It's the one piece of equipment you use on absolutely every shot, and its direct contribution to your final score is perhaps most difficult to quantify.
Picking a driver is easy. I've yet to find the golfer who can't work with long and straight. But finding exactly what you want in a golf ball...that's a bit more nuanced. As with nearly every other piece of equipment in the back, the ball offers plenty (or at least plenty of words) to consider. 2-piece, 3-piece (lots of pieces), cores and compression, dimples, mantles, rubber and RZN.
Even when you sort through all of that, what I think is important in a golf ball may not matter to you in the least. Some demand more distance, while others demand total control.
We all want different things, which is why we weren't exactly sure what we'd get when we asked you to tell us about the balls you play and why you play them.
Here's What You Told Us:
Golf Ball Construction
Not surprisingly given that the majority of mid-level+ to tour level balls feature 3-piece construction, the majority of you (52.98%) told us that you play a 3-piece ball.
4-piece or more (balls like the Pro V1x, Bridgestone B330/B330oS, and TaylorMade Tour Preferred X accounted for another 25.14%). Just under 12% of you report using two-piece balls, while nearly 10% either don't know, or don't care how many layers your golf ball has.
Where They Come From
Admittedly, I found these results a little surprising. Given how many of our forum members discuss buying from LostGolfBalls.com and other reputable used providers, it's eye-opening to find that 82.10% of you buy your balls new (compared to only 11.79% who buy used).
While I can't prove it, I suspect that if we surveyed the truly recreational golfer (not those of you who read MyGolfSpy regularly), we'd probably find that play what I find, accounts for a substantial percentage of what golfers are actually using.
How Much You Spend
Let's take what we know and juxtapose it with our survey results.
We know that the Titleist Pro V1 is the best selling ball in golf. We also know that the suggested retail price (and the actual retail price) is above 45$. Nevertheless, the greatest majority of you report paying between $30 and $40 for a dozen balls.
So here's my follow-up question for those of you who answered $30-$40: What balls are you buying and where are you getting them?
Are you buying lower cost tour balls?
Are you buying Pro V1s for below retail?
How Many Balls You Buy
This is another interesting question when you dig a bit below the surface.
Perhaps we should have asked how many balls you go through in a round (feel free to answer in the comments). Some of the more erratic players I know (sometimes myself included), can easily go through 3 or more balls during a single round of golf. On a bad day, 3 or more on a single hole.
The better players I know will often replace a ball after one round regardless of the condition. It almost makes you wonder how important durability actually is.
My guess is your purchases are well-correlated to your ability. The more balls you lose, the more you buy, but the less you're likely to spend on a per dozen basis. Better players likely spend more less often.
What Matters in a Golf Ball
As you may recall, this question asked you to rank each of the 7 characteristics of golf balls listed above by importance. To better understand the results, you can think of a higher ranking as being worth more points. The feature listed as most important by a given respondent received 7 points, while the feature listed as least important received 1 point. The scores shown represent an average point total.
So with that out of the way...
35.80% of you listed Feel as the biggest determining factor in your ball purchase. Telling perhaps is that feel was selected almost twice as often as Greenside Spin (19.03%), which was the 2nd most popular choice.
This helps to explain why Callaway has been so successful with the Chrome Soft, and why the industry as a whole appears to be moving towards lower compression balls. The challenge for manufacturers is to create a soft-enough ball that doesn't feel mushy. Based on the feedback I've heard, Callaway may have done that.
The results also reveal that, based on conversations we've had with ball manufacturers, distance (16.19% 1st preference, and ranked 3rd overall), is perhaps overvalued by the consumer. By most accounts, differences in driver distances between balls of similar quality is minimal, if even measurable.
Spin (2nd choice overall) is where we'd expect it to be, while my personal opinion is that Approach Trajectory and Control isn't as highly regarded as it should be.
Finally, Wind Performance finished last by a healthy margin, Whether we want to or not, we all play in wind, and it's where we tend to see some of the more pronounced differences. To me this suggests that many golfers may be too focused on areas where performance differences between balls is negligible.
An overwhelming majority of you (86.33%) told us that you still play a white ball. This is hardly eye-opening news considering that only Srixon (ZStar) and Nike (Vapor Black) have offered their premium balls in something other than white.
Most of you play tour quality balls, and most tour quality balls are white. It doesn't take a statistics wizard to find the correlation.
Would you be more likely to try a different color ball if Titleist made the Pro V1 in yellow? Personally, I'd love to see TaylorMade (Tour Preferred), Bridgestone (B330/B330-S), and Titleist bring their premium balls to market in yellow.
When we looked beyond yellow, while 58.82% of you said you'd consider playing something other than a white or yellow golf ball, nearly 30% (29.55%) said absolutely not. White or yellow, that's it.
Again we asked you to rate based on importance, but this time we asked you to tell us whether you found each design consideration to be the most important, somewhat important, slightly important, or not important. The higher the weighted average, the more important golfers consider a given characteristic.
As you can see, Cover Material was listed as the Most Important consideration. In fact, 42.20% of you said it was the most important design characteristic, while only 8.87% of you said it was not important.
Urethane good, Surlyn bad. Most of us are on-board with that.
Once again we see Feel near the top. Compression Rating and to an extent Cover Material account for how a ball feels at impact, and it would seem that golfers are giving more consideration to Feel than more quantifiable performance indicators.
Perhaps the biggest curiosity for me is that Core Material falls in the middle of our result chart, with over 60% listing it as slightly or somewhat important.
What are our choices really? Currently there's rubber (most everyone in the industry), there's RZN (Nike), and there's metal (OnCore). Given that only a single respondent has played an OnCore ball, it seems unlikely anyone is really concerned one way or another about hollow metal.
Is this just a case of RZN vs. Rubber, or are some of us overthinking it?
Reading the chart from the bottom up we find that a large percentage of you don't find country of manufacture, brand name, or dimple patterns to be of any particular importance.
Tell that to the guys who only play Titleist, or the other guys who insist on Callaway's HEX aerodynamics.
The Brands You Play
While the results themselves aren't surprising, the numbers themselves are a bit unnerving for any company trying to make a run at Titleist's domination of the ball market.
93.04% of you have played a Titleist ball at one time or another. Bridgestone is next at just over 80%, followed by Callaway at just under 80%.
Of the Top 6 ball manufacturers, Nike trails the leaders with only 61.08% of you reporting having played a Nike Ball. That outpaces once well-known brands like Maxfli, Top Flite, Pinnacle, and Precept.
Among smaller and direct-to-consumer balls, Snell ranks the highest (14.91%), While the brands listed in the recent Titleist lawsuit, weren't listed in any significant numbers.
We asked the 62.22% of you who reported being loyal to a particular ball manufacturer to tell us to which brand you're loyal.
Once again, the results how a steep uphill climb for anyone trying to cut into Titleist's market share.
Among those of you who are brand loyal, 37.12% of you are loyal to Titleist. If that doesn't sound like a tremendous number, consider that it's roughly equivalent to the number of you who are loyal to Bridgestone (14.39%), Callaway (12.88%), and Srixon (9.47%) COMBINED.
Titleist owns the ball market, and there's probably no one within a decade of being competitive.
Of interest to some, perhaps, both Wilson (5.30%) and Snell (4.55%) rated higher for loyalty than Nike (4.17%).