For many recreational golfers, the best golf ball is a free golf ball.
Finding a hidden treasure on the edge of the water or in the woods, after all, seems only fair for a player who’s donated dozens of balls to the cause over the years.
In all likelihood, the freebie soon will be lost again, preserving an ecosystem found on courses everywhere. The ultimate loser is the golfer.
“There’s a lot of people that do that,” said Dave Neville of Callaway Golf. “It’s not a good idea.”
Using golf balls with varying spin rates, compression levels and feel brings in yet another variable during an age when technology has simplified the game for golfers of all levels.
With so many brands, styles and price points to ponder, identifying the right ball can seem intimidating and expensive. But the payoff should be worth it.
Data shows seven of 10 golfers can improve by using the correct ball, according to Elliott Mellow, golf ball marketing manager at Bridgestone Golf.
“A lot of people aren’t taking the time to get educated,” Mellow said during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. “The higher your handicap, the more we can help you with the golf ball.”
Instead, players with higher handicaps often assume exact opposite.
“As handicap goes up, the less likely to play the same golf ball all the time,” said Frederick Waddell, senior manager of golf ball product management at Titleist. “And they really could benefit from playing the same golf ball.”
Premium golf balls go longer distances, spin at a higher rate and offer a softer feel on and around the greens. The only thing not to like is the price. And many golfers think with their wallets rather than their scorecards.
Each of Titleist’s top-of-the-line balls — the Pro V1, Pro V1x or AVX — now retail for $52 per dozen. Given the cost of equipment and greens fees, many recreational players think spending top dollar on a golf ball seems excessive.
“People come up to us all the time and say I’m a 16 handicap; I’m not good enough to play Pro 1’s,” said Waddell, at one time a top amateur player. “I’m like, ‘You’re not good enough not to.’ The technology in Pro V1 and Pro V1x helps all golfers play better.”
Quality options exist for as much as half the price with Titleist’s Tour Soft ($38/dozen), Velocity ($29) and TruSoft ($24) brands. Meanwhile, Bridgestone offers 10 different golf balls, including the TOUR B XS Tiger Woods Edition ($44.99), the new E 12 ($29.99) and the enduring e6 models ($21). Callaway’s more than dozen options range from its Chrome Soft ($44.99) to WarBird ($17.99) brands.
Waddell, Bridgestone’s Mellow and Callaway’s Neville encourage people to find a ball befitting their game and budget.
Top companies fit players to their golf ball just like their golf clubs.
“Generally speaking most consumers are going through some sort of fitting, whether it a driver fitting or an iron fitting,” Mellow said. “The golf ball is the one piece of equipment that is affecting every shot. Put it this way: If you’ve never been fit for any piece of equipment, the golf ball is the easiest place to start.
“It takes the least amount of time and it’s the least amount of investment.”
In-person custom fittings are the most effective. All top companies conduct fitting events around the country.
Titleist even has three mobile fitting teams traveling the country. Dates and locations are on the company’s Website, Titleist.com. The East Coast and Midwest teams will be in Florida the next couple of months.
A PGA professional accredited online at “Titleist University” also can fit a player to a golf ball. This month, Titlestist Selector launched, where a golfer can answer a series of questions to find the right fit.
Using the various fitting approaches, including a mobile device app acting as a launch monitor, Bridgestone Golf did more than two million golf ball fittings in 2018.
Each company’s fitting philosophies wildly vary.
Titleist focuses on a golfer’s game from green to tee, putting the emphasis on controlling and spinning the ball when it lands on the putting surface.
“The place you can save the most shots is around the green,” Waddell explained. “That’s where the opportunity lies to improve. That’s how you go from being a 16 handicap to a 12.”
Mellow said Bridgestone instead fits players tee to green due to the force generated by a driver.
“The violent impact — that flat surface really exaggerates the performance of the golf ball,” he said.
In the end, though, on this Waddell, Mellow and other industry leaders can agree: find the right golf ball for you and stick with it.