More than any category we evaluate for the Hot List, the differences among golf balls are more subtle to decipher. And yet those differences can provide certain advantages. Obviously, we think you should start your search for golf balls by reviewing the selections we highlight in Golf Digest’s 2018 golf ball Hot List. With hundreds of golf balls available across the retail landscape (both in golf shops, online and via direct-to-consumer manufacturers), the 42 products we highlight reflect balls that will serve your buying and playing preferences well.
One way to understand ball differences is to look at a specific short game test we’ve been running for many years. Using good players and a Foresight Sports GCQuad launch monitor, we evaluated each ball’s spin and launch angle on 50-yard wedge shots. The specific shot we use is a slightly lower-flighted, driving pitch, as opposed to a running chip shot or flop shot. What we’re seeing more this year than ever before however, is more instances of golf balls that can produce the kind of greenside spin that previously was reserved only for the most expensive balls.
However, what we’re also seeing is that the highest priced golf balls provide the most consistency in producing that lower-flight and quick-checking spin on these types of shots. So while our chart reflects averages, we can say with strong confidence that every ball in the highest price category had much less variance in both spin and launch angle than any of the balls in the lower price categories.
Generally, our results showed that the most spin on this shot came from balls with urethane covers and a multilayer construction. What’s more interesting than ever before is that balls with solid core, multilayer construction and urethane covers now show up at the high, mid and even low-price categories.
Often the advantage of these urethane covered balls vs. ionomer or Surlyn covered balls was 800-1,500 rpms of spin. What does that difference mean in terms of proximity to the hole? A little or a lot. Depends firstly on how firm the greens are: the firmer the green the more spin can be beneficial in stopping the ball. It’s also noteworthy that the lower spinning balls tend to launch higher so that may help them stop after landing because of their steep angle of descent, particularly in the greens are not firm. Still, the Foresight Sports ballflight simulation software suggests that the spin difference might mean 15-18 feet of extra rollout after landing compared to the highest spinning balls.
But this is really an individual player decision. The data in this chart may offer insight, but your individual practical application is more important. So take three or four sleeves of balls that interest you and head out to the short game area and see if you see differences that matter to you. You can take the balls you like best around the green to an approach shot distance that you feel confident with and see if your choices satisfy your performance requirements. Finally, you can even see how your favorites perform off the tee. Bottom line: Choose the ball that you think best helps your score by improving the area of the game you think is most important to your score. At the same time, make sure that choice doesn’t lead to excessive, or ideally any, compromise in the other facets of your game.