Gear & EquipmentFebruary 5, 2011

Insights from a week of golf ball testing

After completing our player testing portion of the research for the annual golf ball Hot List this past week at the Reunion Resort outside Orlando, Fla., here are three things I immediately noticed, and they might be educational for you, too.

  1. Most players have never tested golf balls. Sure, they have played a round with a new ball just to try out a new model, but almost never do they put a ball through the paces they might go through for even a new driver. Our group of players were hard core types, self-professed equipment geeks. Some of them even practiced after going through our daily five hours of ball testing. But each of them said they had never done anything like what they experienced with our golf ball examination, even though the golf ball is the most important tool in the golf bag, if only for the simple reason that it must work with every shot in the game. Not sure it's that important? Well, it might be worth knowing that at the end of every session every player wanted to know the model of ball he liked the best. Since the test was blind, he or she didn't know what ball was being hit until the day was done. And get this: Nearly every one of them was surprised when the name behind the number was revealed. It might be worth your while to adopt the same "blind taste test" process we use in the golf ball Hot List the next time you go out and test two or three new golf balls.  Just playing a round with them isn't enough. Hit plenty of the shots you think that matter, and take the advice of Dean Snell, senior director of golf ball research at TaylorMade: "If you can't tell the difference, play the cheaper one."

  2. There are feel differences at every level of golf ball, whether you're spending the most money or considerably less. In the $20 category, the $30 category and the $40 category, it was not unusual for a player's scores to run the gamut in the feel category from poor to excellent. Still, if we were to generalize, the range of feel was tightest within the expensive ball category.

  3. The next time you think the cheap balls are perfect for higher handicappers, consider this thought from one of our players, a plus-2: "I don't know if I can explain this exactly, but you almost have to be a better short game player with the cheaper balls than you do with the most expensive balls. It gets really hard, and you have to think so much just to figure out a way to get the ball to finish around the hole. Sometimes there just isn't a way to do it."

Look for the  Hot List for golf balls in an upcoming issue of Golf DIgest. Until then, here are last year's ratings.

--Mike Stachura

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