Golf Balls

VII. Golf Balls

1. General

Golf ball design and construction

has changed immensely in the last 10 years. Once you only had to decide

between Balata (expensive, only for low handicappers) and Surlyn (for the

rest of us). But today there are literally dozens of different types of

covers and construction methods. Today there are 2 piece, 3 piece, multi-layer,

wound, double cover and almost any other type of ball you can think of.

But when the hype gets out of hand, remember that the USGA/R&A very

strictly regulate ball velocity, so all golf balls will travel approximately

the same distance, with distance type balls being perhaps a few yards longer

than spin type balls.

2. Balata/Spin

A balata covered ball is the original

spin ball. It is typically a three piece ball: a core (sometimes liquid

filled) wound with rubber and covered with balata. Balata is a soft substance

which susceptible  to cuts and nicks. This softness generally promotes

a high ball spin rate. A higher spin rate allows better players to shape

their shots, i.e. to deliberately draw or fade the shot. It also will assist

in making the ball back-up or stop when it lands on the green. Today the

balata is artificial and many other compounds are used to achieve the same

effect, but with less susceptibility to cuts and nicks.

3. Surlyn/Distance

A distance ball is generally a

two piece ball, typically consisting of a solid rubber core with a man-made

cover that is less susceptible to cuts and nick than balata. The original

cover material was called Surlyn and almost all distance balls still use

a variation of surlyn as a cover material. Distance balls have a lower

spin rate than spin type balls. This is beneficial to players looking for

a longer, straighter ball flight. The drawback is that because the ball

has a lower spin rate, it is more difficult to deliberately draw or fade

a shot. However, for a significant majority of players this is not a serious

consideration. A factor that is of significant consideration is that distance

balls may feel harder than spin type balls when struck, particularly to

low handicap players. Some of the hardest distance type balls are referred

to as “rocks”.

4. Other Materials

Thanks to the wonders of chemistry,

there are now many other types of cover materials available for golf balls.

These include artificial balata, elastopolymers, etc. Most of these covers

are designed to combine the durability of surlyn with the spin characteristics

of balata. They are also generally quite expensive, but typically last

longer than balata balls. These balls may be two piece, three piece or

multi-layer, depending on the playing characteristics the manufacturer

is aiming for.

5. Compression

Compression of a golf ball is

designed to match the feel of the ball to the golfer's preference. Typical

compression ratings are between 80 and 100, with most players using a 90

compression ball as a compromise. Many above average golfers tend to agree

that hitting a 100 compression ball feels like hitting a rock. Contrary

to popular myth, studies indicate that a 100 compression ball is not significantly

longer than 90 or 80 compression balls.

6. Notes

Determining the type of ball you

should use, as well as the compression is purely preference. Some people

find that a distance type ball is quite playable, while others feel they

need the action a spin type ball gives. Generally, higher handicap players

will benefit more from a distance or two piece ball due to its lower spin

rate. Lower handicap players often prefer a spin type or three piece soft

cover ball because of its higher spin rate.

7. Quick Comparison


  • Softer cover

  • Higher spin rate

  • Easier to work

  • Usually three piece ball

  • Usually more expensive with a shorter life


  • More durable cover

  • Lower spin rate

  • Slightly more distance

  • Usually two piece ball

  • Usually less expensive with a longer life


  • Soft, yet durable cover

  • Usually better spin than typical surlyn ball

  • Usually better durability than typical balata


  • Higher initial cost than surlyn, but typically

    longer life than balata

This FAQ is Copyright 1999-2002 by Daniel J. Driscoll, all

rights reserved. Product and company names used in this document

may be trademarked or copyrighted by the respective owners. This

document may be replicated in whole or in part, without

alteration. All replications must include this copyright notice.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *