Having A Ball

By Jim McNaney

If you ask Jack Nicklaus or Gary Player, the number one thing that is hurting today’s game is…the ball. Yes, that little white orb that turns otherwise normal adults into flailing masses of arms and legs all to set it in motion is the problem.

You see, to them, the ball simply goes too far. Never mind the advancements in core technology and please don’t work on aerodynamic covers, they want the ball dialed back. It’s not the fact that the PGA Tour is now full of world class athletes. It’s not the advancements in clubs that’s the big issue. No, it’s the smallest, most regulated piece of equipment that is making classic old golf courses obsolete.

All last year my column dealt with technology. Perhaps I was selling the golf ball short by never taking the time to examine all that has happened to the ball. But recent events from, from Costco of all places, have me looking at things differently.

First…let’s look at what the USGA considers the rules for how a ball is to be made. Rule 5; Appendix III, #1 states it this way:
“The ball must not be substantially different from the traditional and customary form and make. The material and construction of the ball must not be contrary to the purpose and intent of the Rules.”

Appendix III, #2 states:
“…a ball must not weigh more than 1.620 ounces avoirdupois (45.93 gm). This is one of the simpler tests because all that is required is an accurate scale. There is no minimum weight, thus a ball can be as light as the manufacturer desires.”
When we get to Rule 5, Appendix III, #3 and the size of the ball, we start to see a little room for innovation:
“The ball must have a diameter of not less than 1.680 inches (42.67 mm). The instrument used to measure size is a metal ring gauge. It is important to note that there is no maximum size, the ball can be as large as desired provided it conforms to all other standards.”
It’s that last part that got the folks at Top-Flite to come up with a ball called the Top-Flite Magna. This ball was slightly larger than the traditional 1.680 inches. The manufacturer stated that the larger ball would have less side spin and therefore fly straighter. As far as I can tell…no one ever tried that theory again.

Since then, we have seen the wound balata balls of our youth replaced by balls constructed of two pieces; a solid core and a cover, three pieces; a core, cover and a middle mantle layer, and now we see a ball constructed of 4 inner layers and a cover. Yep…5 layers to that little white sphere.

We have seen manufacturers like Srixon and Volvik bring colors to the party. When Srixon started selling balls in yellow, they claimed they chose the color specifically because research showed it quieted the eyes and calmed the brain.

I don’t know…I used them for several years and the only thing that really calmed my brain was making more putts.
Volvik starting making its presence felt on the LPGA tour by introducing colors that, up to this point, had only been seen in the world of Mini Golf. Now even Bubba Watson is putting a pink Volvik in play on the PGA tour.

Lot’s of innovative ways to make a piece of equipment, that for most of us, we don’t buy…we rent. That’s right…no matter how innovative the construction or dynamic the colors, most of these suckers end up in a lake or lost in the woods.

That’s where Costco comes in. They released a ball called the Kirkland Signature Tour Ball. It claimed to have the same if not better performance that the top-rated balls in the industry at a fraction of the price. Independent research by golf web sites like mygolfspy.com and golf WRX seemed to prove the company’s claims to be accurate. These balls did, in fact, perform at or better than higher priced balls on the market.

Here’s the rub…all balls…no matter who makes them or how much they cost…can only go so far. The USGA and R&A set limits as to how far they can fly. They do have different characteristics like firmness of feel, spin rates, etc. Those are all very important to finding the right ball for your game. That does not mean you need to play the most expensive ball. Nor does it mean that since your handicap is an 18 you can’t play a high performing ball. The truth is there is a ball out there for just about everyone.

And THAT is why I disagree with the likes of Jack and Gary. It is time we stopped picking on the ball. It’s not the ball’s fault that courses are getting too short. It’s every other factor from clubs, to athletes and even agronomy. Maybe, if we are a little nicer to the little things…they might perform a little better for us. Maybe, we might be able to take more of them home after the round.

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