2012 Hot List: Golf Balls

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2012 Hot List: Golf Balls

April 14, 2012

Bridgestone B330 / B330-RX / B330-RXS / B330-S

Price: $43/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 5 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 3 starsTech Talk: As of this year, all four models use a dual-dimple design aimed at reducing drag at launch (for more speed) and increasing lift later in flight (for longer carry). The B330 and B330-S use a softer, thinner urethane cover to improve feel and distance; the RX models feature a softer ionomer blend in the mantle layer designed to reduce sidespin.Verdict: Bridgestone still makes the best case for using non-tour-speed balls (not that its elite balls are slouches, though). Still, even our fastest swingers liked the feel of the RXS best.Info: bridgestonegolf.com

Callaway HEX Black Tour

Price: $46/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 2.5 starsTech Talk: New for 2012, the five-piece construction starts with the softest inner core and the firmest outer core in company history to produce the biggest difference between driver-shot spin and wedge-shot spin. The firm outer mantle is for speed, and the soft inner mantle is to help absorb impact. A slightly thicker thermoplastic urethane cover than last year's model is designed for softer feel.Verdict: Why one ball? Because the idea was to make a ball faster than the firm-core Tour iZ and softer than the soft-cover Tour iS. We approve.Info: callawaygolf.com

Nike 20XI-S / 20XI-X

Price: $46/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 5 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 2 starsTech Talk: Continued from last year, the cores are constructed of an injection-molded polymer resin instead of traditional rubber. The purpose is to improve the power of the core and stretch the ratio better between low spin off the driver and high spin off the wedge. How? By increasing the ball s moment of inertia with denser outer layers versus less dense inner layers.Verdict: Use of the X and S is split among Nike's tour staff, a sign that each has few compromises. We also like the green aspects of this ball chemistry.Info: nikegolf.com

Srixon Z-Star / Z-Star SL / Z-Star XV

Price: $45/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 2 starsTech Talk: The Z-Star line expands this year to include the lower compression SL, which is designed to produce a higher launch angle for average swing speeds. Each model features a large-core design that increases in firmness from center to exterior in a unique gradient. The urethane covers are among the thinnest in the game, including the firmer-compression XV (.012 inches)Verdict: The standard Z-Star provides the most spin around the green of the three balls, but the SL offers an intriguing alternative that many of our players preferred.Info: srixon.com

Titleist Pro V1 / Pro V1x

Price: $48/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 5 starsDemand: 5 starsTech Talk: The Pro V1 features a core formulation process designed to improve resiliency, and the Pro V1x uses a dual core (soft inner, firm outer). Both balls make use of a urethane elastomer cover with dimples arranged in spherically tiled patterns for consistent surface coverage. The Pro V1x pattern encourages a higher and later peak trajectory; the Pro V1 pattern is for a more penetrating trajectory into the wind.Verdict: Truly exceptional in all areas. Guidance? Pro V1x is for low spin on tee shots; Pro V1 is for softer feel in the short game.Info: titleist.com

Dixon Fire

Price: $60/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 2 starsTech Talk: Designed for swing speeds of 90 miles per hour or faster, the three-piece ball has been updated for 2012 with a more durable cover made of cast urethane. The ball has a core designed to be environmentally responsible by using what the company calls a "lack of heavy metals." The company offers a $6 credit for turning in a dozen old balls for recycling.Verdict: Discount or not, the price is steep, but the effort to go greener is worthwhile. The ball performed admirably in our player evaluations, particularly on iron shots.Info: dixongolf.com

Maxfli U/4 / U/4x

Price: $40/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 1 starsTech Talk: These cast urethane-covered balls have four layers, including dual mantles featuring an inner layer of DuPont HPF 2000 polymer, designed to reduce spin on driver shots. The core is firmer on the U/4x, and the outer mantle layer on the U/4 is designed to be softer and produce higher wedge-shot spin.Verdict: Availability is somewhat limited (only in Dick's Sporting Goods stores and Golf Galaxy), but the effort to achieve low spin with the driver and high spin with the wedge is earnest and successful.Info: maxfli.com

Wilson FG Tour / FG Tour X

Price: $40/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 1.5 starsTech Talk: The three-piece construction comes in two options, the 75-compression FG Tour and the 95-compression FG Tour X. The FG Tour is designed to have the lowest compression of all multilayer, urethane-covered balls. The ionomer mantle layer is also softer on the FG Tour compared with the FG Tour X. The cast-urethane cover is designed to promote short-iron spin on both models.Verdict: The lower price for both balls is a bonus, but of the two, our players favored the FG Tour, especially in the area of feel.Info: wilsongolf.com

Bridgestone e5

Price: $27/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 3.5 starsTech Talk: Targeted at players with moderate swing speeds, this two-piece ball introduced last year has a large gradational core and is designed to promote a high launch angle and enhance spin around the greens through its urethane cover. The dual-dimple design features a deeper inner dimple meant to enhance initial launch and an exterior dimple meant to promote a shallow landing angle for increased roll.Verdict: We've long praised the e5's urethane cover and its full-swing launch benefits. No change here.Info: bridgestonegolf.com

Bridgestone e6

Price: $27/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 4 starsTech Talk: Continued from last year, this Surlyn-covered, three-piece ball features the e-Series' 330 dual-dimple pattern that's designed to generate initial velocity and a shallow landing angle. The soft mantle works to mitigate spin, particularly on driver shots (among the lowest driver spin in our evaluations). Bridgestone describes the e6 as the softest multilayer ball on the market.Verdict: These multiple layers address real golfer problems (see slice, hook). Our testers liked the feel on the greens of this distance ball.Info: bridgestonegolf.com

Callaway HEX Chrome

Price: $36/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 5 starsInnovation: 5 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 3.5 starsTech Talk: It was developed with a softer core than the company's HEX Black Tour to work better with non-tour-level clubhead speeds. The three-piece ball has the same thermoplastic urethane cover formula for spin around the greens and the same hexagonal dimple design for improved aerodynamic consistency found on the tour ball. The low-compression core is meant to increase ball speed on tee shots for average swing speeds.Verdict: In all the right ways, HEX Chrome is a tour ball. In one way, though, it thankfully isn't: price.Info: callawaygolf.com

Callaway HEX Diablo Tour

Price: $26/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 2.5 starsTech Talk: The core of this three-piece, ionomer-covered ball has a soft center that gets firmer toward the outer edge, reducing driver spin and increasing short-iron spin to improve stopping distance. The DuPont HPF mantle layer is designed to improve initial velocity and control spin on tee shots, and the hexagonal dimple pattern is for greater aerodynamic consistency.Verdict: A reliable performer on full swings, it gives what most golfers want from their tee shots: high launch and low spin.Info: callawaygolf.com

Srixon Q-Star

Price: $25/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 3.5 starsTech Talk: Created for 10-handicappers and higher (because Srixon's testing says this group gets more benefit from non-urethane-covered balls), the large core of this two-piece ball has various levels of increasing stiffness from the core's center to its exterior to maximize launch angle and minimize driver spin. The 324-dimple pattern is designed to create a penetrating flight.Verdict: The company's goals for performance off the tee draw the most attention with this ball, but our players were also impressed by the feel around the green.Info: srixon.com

Titleist NXT Tour

Price: $32/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 5 starsDemand: 5 starsTech Talk: Engineered to be longer off the tee, the NXT Tour features a new dual core in which the relative size and formulations between the soft center and the outer core were redesigned to improve ball speed. The volume of the outer core was increased by about 4 percent. A spherically tiled dimple pattern yields a more uniform surface coverage. The ionomer-blend cover is designed for short-game spin and control.Verdict: The recurring comment from our player testers--"Feels like a borderline tour ball"--is meaningful.Info: titleist.com

Titleist NXT Tour S

Price: $32/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 4 starsTech Talk: The performance objectives are similar to the NXT Tour: deliver low spin on driver and long-iron shots. But it does so in a different way: It contains a large core that is highly resilient and easily compressed. A spherically tiled dimple pattern is arranged with four axes of symmetry for equal surface coverage. The other difference with the regular NXT Tour is a softer feel for all shots.Verdict: Although it's five bucks more than any other two-piece ball, our sense is that it's an NXT Tour with a touch more greenside spin.Info: titleist.com

Titleist Velocity

Price: $27/dozenMedal: GolfPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 5 starsTech Talk: Sparked by a revise of the old NXT line, the newly engineered core of this two-piece ball is designed to make it faster and more resilient than any other Titleist core. The NAZ2 ionomer-blend cover features a composition that is designed for high initial speed and a dimple pattern aimed at creating long distance through higher flights.Verdict: This is that rare Titleist that unabashedly goes for speed. And let's be honest: If you're unsure whether your short game needs a ball with more subtlety, trust us: It doesn't.Info: titleist.com

Maxfli U/3

Price: $25/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 3.5 starsDemand: 1 starsTech Talk: This three-piece ball has a soft urethane cover that's designed to increase wedge-shot spin, and its 422 large and shallow dimples promote a higher flight. The soft DuPont HPF 2000 polymer mantle layer is designed to reduce driver spin, specifically hooks and slices. The low-compression core (65) is aimed at increasing the ability of players with lower than tour-level swing speeds to compress the ball.Verdict: For this type of construction, the price is relatively incredible, and the performance makes it worth a second look.Info: maxfli.com

Nike Vapor Black

Price: $25/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 3.5 starsDemand: 2.5 starsTech Talk: The reformulated core features a firmer compression than other models, and the ionomer cover uses shallow dimples for a combined effort to produce faster initial ball speed, longer carry and optimal spin. The advanced polymer mantle is designed to improve distance on off-center hits through tighter spin control.Verdict: The "Power Transfer Layer" of the mantle has merit, especially where most of us need it: on longer shots that have the greatest chance to be mis-hit. A good price, too.Info: nikegolf.com

Bridgestone xFIXx

Price: $20/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 5 starsInnovation: 3.5 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 2 starsTech Talk: This two-piece ball has a low-compression core that gets firmer toward the cover--a formula designed to produce higher launch with reduced backspin. The 330-dimple pattern is intended to generate a consistent ball flight.Verdict: Although overshadowed by the more commercially successful B330 and e-series balls, the xFIXx deserves a look. It's been among a group of player-panel favorites for two years. For a non-tour ball engineered for recreational players, this one is soft and still spins enough to help golfers with slow swings.Info: bridgestonegolf.com

Callaway HX Diablo

Price: $20/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4 starsFeel: 4.5 starsDemand: 3 starsTech Talk: The HX Diablo is a two-piece ball with a large (1.595 inches), low-compression core designed to boost initial ball velocity. A .044-inch-thick ionomer cover helps lower spin off the driver. The company's patented HEX aerodynamics (traditional dimples are replaced with a hexagonal tubular lattice network) eliminate flat spots on the ball's surface to reduce drag and promote a penetrating ball flight.Verdict: This is a distance ball with a soft feel that doesn't become mushy. That's no easy feat.Info: callawaygolf.com

Maxfli U/2

Price: $20/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 4 starsDemand: 2 starsTech Talk: Maxfli believes the low, 75-compression core accomplishes a couple of things: a softer feel and the ability to allow slower swingers to compress the core more easily to create greater resiliency for more distance. The 422 large, shallow dimples are designed to produce a higher, longer flight. The U/2 has a urethane cover for extra spin on wedge shots.Verdict: Not many two-piece balls upgrade to a urethane cover for some grab on wedge shots. This makes for a noteworthy combination of distance and feel with an attractive price.Info: maxfli.com

Titleist DT SoLo

Price: $20/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4.5 starsInnovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 5 starsDemand: 5 starsTech Talk: Normally a slightly smaller core would reduce the speed of a ball. The Titleist engineers, however, reformulated the center to maintain speed and produce the softest core of any DT ball to date. The 392-dimple cover pattern encompasses five different-size dimples designed to produce a low flight for enhanced roll out on tee shots.Verdict: The dual-ionomer blend cover produced a fair amount of control around the greens--a neat trick in a two-piece ball. If you swing slower than 90 miles per hour, this might be your Titleist.Info: titleist.com

Top-Flite Gamer V2

Price: $20/dozenMedal: GoldPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 5 starsFeel: 3.5 starsDemand: 3 starsTech Talk: Dimple-in-dimple technology in this three-piece ball helps reduce drag and maintain spin. A softer core is designed to be highly resilient, and a DuPont HPF mantle layer contributes to increased ball speed and ideal driver spin.Verdict: A multilayer ball that costs $20 a dozen is ridiculous--in a good way. The durable cover is designed to add greenside control, something we noticed during our on-course testing. Consider the Gamer V2 a distance ball with a master's degree in feel and playability--not to mention economics.Info: topflite.com

Srixon Soft Feel

Price: $20/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4 starsInnovation: 3.5 starsFeel: 3.5 starsDemand: 3.5 starsTech Talk: Designed for sub-85-mile-per-hour swings, the low-compression core of this two-piece ball gets progressively softer toward the center for a more efficient energy transfer. The 328-dimple pattern and low-friction blended-ionomer cover are designed to increase trajectory and maintain low spin.Verdict: Srixon's research suggests mid- to higher-handicappers had more consistent short-game results with this ball than with a "tour ball." We think it would be worth a personal test. You might be surprised.Info: srixon.com

Wilson Duo

Price: $20/dozenMedal: SilverPerformance: 4Innovation: 4.5 starsFeel: 3.5 starsDemand: 2.5 starsTech Talk: Wilson increased the amount of pure rubber in the large core to boost velocity and lower the compression (to 37, making it the lowest-compression ball on the market, according to the company). The goal is to reduce driver spin and enhance feel and spin around the green. A seamless cover with a 302-dimple pattern is designed to improve lift.Verdict: The Duo is a fresh development for average golfers that deserves some attention for its soft feel through the bag--and for protecting your wallet.Info: wilson.com

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