The Golf Ball (Definitive Guide): A Look Inside

Golf balls are probably one of the least discussed topics among players in general. Most people just buy the balls off the shelf without understanding the properties. But for better performance, you should understand how different balls work and impact your performance at the course.

In this post, we’re going to break down the ins and outs of golf balls. We’re going to look at different sizes, materials, and cosmetics of the balls. After we’re done, you’ll know exactly which ball you’re buying and why you’re buying them.

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British vs American Golf Balls

Believe it or not, there were British and an American version of golf balls. It happened because there were some discrepancies between the regulations of R&A and USGA. We’re talking about the pre-1990 era.

During that time, USGA balls had a diameter of 1.68 inches whereas the R&A balls were 1.62 inches. The interesting fact is that the British balls performed better in windy conditions thanks to their smaller diameter. They could slice through the air more easily when compared to the American Balls.

In 1998, R&A and USGA finally agreed on the universal size of the golf balls. The size 1.68 inches was retained.

How Much Do Golf Balls Weigh?

The maximum allowed weight for golf balls is 1.620 ounces according to the USGA. For the British folks out there, it’s 45.93 grams. All golf balls manufactured in the US are exactly 1.620  ounces because they are better at cutting through the air.

Types of Golf Ball According to Their Feel

While golf balls might look identical to you from the outside, there are different categories of balls. We can go about it in all different directions. Let’s start with the feel.

Firm Feel

Firm feel balls feel the hardest on impact. These balls have very little ‘give’ when you hit them. Think of it as punching someone in slow motion. Only this time, the skin of the victim won’t wobble or give in as much.

Firm feel balls are perfect for durability. If you’re getting practice balls that you want to use for a long time, firm feel balls would be a better choice for you. However, there is a drawback to these balls. Due to the lack of ‘give’, these balls are harder to control in short distances, especially around the green.

Combo Balls

These are actually sets of golf balls instead of just one ball type. A combo set includes different types of balls with different characteristics like compression, covers, and mantles. In fact, there are ladies’ golf balls in the market!

You can also get soft and hard balls in a combo. The manufacturers usually include them as practice sets. The softer balls are good for people who have a slower swing speed. On the other hand, hard balls are for those who want explosive distances.

Distance Balls

As you can already guess from the name, these balls are designed to get maximum distance on the course. The cover is very thin on these balls compared to other ones. Also, these have a multi-layer core. It’s the perfect ball for golfers who love a long and explosive tee shot!

Distance balls might come for different clubs as well. The final output of the hit is determined by the impact velocity, launch angle, and spin rate. However, as distance balls are optimized to get a maximum carry, you lose some control in the short distance. Unless your short game is very good, you should take some time before hitting these balls.

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Golf Balls Materials

There might be different types of golf balls with different feels and layers. But when it comes to the raw materials, there are only two. They are urethane and Surlyn.


The softer balls with more feel are usually made from urethane. Most urethane compositions are multi-layered, designed for professional and veteran golf players. Due to the soft constructions, these balls don’t last very long.

The soft compound allows more control over the spin you produce which ultimately results in more control over your shots. This is the primary reason why professional players stick to urethane balls.


Surlyn is the other material used to make golf balls. It’s a relatively harder compound, used in balls made for durability and distance. The surface is scratch-resistant as well. If you’re one of those people who want to stretch the same ball for practice sessions, surlyn balls are perfect.

In terms of other characteristics, these are the opposite of urethane balls. They don’t offer much control over the ball. So, if you’re already a high handicapper, you’re very less likely to improve your game with these balls.

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Types of Golf Ball Based on Construction

In our previous sections, we’ve used the term ‘layer’ quite often. What does it mean? You’ll understand exactly what they mean after you’re done with this section.

Single-Piece Balls

The simplest of the bunch. Single-piece or one-piece golf balls are just what they sound like. And the funny thing is that these balls are not in circulation anymore. When they were in use, one-piece balls were made from one lump of surlyn.

Single-piece balls were extremely durable and tough. However, the feel is not very great. The toughness of the surface makes controlling these balls very hard, even for professionals. Moreover, they are very reluctant to create enough spin.

You might still find them at local driving ranges. They are used exclusively for practice sessions where brute force is your only way to go.

Two-Piece Balls

A significant upgrade from the one-piece construction. Nowadays, these are the most commonly used balls for both practice and matches. It has a firm feeling, not to the point to overpower your hit. They also last longer than other multi-layered balls.

The core of these balls is made from high-energy resin and acrylic. The strong core helps players to reduce the chances of slicing or hooking the balls. As a result, you get more distance off the tee. The outer layer of the ball, or layer 2, is made from Surlyn to keep the costs down.

Three-Piece Balls

As the name suggests, it’s a three-piece construction. These are the perfect middle-ground for players who want a decent distance as well as good control. These balls are relatively on the expensive side so they are mostly used by seasoned players.

The basic construction of the ball is similar to the two-piece balls. The extra layer is added to offer more feedback and more spin. When three-piece constructions first came to the market, they were not very good with distance. But as time progressed and golf technology improved, three-piece balls perform identically to two-piece balls.

In terms of use cases, most PGA tours and European tours are played with these balls. If we have to mention one drawback of these balls, it would be the higher price.

Four-Piece Balls

We’ve officially entered the point of diminishing return. People argue a lot about the differences between three-piece balls and four-piece balls except for their price. Even many experts agree that four-piece balls don’t offer anything extra to the table.

However, the theoretical approach for these balls is spin separation. According to this, the extra layer is supposed to be activated only when a certain swing speed is achieved. Otherwise, they’ll perform identically to three-piece balls.

So, unless you have an explosive swing driver, you may not benefit at all from these high-priced golf balls.

Five-Piece Balls

It might seem ridiculous to you at this point, right? TaylorMade, one of the prime golf equipment manufacturers in the world, introduced the TP5 series of balls which was essentially the first of its kind. The idea behind the extra layer is the same as the four-piece construction.

The Numbers on the Ball

If you play golf, you may have seen the numbers printed on the balls. There are different kinds of numbers that represent different things. Let’s find out more about them.

Single Digit Numbers

The single digit numbers are purely used for identification. When multiple players play the same hole, these numbers allow them to distinguish their balls.

Two Digits

The two digit numbers on golf balls represent their compression. Also, they’re not as common as single digit numbers. Compression number refers to the ball’s ability to deflect the impact. The measurement usually remains between 0 and 200. The lower the compression, the more deflection happens on the ball during impact.

It’s more of a dying trend. It was a major selling point for manufacturers up until the 1990s.

Three Digits

Three digit numbers printed on golf balls are usually over between 300 and 400. These numbers represent the number of dimples on the ball. So, if a ball has 300 written on it, it means there are 300 dimples around the ball.

Final Words

Golf balls have a universe of their own. We haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg in this post. But we’ve covered the basics that most players should know when they’re in the market for some balls. We might cover in-depth guides in near future. So, stay tuned!

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Thanks for reading today’s article!

Nick Foy – Golf Instructor

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