Golf Ball Fitting

The one piece of equipment every golfer needs to play this game with are golf balls. When a player goes to their local pro shop, retail store or looks on-line, they see a wide selection to choose from. The first question the golfer will ask is “How do you know which ball to use?” Let me first explain there are many golfers who could care less what type of ball they use and simply buy whatever is inexpensive or play what they found on the course other than perhaps ones that have been waterlogged, have cuts or cart path marks on them. Other golfers are adamant that they need a particular brand and model and become deeply upset when the manufacturer discontinues or makes changes to their favorite ball. However, one thing is for certain; choosing the wrong type of ball for your game can cost valuable strokes and thus should be fitted no differently than all the other clubs mentioned previously in this book.

A golf ball must be symmetric, no greater than 1.62 ounces but no less than 1.68 inches in diameter to be conforming. Golf balls come in all different constructions from 2-piece to multi-layer constructions with their dimpled covers manufactured from thermoplastic ionomers and thermoset polyurethanes. Dimples vary in number as well as shape and depth all of which create the aerodynamics making the selection process confusing for the average golfer.

While golf ball design and testing might appear to be rocket science, the actual fitting does not need to be. Have you ever wondered why golf courses and retail stores will offer sleeves of balls (singles in Australia)? This is so you can try out several models and find out what works best for you. To get started here are 3 basic considerations when purchasing what type of ball to use (four if you count color). These are budget, feel and spin.

Choosing the Right Golf Ball


Perhaps the #1 reason in ball fitting comes down to simple economics. Balls in similar price ranges from the major manufacturers (at full retail) tend to be similar from one manufacturer to another due to the raw material and number of components used in their construction. For instance, the Titleist ProV1 has remained an extremely popular ball for over two decades. Competing manufacturers want to lure customers away by making a ball with similar performance characteristics, which require certain things a ball a third of cost does not have. However, direct-to-consumer (DTC) golf ball companies can save you money for a similar ball as there is no middleman to increase the price.

2-piece Golf Ball

The most economical golf balls sold are 2-piece construction. In many cases you will find these priced below $25 for a dozen or even in packs of 15 or 18.  The 2-pieces consist of a solid rubber core with either a durable plastic ionomer (e.g., Surlyn®) or rubber (urethane) cover. These are popular with newcomers to the game as well as high handicap golfers who tend to loose several balls per round. These are also characterized as “distance golf balls.”

diagram of a 2-piece golf ball constructiondiagram of a 2-piece golf ball construction

3-piece Golf Ball

This category appeals to a wide array of players for price and performance. These cost more than the 2-piece models as there is an extra layer of material. The 3-piece construction consists of a solid core surrounded by a thin mantle layer and finally by a soft plastic or urethane cover. The other option in 3-piece construction is there may be a core within a core (dual core) surrounded by the cover as shown below. The performance difference is controlled by the core(s) and/or mantle layers.

diagram of a 3-piece golf ball constructiondiagram of a 3-piece golf ball construction

4 and 5-piece Golf Balls

Our last category is the multi-layered, performance category which is preferred by better players. These happen to be most expensive balls as well (@ $4.5 each and up). The good news is a better player is less likely to lose a ball and may take it out of service after X-amount of holes or rounds. The 4-piece ball typically has a dual core plus a thin mantle layer between the core and cover. It may also have a solid sore, dual mantle layers and finally the cover. A 5-piece ball would comprise of a 3-piece core, mantle and cover or a solid core with multiple mantle layers and cover.

diagram of a 4-piece golf ball constructiondiagram of a 4-piece golf ball construction

I should mention the second hand or recycled golf ball market, which is large and lucrative as 2.5 million balls are lost annually in the United States alone. Golf balls are separated according to make and model and broken down by their condition. They may or may not show visible scuffs, blemishes, or discolorations. For the average golfer who is only going to lose several balls per round may find these types of balls perfectly acceptable. Highly skilled players will avoid these as any loss of distance or performance could potential hinder their scoring ability.


Within each of these categories you will find different levels of feel. Feel is an important factor in ball fitting, and this is where ball compression comes into play. Golf ball manufacturers conduct ball compression tests to compare the relative softness of one ball to another. The lower the compression the softer it will feel. One common misconception is slower swingers need lower compression balls. But when you think about it, the golf ball must perform well under various conditions from the powerful force of a drive to a short little chip shot around the green and finally for that delicate 3 foot putt. Even for the pros, which have high clubhead speeds, does not hit the ball hard in our last two cases. This is one of the reasons why golf club manufacturers offer a variety of balls with differences in firmness from which to choose from.


Another reason to choose a ball is for the spin. We saw in the Driver Fitting chapter how the combination of high launch and low spin can help create distance for many (but not all) golfers. Some balls are labeled as distance balls, some high spin and others are a blend of the two. If you are looking at distance balls for “added distance” off the driver, do not expect to see a huge difference as golf ball manufacturers have distance down to a science and go up to the Overall Distance Standard set forth by the USGA.

Distance balls fall into the 2-piece categories and are low spin. This is beneficial for golfers who struggle with their accuracy as reduced spin cuts down on hooks and slices. The downside is they will often spin less on the green. High spin balls allows for more workability as well as adding control on the green rather than the ball landing and releasing.

The performance multi-layered balls blend distance with spin. They allow for the distance from the tee but provide the spin control on irons and wedges. Generally if one plays a course which has firm, fast green, undulating or multi-tiered, a ball designed to spin (like last two categories) may be a priority.

golf ball fitting chart with trajectory and spin of different construction golf balls on half wedge shotsgolf ball fitting chart with trajectory and spin of different construction golf balls on half wedge shots

Ball Fitting

In the modern world of technology / fitting, launch monitors are available at many off-course and practice facilities to provide empirical testing. These facilities might even offer a Golf Ball Fitting package, which amounts to hitting several different brands and models of balls into a net and providing an analysis as to which one they think you should consider based on the data accumulated.

However, you or your customer should not rely solely on the launch monitor results with the driver. The reasoning is you will not see much of a difference between the ball’s trajectories and spin rates across the various brands using your driver as you would with your scoring clubs. After all, you will be using your driver roughly 14 times a round leaving the bulk of your shots to all the other clubs in the bag.

One type of ball we did not mention was range balls. It may come as a surprise that most club fittings, except for touring professionals, will be conducted using range balls. These will be 2-piece distance balls with covers designed for durability. During a fitting, the customer may be hitting upwards of 3 or 4 dozen balls (or more). The club fitter is not going to invest in $150-$200 worth of Titleist ProV1 balls to sail out on a range where they will have to be separated by someone who collects the balls if they do not get lost, damaged, or stolen in the process.

As we said before, when fitting a driver there is less of a difference in launch and spin number from one model to another and this holds true for the most part with range balls if they are fairly new and in good condition.  The practice facility I frequent purchases new range balls each year as they conduct a lot of fittings. At year end they sell the balls to other ranges. If you fit customers at your local range (with the owner’s permission of course), you are at the mercy the condition the golf balls are in.

To fit golf balls properly, your best bet is to go outside and hit half shots to a green with a wedge. Here is where you are going to see the biggest difference in trajectory and spin amongst the variety of balls on the market. The 2-piece distance balls with ionomer covers will fly high and spin the least once they hit the greens. Urethane covered balls will spin more in general. The 4 and 5-piece balls will come off the clubface at a lower launch angle but checkup and spin more once they hit the green.

If the course is not busy, you might also take a couple different balls to compare full shots with a higher launching club, such as your pitching or sand wedge that you may use from 100 yards out (into the wind may be best). Then judge the actual distance, direction, how high the ball goes and how it stops on the green. One reason is a few of the launch monitors may not give as precise information with the higher lofted clubs as they do with the driver. You might even conduct this same test at 150 yards out with whatever club you use from that distance.

5 sleeves of different golf balls5 sleeves of different golf balls

Finally, make sure to head to the putting green with a sampling of balls. This is where you will notice the sound and feel of the ball coming off the face or face insert. In some cases you may get a muted sound from the softer or lower compression balls and for firmer balls more of a “click” on longer putts, from say 20 feet away.

Ball Fitting Summary

Ball fitting is a science in which the lab is your course. Obviously, some golfers will not be able to tell the performance difference between balls as their skill level may not be able to make repeatable results, but they can at least tell a difference in feel. Understand the weaknesses you or your customer has especially on and around the greens. If the player never gets the ball to the hole, remember the last thing they need is a ball that is designed to spin more. Also factor such things as how windy it is and how firm the greens are. Do not be afraid to experiment and once you find what type of ball you like then it becomes easier to know what to look for if you decide to try a different brand or a replacement ball if and when the manufacturer no longer offers it.

Modern Guide to Golf Clubmaking

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