A golf ball is a little like a shoe. If it doesn't fit, why bother using it?
Consider that, like a shoe, there are any number of golf balls on the market. Some spin a lot on approach shots, others not so much. Some are durable and can handle constant beating, while others are susceptible to cutting from sharp wedge grooves. With each type of ball comes different price levels and expectations, not to mention benefits (and possibly detriments to your game).
And, while it's easy to want to play what Tour pros use, that doesn't mean that you should go dump $60 for a dozen balls. (In fact, most golfers should probably play the exact opposite type of ball.)
Over the following pages, as you read through our listings, pay close attention to each golf ball's characteristics. Find one that matches your profile, buy a sleeve and try them the next time you play. You might be surprised at the results.Bridgestone E+ Series Key Feature: With the e7+ joining the already popular e5+ and e6+, golfers can discriminate between a multilayer designed for a piercing trajectory (e7+), a multilayer that reduces hooks and slices (e6+) and a two-piece ball designed for a higher ballflight (e5+). What We Like: Each ball performed exactly as the box describes. Sweet! Who It's For: Those who want a great ball for under 30 bucks a dozen. Specs: e5+ is a two-piece with a urethane cover; e6+ and e7+ are multilayers with ionomer covers. bridgestonegolf.com | $27/doz. Bridgestone B330-RXS Key Feature: The three-piece design is optimized again for average swing speeds, this time by softening the core and added an even softer-feeling and higher-spinning 330-RXS model. What We Like: The RXS model spins exceptionally around the green, which coincidentally is what amateurs want. And by the way, we didn't lose a yard of distance. We actually gained a few. Who It's For: Amateurs who want to get the most out of a urethane-covered ball. Specs: Three-piece construction with a seamless urethane cover. bridgestonegolf.com | $42/doz. Bridgestone B330/B330-S Key Feature: Made with a four-piece construction, both models offer enhanced distance, feel and control. What We Like: Both models easily can be considered among the best in the premium category. We especially like the B330 now that it spins more than previous models around the green. The B330-S is soft, long and spinny where you need it. We flat-out love that! Who It's For: The B330-S is softer and has a little more iron spin. The B330 has a lower trajectory and firmer feel. Specs: Four-piece with urethane covers. bridgestonegolf.com | $42/doz.
Callaway Tour i(S) and i(Z) Key Feature: Dual-Core construction. The i(S) is softer for greater control, whereas the i(Z) is slightly firmer for greater distance off the tee. Both have four-piece construction with urethane covers. What We Like: The i(Z) is awesome. We dig how long it is, and yet how responsive it is around the greens. The i(S) is good too, albeit a lot softer. Who It's For: Better players who want either a softer, higher-spinning Tour ball or a firmer, longer-flying Tour ball. Specs: Four-piece construction with HEX 332 dimples and a urethane cover. callawaygolf.com | $42/doz. Callaway HX Bite Key Feature: A new three-piece construction designed for the optimal blend of distance, spin and durability. What We Like: We consider the HX Bite to be a distance ball, but with the added benefits of more spin with mid- to short-iron shots. Off the tee, they felt and flew almost exactly as the Tour balls do. They have a pleasant soft feel, too. Who It's For: Those who want to play a three-piece ball built for big distance and some added spin around the green. Specs: Three-piece design with an ionomer cover and HEX dimple design. callawaygolf.com | $28/doz. Dixon Earth Key Feature: The world's first eco-friendly golf ball made of recyclable material, the Earth also is a venerable distance ball with exceptional durability. All full shots feel soft and fly with a long and high trajectory. What We Like: It's cool that they're recyclable, but it's the slick graphics and solid playability that we like most. Who It's For: Eco-concerned golfers who appreciate recyclable stuff. Specs: Made of 100 percent recyclable material, and can be traded in for new ones at a discounted price. dixongolf.com | $22/doz.
Nike Golf One Tour Key Feature: Four-piece structure that includes two midlayers: one designed for maximizing all-around distance; the other for enhanced spin with scoring iron shots and enhanced feel. What We Like: Exceptionally workable balls that spin like wheels around the green. Take dead aim, folks. Who It's For:Tiger Woods and golfers who want big-time playability from a top-of-the-line, premium golf ball. Specs: Four-piece design with a soft and seamless urethane cover. 378-dimple pattern for an excellent ballflight. nikegolf.com | $45/doz. Nike Golf One Tour Vapor Key Feature: Three-piece structure and a progressive density core that maximizes distance for average swing speeds. Ionomer-blend cover enhances both feel and durability. What We Like: Spins and feels like a premium ball with full shots. Holy schnikes, these balls are long! Who It's For: Players who want a solid performer off the tee without the urethane-cover price point. Specs: Low compression, three-piece design with an ionomer-blend cover and seamless 336-dimple pattern. nikegolf.com | $29/doz. Pinnacle Platinum Feel Key Feature: New soft, thin cover formulation and large, 1.595-inch core construction make the Platinum Feel the highest-performing golf ball to wear the Pinnacle name. What We Like: A less expensive, two-piece golf ball with technology that offers solid all-around performance. Who It's For: Players wanting maximum distance while still enjoying a soft feel on short shots and those around the green. Anyone looking for a good value. Specs: Two-piece construction with a Surlyn cover. pinnaclegolf.com | $18/doz. Srixon AD333 Key Feature: Revamped for 2010, the AD333 has a thinner cover for more ball speed, a higher launch and more spin on short shots. What We Like: For a two-piece golf ball, the AD333 is extremely long and fast. It also has a great, soft feel. Who It's For: Amateurs with average swing speeds who want the added distance that comes from a higher launch angle and a faster ball speed. Specs: Two-piece design, with a Rabalon and Pana-Tetra cover and a 333-dimple pattern. srixon.com | $19/doz. Srixon Z-Star Key Feature: Ultrathin urethane cover technology and Energetic Gradient Growth (EGG) core technology offer a combination of distance, spin and greenside control. What We Like: Srixon always has manufactured outstanding golf balls, but they weren't always easy to find. Now Srixon has top-quality products available just about anywhere. Who It's For: Players who want Tour-level performance from their golf ball. Specs: Injection-molded urethane cover and EGG core. srixon.com | $40/doz. Taylormade Penta Key Feature: Five layers of performance! Spin, feel, control, launch and distance each gets its own layer, in that order. What We Like: A ball that does it all. They feel soft around the greens, and firmer off the tee. That also means more spin when you need it and less where you don't. They're among the longest Tour-level golf balls we've ever tried, and they spin like the devil on short shots. Who It's For: Tour players, and well, everybody else who wants five layers. Specs: Multilayer construction with a urethane cover. taylormadegolf.com | $42/doz. Titleist NXT Tour Key Feature: A multilayer design with a dual core that allows greater spin on shorter shots and less spin and more distance on longer shots. What We Like: The NXT Tour is as close to a urethane ball as you can get without being one. Spin is surprisingly good from around the green. Who It's For: Any golfer who wants a high-performance golf ball but doesn't want to shell out more than 40 bucks. Specs: Three-piece construction with Fusablend cover material, icosahedral 392-dimple design. titleist.com | $30/doz. Titleist Pro V1 Key Feature: Titleist's renowned urethane elastomer cover and multilayer construction that provide the ultimate combination of distance, feel and playability. What We Like: The new, larger core for even longer distance. Improved durability seems impossible, but is an impressive accomplishment. Who It's For: Any player who wants outstanding feel, distance and durability. Specs: Urethane elastomer cover, three-piece multilayer construction, 392 multidimple design. titleist.com | $46/doz. Titleist Pro V1x Key Feature: Unique four-piece, dual-core design and Titleist's urethane elastomer cover make the "X" the choice of many of the faster-swinging players in the world. What We Like: The fact that the Pro V1x is a truly unique model that features a different construction and provides different performance than the Pro V1. Who It's For: Anyone; but best for faster swingers who want a Tour-quality ball. Specs: Urethane elastomer cover, four-piece, dual-core construction, 332 multidimple design. titleist.com | $46/doz. Wilson C:25 Key Feature: Unique, flat-bottom dimples that create a stable and high trajectory. A Fusion Mantle that combines distance for long shots and added spin for scoring shots. What We Like: The dimple design looks great, and the new cover is more durable than before. Who It's For: Tour players and golfers who want a dependable trajectory with every club as well as a lot of spin around the greens. Specs: Four-piece construction with Pan-Head dimples and a urethane cover. wilsonstaff.com | $25/doz. Wilson FG Tour Key Feature: A three-piece urethane-covered golf ball with Traction Control Technology that helps the ball better grip the clubface for maximum spin. What We Like: They feel soft, but not mushy. Also, the added spin is a big help considering the new groove rules. Who It's For: Better players. However, we suspect all golfers will find a liking to a ball that deserves a lot more credit than it gets. It's a solid performer. Specs: Multilayer construction with a Traction Control Technology urethane cover material. wilsonstaff.com | $35/doz. Zero Friction ZF Distance Key Feature: Made for sheer distance with a soft feel, the ZF Distance is a two-piece design that's also made of 100 percent renewable resources. What We Like: Zero Friction packs three Zero Friction tees in every sleeve. We also like how far they fly, not to mention the consumer-friendly price. They're very durable, too. Who It's For: Value-minded golfers looking for a golf ball that flies high and far without the rock-like feel. Specs: Two-piece construction with a Surlyn cover and a 312-dimple pattern. zerofriction.com | $19/doz.
Golf balls are like most consumer products these days, with seemingly too many choices for a spot decision. Manufacturers produce many different models in an effort to compete for shelf space and exposure to various price points, which often leads to confusion. The best way to combat this trend is to take the guesswork out of the problem through diagnostic testing. If you haven't been tested for the right ball, there's no time like the present. Most golfers buy a ball brand out of reputation of the manufacturer, advertising, or through an ongoing process of trial and error.
But with the advent of launch-monitor testing, buying the right ball can be a far more exact science than ever before. A competent fitting professional can measure ball spins, launch angles and velocities with various balls to hone in on the perfect blend of ballistic properties. Then the decision becomes a matter of price, feel and personal preference.
As a generality, softer-feeling urethane covers produce higher spin rates than Surlyn, especially at lower ball speeds like those found with short-game shots. Some newer-generation balls are two-piece only with a firmer inner core and the softer urethane outer layer. This configuration produces low spins with the longer clubs and higher spins with wedges, but may have a slightly harder feel. –Don Wood