How the Golf Ball Affects Your Game

By Lon Horwedel

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All of the different golf balls on the market can make anyone wonder how much testing they need to do and how much they need to spend to get a ball that is right for them.

The Tour Ball

It's nearly impossible for any golfer to try every ball available, so lets look at the three specific types of balls on the market and whether you should give them a try.
The first type, and easily the most expensive, is what is classified as a professional, or a "tour" ball. Several different companies make a professional ball, but the most popular are the Titleist Pro V-1 and Pro V-1x, the Callaway Tour iX, the TaylorMade TP Red and Black, the Bridgestone Tour B330, and the Nike One Black and Platinum models.
Expect to pay up to or more than $50 a dozen for these models, and don't be shocked if your scores don't change one bit, despite the expense of the ball.
The key to playing a tour ball well is having a swing speed in excess of 100 miles per hour, and more preferably 105 miles per hour, with your driver. If you don't---and chances are pretty good you do not---then these balls do you little, if any, good.
True, most tour balls are covered in a long-lasting, soft-feeling urethane or elastomer cover that are great around the greens, but you may be surprised to find little, if any, gain in distance with these balls off the tee and even less with your irons.

High-End Amateur Balls

The better bet for most amateurs is to drop down a level to the ever-popular high-end amateur balls such as the Titleist NXT and NXT Tour, or the extremely popular Bridgestone B330RX (a tour-quality ball built for players with slower swing speeds). Callaway also makes the HX Hot ball, which falls into this category.
Precept may well have started this trend about five years ago when golfers discovered its MC Lady ball (designed for women) was flying miles further, and was considerably cheaper, than professional models. To appease the male golfer, Precept simply changed the name of the ball to the Scottish-sounding "Laddie" and marketed it for males. It was one of the best balls I ever played until the company tried to improve it with its Laddie X, which may have traveled further but was hard as a rock around the greens.
High-end amateur balls are much better for players with swing speeds in the 85 to 95 mile per hour range, and they'll cost you much less. Typically they sell anywhere from $20 to $45 a dozen.

Bargain Balls

The last type of ball, which most experienced players avoid all together, are the garden-variety distance balls found at sporting goods stores---the Dunlops, Pinnacles and Top-Flites of the world (although it should be noted the Top-Flite Gamer is a high-end amateur ball). Usually selling in a bargain quantity greater than a dozen (15-ball packs seem to be the rage), these balls can sell for as little as $9.99 per pack.
For beginners, these balls are great because the feel is of little concern, and if you pound three, four, five or maybe a half dozen of them into a water hazard, you haven't ventured much capital. Of course, anyone with even a remotely decent golf game will tell you these balls are just rocks that have been painted white.

Now, Experiment

Before you go out and buy a dozen balls, figure out how much money you're willing to spend. Once you know that, the best thing you can do is make up your dozen from four different three-ball sleeves comprised of similar-style balls.
You'll soon find that some balls will just feel better than others, some will go further than others, and most likely, none of them will do what they say they'll do on the side of the sleeve. And remember, no matter what brand you choose, at some point during the season you will stray and try another brand. It's half the fun of golf.

About the Author

Lon Horwedel has been a photojournalist for 25 years and a 1-handicap golfer for 30 years. As a golf journalist he has covered the 2004 Ryder Cup, the 1996 U.S. Open, the 2008 PGA Championship and the 2009 NCAA Championship's at Inverness Club in Toledo, as well as several Buick Opens.