When it comes to the details of golf, we obsess over technique, conditions, clubs and obstacles, yet very often kick into the long grass (not literally) the very thing that makes the game of golf – the ball.
Of course, ball technology has long been scrutinized but usually only at the very top level where minute advancements might be the difference between winning and losing. For the amateur golfer, the ball is merely the conduit to a good round, not the catalyst.
But is this missing a trick? RSNG spoke to Helge Meyer, Head of Product Development at Vice Golf about how golf balls are made, and why the science behind them is so important…
RSNG: A golf ball of any reasonable standard… it’s just a ball, right? It can’t really make that much difference to our game, can it?
HELGE MEYER, HEAD OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, VICE GOLF “Obviously, I will say no to that! For starters, you have multi-layer golf balls which are made of different materials. You’ve got Surlyn golf balls and Urethane golf balls, and within both segments you can further split down into different techniques of applying the material.
“The Surlyn balls have a thicker cover, while Urethane balls are thinner and of a higher quality, so it’s worth having a look to see what you’re playing with.
“The Urethane ball uses RIM (the Reaction Injection Method) and TPU (Thermo Plastic Urethane), which are both injected, or a Cast Urethane process which, obviously, is cast. The cast urethane is the thinnest cover that you can possibly create and therefore, you get the best feedback and feel at impact.
“This, in one way, creates a high degree of spin but it is also very comforting to play with. This is what we refer to as the ‘Champions League of golf balls’.
“Unsurprisingly, these are the most expensive golf balls because the manufacturing process is more complex, as it’s an additional step.”
RSNG And then you build in different models within each category?
HELGE MEYER “Correct. We’ve got three models for three different target groups - slower, medium and high clubhead speed swings. Essentially, you have slower swing speeds for players more interested in spin around the green, and higher swing speeds for those looking to control the degree of spin.
“Other manufacturers will use similar differentiations. All types of golfers will benefit from the same feature of the cast urethane cover in their wedge game, as this includes a high degree of spin, but it is in the other aspects of their game where selecting the correct ball makes all the difference.”
RSNG What about when playing the longer game?
HELGE MEYER “Well, when it comes to the distance and hitting it far off the tee, we talk about the activation of the inner layers – specifically of the core. We use the same approach for all three premium golf balls.
“That means that we try to maximize the size of the core so that it’s easy to activate and create an impact. Maximization of ball speed comes via the ratio of speed of the club hitting the ball, with the ball accelerating off the club face, through the activation of the core.
“Manufacturers’ approach to the technology means appreciating the fact that the three cores of the three golf balls – in our case – are different in compression. That means that they react differently to different swing speeds.
“If, for example, you overpower the Pro Soft and your swing speed is too high for it, there is a certain loss of energy at impact. This is because the sweet spot of maximum speed is designed for a medium and slower swing speed, and that’s why it’s so important to match your game to the correct ball, the correct model.
“Just as when you get fitted for clubs, you should also get fitted for your ball – you should be asked, ‘What do you prefer in a golf ball? What should the golf ball do? What’s important to you?’, but also, ‘What kind of player are you? Are you the guy who goes to the gym and you play golf the way a grass court tennis player does with serve and volley – so, long hitting and short chipping? Or do you just hit the golf ball regular distances?’
“Ultimately, golf is a sport for everyone and for all ages. You have a vast variety of different target groups of golfers; the market needs to continue to develop golf balls that work for each and every target group.”
A golfer should always stick to one golf ball and make that their go-to ball
RSNG Aside from being fitted for a ball, what other advice would you give?
HELGE MEYER “Always stick to one golf ball and make that your go to ball. Ideally, practise on the putting green and the pitching and chipping areas, get a proper feel for that ball, and don’t use another one from 20-odd years ago to practise putting. It will feel totally different and react in a totally different way. So if you can afford it, play the same ball in the practice area, as well as the course, and also in a tournament.
“The only exception I would give is that hitting a golf ball into a net or into a screen will cause it to behave differently to when playing outside. That’s because when it hits a net or screen, the spin causes a level of friction and heat that stresses the cover in a way that’s different to what you’d get on a field or course.”
RSNG What are the factors that golfers consider when choosing a ball… and which should they actually be considering?
HELGE MEYER “It usually comes down to price, quality, design, customisation, and perhaps fast delivery to your door – but often it’s between price and quality.
“We, at Vice, and some other brands out there are trying to change the perception that price must equal quality. We know that’s not the case in other industries, but golf has been slow to change that view.
“I wasn’t at the PGA Show but those people in my team reported back that it’s still incredible to find so many people making the decision that price is the deciding factor over quality. My thoughts are it should be the other way round. You will always know the difference when using a good ball, and compared to the overall cost of golf, the saving you would make on an apparently cheaper ball just isn’t worth it, in my opinion.”
Both levels of extreme heat and cold have an effect on the compression of a golf ball – think about that when you’re storing several packs in the boot of your car!
RSNG Does a golf ball have a peak durability period? Should it be the same from shot one to the final putt on the 18th?
HELGE MEYER “Of course, there are differences in durability between Surlyn and Urethane golf balls, but in reality, a golf ball gets lost before there is even a question about durability! However, let’s exclude trees, paths, scuffs and so on, as they aren’t supposed to be natural parts of the game of golf.
“Ultimately, when it comes to regular play of tee to green, a golf ball should last way above 100 shots – that number is also not including putts.
“There are other variables which come into play – some companies will offer to sharpen the grooves on your wedges, for example. These are other variables - a very clean bunker shot where you can scuff the cover will have an impact on the golf ball.
“But we need to come back to how much human error there is versus performance error of equipment, and the former is way bigger than the latter. Even with a slightly scuffed golf ball compared to ‘ceteris paribus’ – all things being equal.
“Also consider that golf balls shouldn’t be stored under extreme conditions. Always keep them at room temperature. The most common mistake is to keep them in the trunk of your car, a place where different times of the year will subject them to extreme heat and extreme cold. Both variables have an effect on the compression of a golf ball. Think about that when you’re storing several packs in the boot of your car!”
RSNG Would a golf ball lose its ability to stay straight or give a truer roll in the desired direction, over time?
HELGE MEYER “Yes. We try to call it functional design or smart design, and trueness of alignment and precision is obviously down to the dimple structure. There is a huge variation of how many dimples you can use on a golf ball and there are tons of pros and cons.
“I’m not an aerospace expert or a physicist, but in layman’s terms, what we typically see is that a higher dimple pattern results in a lower ball flight, and a lower dimple pattern in a higher ball flight.”
It is a small turbulence within each dimple that keeps the golf ball flying
“Just from an entertainment perspective, we produced a couple of prototype golf balls with no dimples at all, and the thing just wouldn’t fly properly. It is a small turbulence within each dimple that keeps the golf ball flying.
“The counter-argument is that not having dimples will decrease spin close to zero and that will offer a positive impact on total distance, but perhaps that’s for another day!
“If you have more shallow dimples, fewer less shallow dimples, and a number of dimples that vary, all of that has an impact, not just on flight, but also on putting too. A simpler dimple design increases the risk by a very small percentage because you may hit it between two dimples and the golf ball will not go in a perfect direction.”
WHAT NEXT? For more on golf equipment check out RSNG’s look at Japanese golf clubs made with ancient sword-making techniques…
Photos: Adobe Stock