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The Complete Golf Ball Buyer’s Guide 2019

Golf Ball Buyer's Guide 2019

This is the most impactful test we have ever published. The Complete Golf Ball Buyer’s Guide 2019.

The following article was first published on MyGolfSpy.com

Over the past 10 years, MyGolfSpy has conducted hundreds of tests, and published thousands of articles that have influenced millions of golfers, but no test has the potential to impact golfers and the industry more than this one.

We’re not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point, marketing the golf ball became more important than the actual performance of the products themselves.

Today, for the golf ball, that changes. Today we get to what’s real and true, and what will ultimately help golfers make smarter decisions about the golf balls they play.

6 Key Takeaways

There’s so much myth and misinformation around the golf ball, it’s become next to impossible for average golfers to know what ball to play.

The fact of the matter is that performance differences are real, though there is some evidence to suggest that some manufacturers are hoping you don’t notice.

Confirmation bias is a powerful drug, and with so many factors contributing to the success of each shot, it’s far too easy for any of us to see the performance we want to see.

The ball you’re playing today might be costing you strokes. Finding the right golf ball is hard. We’re here to help you find a better ball.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Golf Ball Fitting is the Future

The more significant change to come from this test should be that the golf ball becomes part of every fitting conversation.

It’s evident that the industry as a whole needs to focus less on marketing (feel), and more on fitting golfers for balls that will actually help us shoot lower scores.

The golf ball is the only piece of equipment every golfer uses for every shot.

No golfer would leave almost 20-yards on the table because he likes the feel of a driver. Distance isn’t everything, but it matters. The same is true for greenside spin, launch characteristics, and every other aspect of golf ball performance.

Fitting for the golf ball absolutely matters – in fact, it matters every bit as much as club fitting, and likely more. Our data suggests that the golf ball might be the single most important decision you make about what goes in your bag.

2. All Golf Balls are NOT the Same

Have you ever been told that all golf balls go the same distance? A quick Google search returns over 19 million results on the topic. While the internet might be confused, we’re not. Golf balls do NOT go the same distance, and the actual differences from ball to ball might surprise you.

  • Driver Distance (115 MPH): The average carry distance between the shortest and the longest ball in our test is 17.43 yards.
  • Driver Distance (85 MPH): The average carry distance between the shortest and the longest ball in our test is 7.6 yards.
  • Wedge Spin: There is an average of 1425 RPM difference from highest spinning to the lowest spinning ball in our test.

If that is not enough to convince you, consider this; at the fastest speed tested, the distance between the longest single ball and the shortest in the test was an astonishing 38.77 yards. For most golfers, that’s a 3+ clubs difference.

3. A Soft Golf Ball Is A Slow Golf Ball

A soft ball is a slow ball; it’s that simple. If you are playing a “soft” golf ball, it’s probably costing you distance off the tee (unless you swing under 85 MPH) and spin around the green.

A growing segment within the market, the soft (or low compression) segment of the market includes familiar balls like Callaway Chrome Soft, Wilson DUO, Bridgestone Tour B RXS, and Titleist AVX.

Firmer balls are faster, generally longer, and as an added benefit to many golfers, they spin more around the green.

We get that some of you love soft feel, but the reality is that the only golfers likely to see real performance benefits from low compression balls are high speed, high spin players. That’s probably not you.

4. Don’t Worry About Compressing The Golf Ball

Let’s tackle one of the most common golf ball myths. Forget what you might have heard, you swing fast enough to compress the core of the golf ball.

Our testing showed that golf balls do not perform differently at different swing speeds – at least not to any significant degree. Balls that are fast at 115 MPH are fast at 85 MPH. The bottom line is that a short ball doesn’t become a long ball when swing speed decreases.

Launch and spin relationships don’t change much either. While there can be exceptions, a ball that’s low spin off the driver, is often low spin off a wedge. Speed doesn’t change that relationship either.

5. Pick One Ball and Play it

We can’t emphasize this enough. After conducting this test, we’ve become firm believers in the idea that golfers should pick a ball and play it…exclusively.

There’s going to be some manufacturing variance between individual balls of the same model, but it’s nothing compared to the performance differences between models.

Golf is hard enough, so it makes sense to eliminate every variable you possibly can. Choose one ball, and play it every round and every shot.

6. A Bad Shot Might Not Be Your Fault

You might be able to blame your next shot on your golf ball. That’s right; golfers might have a legitimate excuse the next time they play.

Our testing found some major inconsistencies in some ball models that resulted in shots that flew 20 yards or more offline (in high-speed testing). Given the consistency of the swing robot, this is something you would expect.

The experts we spoke with believe the issues can be traced to manufacturing inconsistencies (ball not round, layers not centered, or a dimple irregularity). These same irregularities can cause inconsistent carry distances as well.

Test Notes

The Wet Wedge Test

DID YOU KNOW: A golf ball will perform differently if it is wet vs. when it’s dry. Golfers need to know much difference there is and why it matters.

WET WEDGE SHOTS:

  • Carry increased by approximately 2.5 yards
  • Spin decreased by approximately 2500 RPM
  • Launch angle increased by over 5°
  • Peak height increased by 5 yards

Also, cheaper (2-piece) balls and matte finish balls are affected more significantly by moisture.

Product Spotlight – CG Balancing Technology

Maxfli says that its Center of Gravity Balancing Technology can produce a straighter (and higher) ball flight. While the jury is still out on what amounts to built-in Check-Go-Pro, functionality the Maxfli Tour and Maxfli Tour X CG balls are a surprisingly competent offering from the guy’s at Dicks Sporting Goods.

While we can’t guarantee the technology works as advertised, our test uncovered plenty of evidence to suggest that not all golf balls fly as straight as they should. Aligning the side stamp to a ball’s true center of gravity might not solve all your problems, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Durability and Quality

Given the cost of golf balls, you shouldn’t have to worry that they will cut or wear after a single shot. During our limited examination of durability and quality control we noted quality issues with the following balls:

  • CUT Blue – raised seams, sharp dimple edges and cut easily on wedge strikes
  • CUT Grey – raised seams, sharp dimple edges and cut easily on wedge strikes
  • TaylorMade TP5 – a single ball with a visibly raised seam

The majority of balls in this test showed some degree of wear. In most cases, the visible damage was limited to small areas of missing paint that would be unlikely to impact performance.

Compression Testing

It’s important to note that like many things in the golf equipment industry, there’s no standard set of equipment to measure and report compression. We should also note that some manufacturers talk about total compression, while others focus the discussion on core compression.

Our compression measurements reflect total compression. When numbers differ from those of the manufacturer, it doesn’t mean anyone is lying. The tools are different, the operators are different. Don’t sweat the absolutes; focus on the data (below) for comparative purposes.

During consultations with experts from the ball industry, we were told that compression differences within the same box of balls can be significant (as high as 30 points). While we didn’t test the volume of samples that manufacturers typically do, we did find some cause for concern.

Related: Honma TW-X Golf Ball

As you’ll see below, there’s a strong correlation between compression and ball speed. If compression is wildly inconsistent, your distances will be too.

2019 Most Wanted Golf Ball Features Chart

2019 Most Wanted Ball Test Features

Ball Model Price Construction Compression Cover Material
Bridgestone Tour B RX

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44.99 3 Piece 99.6 Injection Molded Urethane
Bridgestone Tour B RXS

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44.99 3 Piece 86.3 Injection Molded Urethane
Bridgestone Tour B X

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44.99 3 Piece 110.8 Injection Molded Urethane
Bridgestone Tour B XS

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44.99 3 Piece 102.9 Injection Molded Urethane
Callaway Chrome Soft

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44.99 4 Piece 86.4 Injection Molded Urethane
Callaway Chrome Soft X

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44.99 4 Piece 100.0 Injection Molded Urethane
Callaway ERC Soft

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39.99 3 Piece 73.4 Ionomer
Cut Blue

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19.95 4 Piece 106.2 Injection Molded Urethane
Cut Grey

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19.95 3 Piece 103.6 Injection Molded Urethane
Inesis Tour 900

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29.99 3 Piece 98.7 Injection Molded Urethane
Kirkland Signature 3-Piece

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11.99 3 Piece 106.7 Injection Molded Urethane
golf ball buyer's guide 2019 Maxfli Tour CG

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34.99 3 PIece 103.9 Cast Urethane
Maxfli Tour X CG

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34.99 4 Piece 109.1 Cast Urethane
MG Tour C4

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19.99 3 Piece 99.2 Injection Molded Urethane
Mizuno RB Tour

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42.99 4 Piece 106.3 Injection Molded Urethane
Mizuno RB Tour X

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42.99 4 Piece 111.6 Injection Molded Urethane
OnCore Elixr

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34.99 3 Piece 95.5 Cast Urethane
Snell MTB Black

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32.99 3 PIece 105.3 Cast Urethane
Snell MTB-X

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32.99 3 Piece 114.3 Cast Urethane
Srixon Q Star Tour

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29.99 3 Piece 86.2 Cast-Injected Urethane
Srixon Z Star

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39.99 3 Piece 100.8 Cast-Injected Urethane
Srixon Z Star XV

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39.99 4 Piece 111.4 Cast-Injected Urethane
golf ball buyer's guide 2019 Srixon Z Star Yellow

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39.99 3 Piece 100.7 Cast-Injected Urethane
TaylorMade TP5

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44.99 5 Piece 100.1 Cast Urethane
TaylorMade TP5x

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44.99 5 Piece 104.4 Cast Urethane
Titleist AVX

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47.99 3 Piece 95.6 Cast Urethane (Thermoset)
golf ball buyer's guide 2019 Titleist Pro V1

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47.99 3 Piece 104.2 Cast Urethane (Thermoset)
Titleist Pro V1x

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47.99 4 Piece 111.0 Cast Urethane (Thermoset)
Titleist Tour Soft

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39.99 2 Piece 84.7 Ionomer Blend
golf ball buyer's guide 2019 Vice Pro

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34.95 3 Piece 106.2 Cast Urethane
Vice Pro Plus

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34.95 4 Piece 102.6 Cast Urethane
Vice Pro Soft

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34.95 3 Piece 94.2 Cast Urethane
golf ball buyer's guide 2019 Volvik S3

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49.99 3 Piece 96.5 Cast Urethane
Volvik S4

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49.99 4 Piece 109.8 Cast Urethane
Volvik Vivid Soft

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49.99 3 Piece 90.0 Cast Urethane
Wilson Duo Professional

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34.99 3 Piece 87.8 Cast Urethane
EXPERT TIP: Finding the Right Ball

How do I find the right golf ball? It’s one of the most commonly asked golf ball questions.

The conventional wisdom for golf ball fitting is to start near the green and work your way out. Over 60% of your shots are hit from within 150-yards of the green, so that’s where you need your golf ball to perform. A good rule of thumb is to fit the golf ball to your irons and wedges and then fit your driver to the golf ball.

MORE TIPS

Forget About Soft Feel

Driver, putters, golf balls, it doesn’t matter; golfers are obsessed with feel, and it might be hurting your game. For golfers who swing 85 MPH or more, if your first purchase criteria is feel, you’re setting yourself back from the get-go.

The softest balls are typically the best feeling, but they’re also slower and lower spinning. It should be obvious enough, but performance, not feel, should be your primary consideration.

Buy in Bulk to Save Money

Many of the DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) companies like Snell and Vice offer volume discounts. Many of the bigger brands offer early season incentives to encourage you to load up for the season. We suggest you commit to a ball and take advantage of the savings.

Spin Isn’t Everything

If you hit your pitching wedge 120 yards on average, you want it to go 120 yards when you hit it; what you don’t want is a ball that flies 120 yards and sucks back 15 feet. We all love the way that shot looks, but what you need is green-side control, and that doesn’t always mean you want the ball that spins the most with your wedge. The right ball for you is one that performs well over the entire golf course.

DID YOU KNOW: Temperature Affects Golf Ball Performance

Do everything to avoid storing your clubs (and balls) where they can be subjected to extreme temperatures. Your trunk, for example, probably isn’t the best place to keep your golf bag.

Golf balls perform best at temperatures between 70°F and 90°F. If your ball is too cold, or too hot for that matter, you may lose speed and control.

FAQ

Q:  If the cover of my ball is damaged, will it affect performance?

A: A little bit of missing paint won’t have any impact on ball flight, but cuts or gashes will impact the aerodynamics and consistency of flight. Once the cover is visibly damaged, it’s time to toss it in the shag bag and put a new ball in play.

Q: Should I use the ball I play with when I’m getting fit for golf clubs?

A:  Whenever possible, yes. Launch, spin, and speed vary significantly between ball models, and that means there’s an integral link between ball performance and club performance. Getting fit for clubs using the same ball you play will help minimize variables and better replicate what you can expect on course. We understand getting fit with the same ball you play may not always be possible, but under no circumstance should you ever get fitted using range balls.

Q: Are Direct to Consumer balls as good as those from big golf companies?

A: While some direct to consumer brands produce excellent balls, it’s important to understand that larger brands like Titleist and Bridgestone do have more control over the entire manufacturing process, and there is some evidence to suggest that can lead to a more consistent product. If you’re willing to tolerate a bit more inconsistency from ball to ball, direct to consumer brands can offer tremendous savings.

Q: What is compression and what does it mean for me?

A:  Compression is a measure of firmness and is most commonly associated with feel. The higher the compression value, the harder the ball will likely feel. There’s little evidence in our data to suggest that there’s a right compression for your speed. What’s important is finding a ball that provides the right balance of performance for your game. At most, feel should be a secondary concern when choosing a ball.

Q: Do the Pros play the same golf ball that I buy off the shelf?

A: Sometimes yes, but often no. While some pros do play the retail ball (Tiger’s Tour B XS is the same as what’s on shelves), nearly every manufacturer has a secret menu’s worth of tour-only balls available to its professional staff. Tour players are exacting about what they want from a golf ball, and the reality is that what appeals to the average golfer (soft feel) is detrimental at the tour level.  The key takeaway is that what your favorite golfer plays has no bearing on what’s right for your game.

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT – “Longest Ball in Golf 2019”

The Snell MTB-X is an exceptionally fast ball from the leader is the Direct-To-Consumer golf ball space. Distance isn’t the MTB-X’s only advantaged, however. Its length off the driver (by far, the longest at 115mph), is complemented by some of the highest spin numbers recorded in the wedge test.

At $28 a dozen (when purchased in bulk), the MTB-X is the ultimate high-performance value ball.

Q: Why did you choose to use a robot for the ball test?

A:  For golf Ball Testing we used a robot. Robot testing is the best way to test golf ball performance, and humans are best to determine club performance.

Q: What were the selection criteria for the balls in the test? 

A:  In the interest of being as thorough as possible, we tested 33 balls with urethane covers. While some models are positioned at the fringe of the category, the goal was to include a majority of 3, 4, and 5-piece balls generally classified as Tour Balls. Out of curiosity, we also tested a yellow version of the Srixon ZStar, as well as two premium ionomer/surlyn covered balls (Callaway ERC Soft and Titleist Tour Soft) positioned to compete with premium urethane balls.

Q:  What type of consistency issues did you observe during the test?

A: In high-speed driver testing, several balls produced shots more than 20 yards or more offline. Those balls were the Bridgestone Tour B RX and Tour B RXS, Callaway Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X, Kirkland Signature 3-Piece, Maxfli Tour and Tour X, MG Tour C4, Mizuno RB and RB Tour X, Snell MTB-X, Srixon QStar Tour and ZStar XV, TaylorMade TP5X, Titleist AVX and Tour Soft (Ionomer), and Vice Pro Plus.

Compression testing of urethane covered ball models also uncovered significant variation (standard deviations above 2.5) in several models, including Callaway Chrome Soft, Cut Grey, Maxfli Tour X, Vice Pro Plus, and Volvik S3.

HOW WE TEST

Our Mission is to help you find the best golf ball for YOUR game.

We are 100% independent and unbiased, and we always put the #ConsumerFirst.

ABOUT OUR TEST

Testing was completed over the course of three days and included 34 tour quality urethane golf balls, plus two premium ionomer offerings. Using a Golf Laboratories Swing Robot, balls were tested with a driver, 7-iron, and sand wedge.

The Balls were tested at two swing speeds; 115mph and 85 mph the driver and equivalent speeds for the 7-iron. For wedge testing, the robot was configured to hit to a normalized distance of 85 yards (~70mph head speed).

LIMITING VARIABLES AND GATHERING DATA RELIABLY

Prior to each shot, balls were checked for signs of wear and any visibly damaged balls were replaced.

Full flight data was captured using a Trackman 4 launch monitor. At the conclusion of the test, data was checked for missing or anomalous results and aggregated.

Charts and Tables

For those who want to dive deeper, we’ve provided several views into our data. For each graph, we’ve provided a set of filters that will allow you to:

  • Limit your selection to whatever balls you’d like to display
  • Choose between driver, iron, and  wedge data
  • Select high or low swing speed*

*While it’s not absolute, selecting both High and Low swing speed will give you a reasonable approximation of performance at a 100 MPH driver speed.

We’ve provided some basic observations for each chart, but mainly the data is yours to play with and interpret as you see fit. The launch and spin chart should prove particularly useful for those of you looking to identify something that might perform better for you than what you’re currently playing.

Ball Speed & Compression

Observations

  • The chart suggests a strong correlation between compression and ball speed off the driver. High compression balls are fast; low compression balls are slow.
  • There are occasions where balls can be classified as slightly fast (OnCore ELIXR, Maxfli Tour) or somewhat slow (Cut Grey, Kirkland 3-piece) relative to compression.
  • At 7-iron speeds, the relationship levels a bit, and we see softer balls rise to the top of the carry charts (below).
  • Looking at the wedge results, the compression/speed relationship can be described as inverse. Softer balls tend to be a bit faster but spin less (see the launch and spin chart below)

DID YOU KNOW: Pond balls

Do you play golf balls that you’ve fished out of pond? Don’t.

Golf balls that have been submerged for a long period of time can actually become waterlogged. Golf ball cores are hydroscopic. That means they absorb water. If enough is absorbed, it can lower the compression of the golf ball. slow down the ball, and cost you distance.

You don’t want that.

Launch & Spin

Observations

  • The MG Tour C4 is the lowest spinning ball off the driver though that’s largely attributable to significant spin inconsistencies at high speed.
  • The Volvik S4, Kirkland 3-Piece, and Mizuno RB Tour and RB Tour X are notable for being lower launch, high spin balls, while the Srixon QStar Tour, Titleist Tour Soft (Ionomer) and Callaway ERC Soft (ionomer) offer high launch with low spin.
  • At both speeds tested, there is approximately a 500 RPM difference between the highest spinning and lowest spinning urethane balls.
  • On high-speed iron shots, the lower compression set launches higher with less spin, though a couple of mid-to-high compression balls (TaylorMade TP5X, Vice Pro Plus) can also be described as high launch and low spin (depending on speed).
  • On high-speed irons shots, the Kirkland 3-piece and Volvik S4 are essentially outliers; significantly lower launch and higher spin than the other balls tested.
  • Iron spin differences from lowest to highest can vary by upwards of 2000 RPM
  • On wedge shots, the Mizuno RB Tour X, Kirkland Signature 3-Piece, and Volvik S4 again produced the highest spin rates.
  • The low compression set is notable for its low spin, though the 2 Callaway offerings are on the low end of the average range.
  • The Snell MTB X is notable for being among the lowest spinning off the driver, but among the highest spinning balls off the wedge.

What’s the deal with all the LAYERS?

How many layers do you need in a golf ball? The urethane, tour ball category is filled with three, four, and even five-layer golf balls.  How is the average golfer supposed to make sense of it?

While more layers can lead to more nuanced performance, it doesn’t matter how many layers your ball has. If the ball does what you need it to do, do waste your time and energy counting layers. Check out our list of the best performing balls to help narrow down your selection, buy a sleeve of each, and then try them out for yourself to see which is best for your game.

Carry & Offline

Observations

  • At high swing speed, there’s a fair amount of separation between balls.
  • The Snell MTB-X is notable for being several yards longer than the next closest ball, while the low compression set is appreciably shorter than the average.
  • Due to the robot producing slight draws, this set finished, on average, a bit left of the target line; however, the balls average more than 8 yards left of center and less than 2 yards off center typically displayed some degree of inconsistency between shots.
  • At slower swing speeds, the majority of balls are concentrated between 201 and 203 yards (carry).
  • Notable standouts for distance include the Titleist ProV1x, the Bridgestone Tour B XS, Tour B X, and Tour B RX, and the MaxFli Tour.
  • At lower swing speeds, several of the low compression balls moved into the average range, though none – with the possible exception of the OnCore ELIXR – could be considered long.
  • On high-speed iron shots, the low compression balls rise to the top for distance, most notably the Bridgestone Tour B RXS and the Titleist AVX.
  • The Kirkland 3-piece lags approximately 4-yards behind the leaders.
  • While environmental factors may have played a small role, some balls were shown to be consistently straighter than others.
  • On slower speed, iron shots, lower spinning, lower compression balls are generally longer, though not by as much.
  • The Kirkland Signature 3-piece is again appreciable shorter than the longest balls.
  • On wedge shots, dispersion is generally excellent, with all but one ball (QStar Tour) falling within a yard of the center line.
  • While wedge distance was also generally tight, there was still nearly 4 yards between the longest (Maxfli Tour) and shortest (Cut Blue) balls.

Urethane or Surlyn?

When it comes to the cover material of your golf ball, you’ve got two main choices – Urethane and Suryln.

Urethane is softer, thinner, and offers complete performance from tee to green. While some Surlyn offerings may offer more distance, urethane balls will spin more, and perform more consistently on the various shots that you’ll face around the green, and across the entire golf course.

Surlyn is a great value option, but with plenty of affordable urethane offerings available in today’s market, you don’t need to sacrifice performance to save a few bucks.

Raw Data (Averages and Standard Deviations)

We’ve also provided launch monitor data as well as dispersion and compression data. For this test, we’ve also included standard deviations for the same metrics, which can provide a general idea of consistency.

Please note: we call our dispersion metric Shot Area. For this test, it represents the area (measured in yards2) of a 2-sigma confidence ellipse. In simple terms, it’s a measure of how tightly grouped the shots hit with each ball are. A smaller number represents tighter dispersion.