Even though the golf ball doesn't know who's hitting it, there are performance benefits that can be engineered into a ball design that might help one player more than another. Of course, the more of those design benefits you want, the more complex the ball design is going to be, and (no surprise) the more you'll likely pay for such innovation. It can be a lot of noise about something that looks just as round and white as the next ball. But are performance benefits limited to the few privileged shotmakers out there? What about the needs of average golfers? Certainly, there is no shortage of technology, whether the ball is designed for tournament players or weekend hackers. However, all that work is done at the micro-level. Engineers at Bridgestone, for example, can analyze air flow inside a dimple to improve aerodynamics for its line of regular-Joe e5+ and e6+ golf balls. Callaway's soon-to-be introduced dual-core Tour-i and Tour-ix balls will feature an outer-core layer infused with microscopic bits of tungsten designed to increase the ball's moment of inertia (MOI) to better control spin and flight.
The question remains: Are average golfers best served by a tour ball or one with limited (but specific) performance benefits? Some say the weaknesses of average golfers can be addressed better with certain types of balls. For example, a low-compression ball might be easier to launch high for players with slow swing speeds. Being custom-fit for a golf ball on a launch monitor can highlight differences, as can on-course research.
Says Bridgestone's Shunsuke Tayama: "Getting fit for a golf ball is especially important the more you hit the ball off-center. The worse you are and the slower you swing, the more you benefit from ballfitting."
TaylorMade's Dean Snell believes that a launch monitor might tell only half the story when it comes to ballfitting. "A ballfitting should not be just with the driver anymore," he says. "Our opinion is that you should start at 150 or 100 yards, or even 70 yards. If you can't see a difference, then you should buy the cheapest one."
There are four primary kinds of golf balls: the two-piece distance ball, the two-piece low-compression ball, the multilayer ball with an ionomer cover (like Surlyn) and the multilayer ball with a polyurethane cover (like most tour balls). These balls behave differently for different players on different shots, but just how different are they on full swings? To test, we had a double-digit handicapper with a swing speed of 95 miles per hour and a scratch player with a swing speed of 105 mph hit these balls with a driver and a 9-iron. Distilling the averages of both players, the range was surprisingly tight among the four balls. The difference between the highest and lowest bar (see charts right) in driver carry distance was seven yards, 900 revolutions per minute in driver spin and five yards in 9-iron height. Launch monitors sometimes tell only part of the story. Though the two-piece distance ball flew the highest, it also tended to roll the farthest from its pitch mark once it hit the green. --Max Adler