Shopping for golf balls these days can be confusing. Like clubs, balls are all about personalization – to an extent. That is, you will have a much easier time finding a ball more tailored to your game than you would have just a few years ago.
Now, if you have a slow swing speed and need help getting shots airborne, there's a ball for that. Need more spin around the green? You're covered. Want extra driving distance? No problem. You get the gist. Not that there's a cure-all, but the latest class of balls seems to accommodate the needs of most low- to mid-handicap golfers.
Many balls on this level are geared toward achieving tee shot distance, greenside spin, and soft feel. But unlike in years past, manufacturers figured out how to give you all three benefits without any tradeoffs. Traditionally, soft balls with lower compression would travel shorter for faster swing speeds while spinning more. And balls that were oriented around distance would feel harsh at impact. Not any more. New manufacturing techniques and materials, combined with some fresh approaches to construction, have changed the game.
For its new Chrome Soft model, Callaway created an extremely low compression while employing a more resilient, fast core. It feels soft and rockets off the clubface with lower spin so it travels straight and far, and spins nicely around the greens to produce the checking action every golfer dreams of. Srixon improved aerodynamics and added a proprietary coating to its cover, helping boost performance in its latest Z-Star balls. And Titleist improved its ever-popular Pro V1 models by softening the cover, but without taking away any shot performance.
If you're somewhat in tune with your game and honest about your needs before you buy, you may be able to zero in more quickly on a ball that fits your swing and game. After all, the right ball can make a remarkable difference. You can actually fit yourself for a golf ball online now – many brands offer an interactive questionnaire to help you zero in on a model – but beware that the process is skewed toward the company’s models. You can also pay a fee at some facilities to fit you for the right ball through a high-tech fitting system.
Still, there's no better way to compare ball models than good old-fashioned on-course testing. Instead of buying a dozen of one model at first, try a sleeve each of several balls you suspect may help you. Play each ball for a few holes, to see which one works best for you from various distances and ground conditions. Which works best from the sand? Do any make that perfect clicking sound when you put? They may all seem comparable at first, but rest assured, you'll eventually take an extra liking to one of them. You might even say it'll find your soft spot.
[ On the tee ]
The soft-feeling, low-compression Callaway Chrome Soft ($38/dozen) employs a urethane cover that enhances low spin on tee shots for impressive distance. On approach shots, golfers can swing away aggressively with the confidence that they'll generate lots of backspin.
Bridgestone's eSeries system ($38/dozen) simplifies some important choices for golfers. There are three balls designed to address a specific ball flight deficiency: The e5 helps shots go higher, the e6 straighter, and e7 lower. All utilize new Web Dimple Technology, which enhances aerodynamics and thus distance.
Nike's RZN Black Volt ($46/dozen) aims to minimize long-shot spin and feel soft on shorter shots. Efficient energy transfer between its internal layers at impact boosts ball speed and distance. At the same time, the core and mantle soften feel while an exterior coating helps greenside spin and control.
The all-new, fourth-generation Srixon Z-STAR ($45/dozen) showcases next-generation SpinSkin, a coating that increases friction at impact and cover softness, both of which lead to plenty of spin and a soft touch around the greens. A new dimple pattern builds wind resistance and distance.
Titleist's Pro V1 ($62/dozen) improves upon its predecessor with even more short-game spin and control. A new cover is more durable and softer – you’ll notice the latter at impact. The previous model’s impressive distance and penetrating flight characteristics remain intact on the new rendition.