We reviewed player opinions, robot-testing data and technical information from golf-ball manufacturers and our panel of scientists
A group of 17 players, ranging from golf pros to low-handicap amateurs, evaluated each ball during four days of testing at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla. Each ball was assigned a number, and all logos and distinguishing marks were blacked out. Players hit shots from various locations (tee, fairway, greenside) on a hole, with more than half of the shots occurring on or around the green. Each golf-ball finalist was hit about 300 times. Players were interviewed by editors to get their assessments of each ball.
Golf Laboratories, an independent research company in San Diego, conducted robot testing to assess each ball's short-game spin and launch angle. Every ball was hit with a 56-degree wedge (50-yard shot). Multilayer balls with urethane covers launch lower with higher spin, and balls with ionomer covers slide up the clubface and launch higher with less spin. On the following pages, we characterize launch and spin as LOW, MID or HIGH. In our testing, launch angles ranged from 26 to 38 degrees and spin rates 3,100 to 7,000 revolutions per minute. We did not use the robot to test driver distance. A ball's capacity for distance depends on swing speed and swing type. The best way to judge which ball is longer for you is to evaluate balls on a launch monitor and on the course.
Our four judges evaluated candidates for the Hot List in four weighted criteria:
1. PERFORMANCE / 45%
Based on interviews with our players, independent robot testing and other sources, the judges assessed the utility of each product. Simply put, this score reflects how the ball reacts when struck.
2. INNOVATION / 30%
In consultation with our technical panel and based on interviews and a review of company documents, this grade reflects how a ball's technology advances the category and how that technology is explained to the public and our editors.
3. FEEL / 20%
Using input from the players who hit a variety of shots from multiple locations, our judges evaluated how often the feel of one ball was preferred over that of another. Feel includes sound.
4. DEMAND / 5%
An assessment of the reputation, interest, intrigue and excitement about a ball, considering market presence, tour use, relative value and consumer satisfaction by consulting research from Golf Datatech, other published resources, and a panel of leading retailers.
TWO-PIECE: A cover and core, found in the least-expensive balls.
THREE-PIECE: A cover and core inside a core, or a core surrounded by a mantle. Four-piece A cover, dual cores and a mantle, or a cover, single core and dual mantles.
CORE: The rubber compound at the center of a ball. Its resiliency provides the ball's energy.
IONOMER: A durable, resilient cover or mantle material made of a blend of plastic resins (Surlyn). There are 28 varieties of Surlyn produced by DuPont for golf applications, plus many proprietary blends.
MANTLE: A layer of polymer between the core and the cover. It's usually used to control spin off high-speed impact but also plays a role in feel on some ionomer-covered balls and spin on some balls with urethane covers.
URETHANE: A softer, more elastic cover material than ionomer and more expensive to manufacture.