March 15th, 2012 by Tyler Pringle
Surely you’ve heard this before: your golf ball is the only piece of equipment you use on every stroke. Shouldn’t it be the most well thought out piece of equipment you put in play then? It’s amazing how often the golf ball is over looked. Everyone wants to run out and demo the new driver hitting the market that promises to add 10+ yards off the tee. However, it’s rare for golfers to demo a variety of different golf balls that will most likely improve their games immediately.
The main difference between golf balls at the lower and higher price points has to do with the materials in the cover of the ball. Cheaper balls typically have a surlyn ionomer cover- basically a plastic with very elastic properties. These plastics have some great qualities, like their durability. Balls with ionomer covers will typically last significantly longer and be less susceptible to scuff marks than the higher end balls. So if price is a big deciding factor for you, an ionomer cover ball will typically be cheaper and last much longer.
Balls at higher price points generally have a urethane cover. This is a rubber that’s very similar to skateboard wheels, and is much softer than it’s ionomer counterpart. Urethane will really grip with the grooves of your club face and generate a lot more spin. However, because the material is much softer the ball will scuff and mark much easier (you can even cut the cover of the ball if you have relatively fresh grooves in your wedges). You’ll go through these balls a lot quicker, and they’re more expensive to replace.
Additional characteristics of golf balls are the number of layers, or pieces, that make up the ball. A two-piece ball is simply a rubber core surrounded by a cover (the layer with the dimples), but there are 3, 4, even 5 piece balls on the market today. The separate layers typically have different density characteristics with the firmest material at the center. As a general rule of thumb, the faster your clubhead speed, the more layers in your ball you’ll want.
From a playability standpoint, the key differences between ionomer and urethane covered golf balls is the spin the ball generates and the trajectory in which it flies. Softer urethane balls will spin more and fly lower while ionomer balls will spin less and fly higher.
Many of you are probably reading this thinking you want to spin the ball back with your wedges like the pros, so the urethane cover is for you. Keep in mind that these balls will also generate significant side spin as well, so if your fighting a hook or a slice, these balls will simply exaggerate it.
We recommend that higher handicap players select a harder ball with an ionomer cover to reduce sidespin and promote a straighter flight, while low handicappers select a softer ball with multiple layers and an urethane cover to promote workability and shot-control.
Test out a few different brands and models and weigh all factors. Play a couple rounds with different balls to see which one you prefer, and then stick to it to develop consistency. Pros put countless hours into selecting the right ball for for their games. Take that same approach to selecting your proper ball, and watch scores steadily.