Are More Expensive Golf Balls Better? – Golf Myths Unplugged

Money Well Spent?

When I started working in golf retail, one statistic absolutely floored me: the top selling product in golf was the Titleist ProV1.  Number two?  The ProV1x.

I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me.  Titleist spends a fortune to make sure it’s the most-played ball at every tournament, and every golfer wants to be like the pros.  But are regular golfers getting a benefit from this $4 ball?  Would they actually play better with something cheaper?  We did the testing to find out.

The Myths

Myth #1 – More expensive golf balls create more ball speed off the driver

Myth #2 – More expensive golf balls spin less with the driver

Myth #3 – More expensive golf balls spin more off a wedge

Myth #4 – More expensive golf balls fit better players

Myth #5 – More expensive golf balls feel better

How We Tested

For this test we brought together 7 golfers with handicaps ranging from 0 to 17.  Each golfer used their own driver and sand wedge to hit five good shots with a value-priced ball, a mid-market ball, and a tour ball from the same manufacturer.  All data was recorded by Trackman.

All testing was done at, and with the help of, Club Champion.

The Results

Busted.  We saw marginal differences in smash factor between golf balls.

Of our three testers who swing over 100 MPH, one had the highest smash factor with the tour ball, one with the mid-tier ball, and one had the same smash factor with all three.  Looking at the three testers who were below 95 MPH, one got the most speed from the value ball, one from the mid-tier ball, and one had equally good results with the value and mid-priced balls.

What needs to be emphasized again is that the differences at all swing speeds were marginal and are likely attributable to differences in strike quality, not the ball.

Another one bites the dust.  We found no correlation between the cost of the ball and the spin off the driver.

Two of our testers produced the most driver spin with the tour ball.  Three spun the value ball the most, and the final two had the most spin with the mid-priced ball.

Looking at the data, what was most interesting was that the difference between balls was negligible for many testers.  Five of our seven testers had less than a 300 RPM difference between the ball they spun the most and the ball they spun the least.  The other two had differences around 500 RPM from highest to lowest.  Again, strike quality can easily account for these small differences.

The idea that tour balls spin more is plausible and on the brink of being confirmed.

Of the six testers, four produced their highest spin numbers with the tour ball.  Within this group, three produced significantly more spin with the tour ball, the other was nearly even with all three balls.  Looking at the other two testers, one produced nearly equal spin with the tour and mid-priced balls.  The final tester produced the most spin with the value priced ball.

An interesting facet of this data is how the spin gap relates to distance.  The three players who hit their wedge shots the farthest were the ones who spun the non-tour balls more.  The player with the largest gap in spin between balls hit his wedge shots the shortest distance.  This leads us to wonder if the advantage of a tour ball is not seen in full shots but in partial shots and pitches.

This is an area we would like to test further so that we can examine the performance gap in wedge play and fully confirm or bust some myths.

There was nothing in our data that showed that better players need to play a more expensive golf ball.  Particularly with the driver, there was nothing to indicate that faster swingers or better strikers get benefits from a tour ball.  With the wedge, we did see some testers produce significantly more spin with the tour ball, but our best player did not.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that a better player will prefer a tour ball for one reason or another, but our data does not show that they are always a better fit.

Having done a lot of launch monitor testing with golf balls, the earlier results did not surprise us that much.  We knew that great performance could be had without spending big money.  What surprised us is how varied our testers’ preferences were when it came to feel.

No golf ball gained universal praise from our testers.  Some preferred the value ball from the driver and the tour ball off the wedge.  Others were exactly the opposite.  Preferences did not track with handicap either – our best player said they all felt the same!

This underlines the point that feel is subjective and personal.  It would be very interesting to investigate the preferences of an even larger group, particularly if they did not have the benefit of knowing the cost of each ball.

Limits of This Test

The scope of this test was limited, and we want to acknowledge that here.

First, we only tested one brand of golf ball.  Is it possible that other brands have larger variance between their value product to their tour product?  Yes, and that’s something we may test in the future.

Additionally, as was mentioned earlier, we would like to do more wedge testing to see if there is a measurable difference in wedge performance between golf balls and where it lies – full swings, pitches, etc.

Conclusion

Good news, golfers: there is no need to spend $4 a golf ball!  Golf ball manufacturers have brought excellent performance to their products at all price points, which puts more money in your pocket.  We did see some evidence that more expensive balls spin more on wedge shots, specifically short wedge shots, and it’s up to each individual to decide if that one element is worth paying double or triple for.

The Data

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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26 Comments

  1. A really interesting article, I am most surprised that low handicap players couldn’t tell the difference in feel. I certainly don’t disagree with the outcomes of the test. My go-to Ball is one a lot of people have never heard of, that I pay $6/doz for; the Wilson Zip. That doesn’t stop me from looking for the magic bullet. I try, and like, a lot of the balls on the market. But, for some unknown, cosmic reason, I tend to lose the $4 ball much faster than the $.50 ball. Finally, I wish more people would play cheaper balls: maybe they wouldn’t spend 15 minutes for the one they’ve hit in 10 foot tall grass!

  2. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I try all the different tour and non-tour balls out there (after I find them in the weeds). And there is very little difference in the play of balls across price points. My go to ball is now the Top-Flite Gamer – which I can usually find on sale for 12 to 15 dollars a dozen. I would really like to see you add chipping to your test (inside 25 yards). One thing that I’ve noticed is that some of the low compression balls seem to chip easier for amateur golfers due to their relative softness – especially out of moderate to thick rough.

  3. I read a few years ago that the Top Flight Gamer that poster G mentions was actually made by Callaway and was a version of their Hex pattern. I bought some after that article and liked them. Many terrific and inexpensive balls on the market right now.

  4. I’ve found that off the drive and irons, the type of ball does not play much of a factor for me. It’s the 100yd shots, chips, and putts that bring the biggest differences. Some balls are jumpier than others off a wedge or putter face and just fly by the hole. I generally use the Wilson Urethanes cause I love the soft feel, particularity through the wedges and putter. But if I play something else I’ll spend all day trying to find my range again around the greens.

  5. All your tests are flawed. Here’s the reason
    99% of ALL weekend players DONT break 100
    CONSISTENTLY. that’s not me talking but repeating what Mike Malaska says. And he’s consistently voted one of the top 100 golf instructors every year. So quit giving us 1-17 handicappers testing equipment. Give us handicappers from 20 to 35 for real world results. I play with a circle of 20 friends. ALL OF THEM say they shoot in the 80s to mid 90s. Out of those 20. ONLY TWO consistently break 100. SO PLEASE GIVE US REAL WORLD DATA

    • Matt Saternus

      Paul,

      What data would you like to see? The tops, fats, and shanks that a 30-handicap produces in the hitting bay? How will that data help us to show anything?

      If your complaint was about not having a representative range of swing speeds, that would be understandable, but we do have a wide range of swing speeds in this test.

      This is not a perfect test, which I acknowledged above. Excluding 30-handicappers is not the reason why.

      -Matt

      • Phillip Kilsner

        Hi Matt,
        I realize this is a pretty late comment, but as someone who didn’t really take up golf until I was in my late 40’s, and who in my 50’s is that 30-handicapper; for me it’s simply a matter of what I can keep in play. I have hit a lot of different brands and models, and despite tops, fats, and shanks, I’ve still figured out there are balls that I can’t play and there are some that I can. And, yes I do enjoy the game as a high-handicapper. I’m just not that good, never will be, and I don’t care. I have no idea what my spin or ball speed is. I just like being on the course swatting a few around. I think most weekenders are in the same mindset. So, the data is simple – how bad are the misses? All your data is for a good stroke. How does the ball react to a poor stroke? For me, I know that if I try to drive a Volvik Vivid, I should just give it a goodbye kiss before I tee it up. I don’t know why, but I have literally never driven one and didn’t lose it. But, I can use an OnCore Avant and swat at it all day and keep it in play even when I screw up. Most balls I use are somewhere in between. Anyway, just my two cents on getting data for the duffers. Thanks.

    • I have never understood how golfers who could not break 100 could even enjoy the game. If a person can’t break 100 the ball is not going to matter. Just buy the used balls for a quarter apiece.

      • Puzzling comment you wrote there. I rarely break 100 (usually 101-106) but the reason is because I don’t play enough to be consistent. I can top shots, hit it heavy, then hit beautiful shots as well. That’s what makes it fun. Last two rounds my drives on the last hole were 310 and 320 yards, both in the middle of the fairway on par 5’s. One was a nice fade, the other a nice draw. Scores for those rounds were 97 and 106. Some of us just enjoy the camaraderie, atmosphere, and fun/frustration that the game provides. Regarding balls… buy whatever you want. Just realize no one cares if your ball costs $4 per. If it goes in the woods, drop and keep it moving. We are not paid to play. Just have fun.

  6. This was a very good test and I was surprised by a few myths that were debunked. Other than some of the “rock” balls that are out there most others feel almost identical off the driver and irons. For me at least, when I putt and chip is where I can tell the difference.

  7. Fair test IMO. Living on a course I have the luxury😎 of playing all Golf balls produced, some I’ve really no idea who makes them. Believe me folks play anything. Personally it seems at our club with a wide spectrum of handicaps from single digit to off the charts the top players in the leagues play a upper mid priced ball that “feels” best for their swing. I’m a low double digit handicapper and find anything but a rock with the driver works. It’s the tight lies and short irons plus the flat stick that feel appeals to my short game. Most shoots saved are here! Just for me I play a low compression under $30.00 bucks ball.

  8. you’re not making the marketing team at Titleist very happy, but I think your readers appreciate the work you put in. I, for one, thank you.

  9. If you consider that the golf ball industry (not clubs, etc. – just balls) overall sales is .. say .. $1 Billion .. then every +1¢ on price = +$10 Million in revenue……

    So, yeah, it literally pays for them to blast non-stop media promotions and advertising at us .. to induce is to believe that “premium ball” == “premium performance”……..

    IMO. YMMV.

  10. I can’t believe you had to do this test to prove all of this. It has always been obvious that the advantage of a tour ball is the short game. A person only has to go out and hit some pitch and chip shots to see that the tour ball will spin more than the others. The reason the tour ball is better is because you get this short game control without losing distance. Years ago you had to sacrifice distance to get this kind of spin. Anyone who can consistently hit the ball in the center of the club face will benefit from using the pro v’s, chrome soft, and other top tier golf balls.

    • Matt Saternus

      Jerry,

      The point of this series is to take that which “obvious” and either put data behind it or blow it up.

      -Matt

  11. thanks for this great idea

  12. Really appreciate your hard work. I was searching for which golf ball is the best for beginner and ended up here anyhow i also found one more article which help me a lot thought to share it with you guys

  13. I enjoyed this test and agree. Big dollar ball makers have big dollar staffs to feed. Top Flite Gamer for me is as good as pro v all day long and I am a scratch golfer.

  14. Murray Gilbertson

    Hey Matt, thanks for deriving a scientific approach to the golf ball myths. I have been looking at producing CFD simulations of the golfball but have looked at the regulations that the USGA has enforced as of 2011, that states the testing method using the specified titanium driver and swing robot do not allow the golf ball to fly further than 317 ±3 yards. Therefore, my curiosity of optimizing dimple geometry and etc. is a moot point. Looking at the Cd and CL is already handcuffed to the distance restrictions. Sorry, a bit of a rant, just a super nerdy engineer who loves golf.
    I did have one question about your testing, was it a blind test or were the golfers informed of the brand/type of golf balls they were using?
    Also just another question to pick your brain, is there a way to test the stability of the golf ball in windy conditions? Obviously if done with actual experimental testing the player has to be very consistent, but if you were to do this by simulations, what do you think it would entail? Thanks, Murray

    • Matt Saternus

      Murray,

      The players weren’t told what ball they were using, but if they chose to look, we didn’t try to stop them.
      With regard to testing stability in the wind, I don’t know. Simulations like that are beyond my pay grade.

      Best,

      Matt

  15. Matt,
    Good article. It reminds me of the conversation I had with an old club pro. He carries a container on his personal golf cart full of “OPB’s” (Other People’s Balls) and simply grabs one to play the hole. He said in the last 12 years he has yet to purchase a golf ball. I asked him, “Is there a difference in all these balls?” He said, “I cannot see a difference. They all hit the same. The hardest distance to overcome is 6″, the space between the ears.” He was telling me that its not the ball that matters, nor the brand of club, but rather the brain and what it tells you to do. For me I have found that some balls do “feel” better on the greens, but it is not worth $4 per ball! Your myth busters approach to this gives unbiased testing. Yes, I am a 25 handicapper that struggles to consistently break 100. and guess what, my driver does not care if its a ProV1 or TopFlite XL, my irons/wedges don’t care nor does my putter. If I can play egoless golf and realize that its not the ball that matters, nor the club but rather the 6″ between my ears I have a great round (for me that’s in the upper 90’s) whether its a ProV1 or TopFlite Xl.

  16. Of the millions of golfers out there, is there any way you can estimate what % of golfers have handicaps that are better than scratch, 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16 -20, 21-25. 26 &over.
    Just curious. Better (serious) golfers should just go to expensive (exclusive) courses and let the rest of us duffers just have fun

  17. Jerry Noble

    I can’t believe a test was required to prove this. All you have to do is take a variety of balls and chip around a practice green. The Titliest Pro VIx will check better than any of them. Since my swing speed is below 100 mph I also discovered that the Bridgestone RXS is very close to being as good. Off the tee, their is little if any difference. The reason these are the two balls I use is because I trust that each ball I take out of the box will be the same quality. I play the Bridgestone in cooler and windy weather. It is lower compression and seems to fly farther in cold weather the wind does not seem to affect it as much. Others may be as well, but I’m not certain. I have taken other brands out to the course and compared them. They do not seem as consistent to me. It might just be me but I am certain about these two.

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