter; after six months the loss totaled 15 yards. (Interestingly, after six months in the water, the two-piece ball averaged one yard farther than the ball that had been in the water for three months.) What’s more, a recycled ball may often look new, but therein lies another pitfall. Some second-hand balls are refurbished with a protective clear coat. So? The dimples on today’s balls are designed to such tight tolerances that even the thinnest of additional coatings can throw a ball’s aerodynamics out of whack. The point is, with a reclaimed ball you just don’t know what you’re getting. More balls are finding their way into all those water hazards because their durability has increased dramatically in the past few years. New blends of the high-tech plastics that comprise today’s covers have resulted in balls that are nearly impossible to cut—even the high-spin performance balls with urethane covers. Whereas a tour pro once typically retired a three-piece wound ball after only a few holes of play, today it’s not unheard of for a pro to use the same multiplayer ball for the entire round.

A final note:
The typical shelf life for a modern golf ball is three to five years, says Calabria. Heat is the enemy of any golf ball; to help them maintain velocity and compression, store them at room temperature and in relatively low humidity. Exposing golf balls to high temperature –like that of your car trunk on a hot day—will degrade their performance in many areas, including distance. All in all, teeing up a new ball at the start of your round is a small price to pay to ensure the greatest possible accuracy and distance.

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