We golfers are an idiosyncratic bunch and never more so than when choosing which ball to play. For example, I regularly tee up with a man who will only use a Titleist Pro V1x, because he claims it’s the best ball on the market. It probably is, if you have a swing-speed to match Rory McIlroy or other Tour pros, in excess of 105mph (in fact, Rory wallops it at about 182mph), and already have a high ball flight. My friend swings with all the velocity of a clapped-out donkey and regularly pops the ball so high that it comes down covered with snow.
Despite this excellent ball not being suited to his game and being situated at the pricier end of the market, he remains wedded to it and will not contemplate playing another. Another golfer I know (okay, I’m talking about me), likes yellow golf balls – I find them much easier to spot in the rough, an essential quality with my game – and, as I’m usually playing with people who opt for conventional white, I’m rarely likely to play the wrong ball.
Others I know will only play Callaway, or TaylorMade, or other brands simply because of a personal preference, probably forged many moons ago when they just happened to be playing that ball on the day when Jupiter aligned with Uranus, and they shot an uncharacteristically low score.
But in these days of rampant inflation when we all need to consider value for money, perhaps now is the time to take a realistic look at the sort of golf ball we need to play to maximise our scoring potential without having to take out a second mortgage. If you opt for the Pro V1, you’re likely to be looking at £45-50 for a box of 12 but it is more than possible to spend less than half that and still find a small, spherical sphere that will not only enhance your game but leave you enough in your pocket to buy a pint after the round.
The basics of ball construction
All golf equipment manufacture is a trade-off. When it comes to golf balls, that boils down, in broad terms, to firm construction, for greater distance, or the use of softer compounds for greater spin and feel. Firm is great for blasting off the tee, softer is better for approach shots and putting.
Leaving aside one-piece balls, which play like a perfectly symmetrical stone and will leave your fingers tingling, you will almost certainly want a two-piece or three-piece ball. In essence, two-piece construction involves a large central core with an outer layer that can be anywhere on the axis of soft to firm. Three- piece balls are for the slightly more accomplished golfer (mid to low-handicap), have an outer cover on the axis of soft to firm but will spin more and give the player greater control. Be wary, because spin isn’t always good for your game. It’s great if you hit your irons high, straight and want them to stop quickly on the green but if you tend to hook or, particularly slice, greater spin can exaggerate those faults.
You can also get four and five-piece balls but they’re for particularly accomplished golfers, and another article on another day.
The Best Budget Golf Balls
Titleist Velocity 12 ball pack - £26.99
· Colours: White
· Price Per Ball: £2.25
Reason to buy:
· Designed specifically with distance in mind
· Slightly less feel and control around the greens
· Fast initial speed from the clubface with a lower spin rate, which equates to extra yards
· Extremely good all-rounder golf ball
I once talked with a London cabbie and asked him how he’d played the previous day. ‘Mate, I was hitting it large,’ he said. ‘So,what did you score?’, ‘Well, it was a hundred and fifteen [pause] but I was hitting it large.’
If your only ambition in golf, like that cabbie, is to hit the ball further off the tee, the Velocity might be the ball for you because it has been designed specifically with distance in mind. As you will be coming to realise, this involves slightly less feel and control around the greens but that’s life. All of the available testing data points to the Velocity having a fast initial speed from the clubface with a lower spin rate, which equates to extra yards and less likelihood of watching it slice into the cabbage. Like the TruFeel it has a larger core in a two-piece design, but the Velocity also features a Surlyn ionomer cover, which is a large factor for the ball spinning less. It is available in white (natch), matte orange, matte pink and matte green.
If you have a great short game and like to stop the ball on a sixpence from around the green, this may not be your first choice, but otherwise, it’s an extremely good all-rounder. For the technically minded, it consists of a spherical tile design with a 350 octahedral dimple pattern. Knew you’d be impressed.
Price: £26.99 per dozen (£2.25 per ball).
· Colours: White
· Price Per Ball: £1.66
Reason to buy:
· Roll Groove technology
· three-piece with a Surlyn cover for greater distance
·will zip off the clubface will lose something in those touch and feel shots
In contrast to Titleist, a name familiar to all golfers (and I include the man I used to play with who continually and mistakenly called it ‘Tit-least’), the name Rife may not immediately ring any bells of recognition but don’t let that put you off. The company launched in 1997 with its patented 2Bar putter, which incorporated Roll Groove technology to get the ball rolling with topspin, which reduces skipping and spinning and gets the ball rolling truer. The company founder was the first to put grooves on a putter face and has designed over 40 putters, with which more than 100 tournaments worldwide have been won. In 2011 it was acquired by Innovex Golf, which rebranded its golf balls with the Rife name. It may be the best golf ball you’ve never heard of.
In addition to its putter range, the company now makes a range of golf equipment, including bags, shoes and gloves and is, in our view, a brand that delivers quality at exceptionally competitive prices. In numerous online and magazine tests, Rife golf balls perform at least as well, if not better, than many better-known names.
The RX5 Tour Feel is a three-piece with a Surlyn cover. In essence, Surlyn is more durable and will give greater distance, while urethane is softer, for greater control. What you should expect is a ball that will zip off the clubface, giving you maximum yardage (along with impressive roll), but will lose something in those touch and feel shots around the green. The ‘Distance’ name is a helpful guide when lining up putts. If you like to play with different colours, hard luck as these Rife balls only come in white.
The best news of all is the price, as the 15-ball bonus pack comes in at £24.99, (around £1.66 per ball).
· Colours: Blue, Pink, Orange & Yellow
· Price Per Ball: £2
Reason to buy:
· Low compression, two-piece ball created to offer maximum distance
· Surlyn cover for greater durability
The women’s game has been steadily growing and now consists of between 22-27% of players, depending on the demographic statistics you consult. That represents a significant bunch of people, with equally significant spending power, the result of which is that virtually all manufacturers now cater for the ladies’ side of the game, with targeted equipment specifically for them.
Ladies golf balls are generally designed and manufactured to consider that women tend to be smaller, lighter and therefore not as powerful through the swing. There’s also an element of personality or psyche involved. Many male golfers step up to the tee with one thought in their mind, which is to smash the ball as hard as they can; continuing to do this throughout their golfing lives, despite a mountain of evidence that it’s not the most efficient way of getting round the course. I have often written that if a club golfer wants to improve their game, the best thing to do is watch women professionals at work. They rely on timing, rhythm and a smooth transition from backswing to downswing, and it works.
Typically, a golf ball designed for ladies will be a two-piece construction with a low compression and softer feel. A quick word about compression. All golf balls are flattened, to a greater or lesser extent, at the point where the clubface hits them, and the amount by which they are flattened, is compression. It reflects how hard or soft the ball is. The more the ball is flattened, or squashed on the clubface, the more it will spring forward, or rebound. So, if the ball is harder, or has less compression, you need a greater swing-speed to achieve the same distance. Ergo, golf balls for women, (and men with slower swing-speeds), are often low compression and compression is represented by a figure between 30 (low) and 200. This is a simplified explanation of a complicated subject, but the minutiae of golf ball design and properties is for another day, and real equipment geeks.
Suffice to say that the Rife RX Soft Distance is a low compression, two-piece ball created to offer maximum distance with a Surlyn cover for greater durability – even after several visits to the woods it should still look pristine. The most immediately striking feature, however, is that the 12-ball pack features equal numbers of four colours – blue, orange, red and yellow.
Price: £22.99 per dozen (just under £2 per ball).
Wilson Deep Red 15 ball pack - £19.99
· Colours: White
· Price Per Ball: £1.33
Reason to buy:
· Mid-compression with a hard, durable cover
· aimed at the beginner to high handicap golfer
The Wilson Sporting Goods company was founded in 1914 (not the best year, you might think, to launch a leisure equipment firm) and therefore has over a century of experience, unlike many of the brand names with which you might be familiar – Callaway, for example, began in 1982. However, in those hundred-plus years, many companies have come and gone but Wilson continues to flourish in an extremely competitive marketplace simply because of the quality of its products, although I should declare an interest here because I have been playing Wilson irons for the last year or so and love them to bits – well, most of the time. The company slipped from its high-profile position through the 1960s and ‘70s but has now come storming back. It also doesn’t hurt that Gary Woodland won the 2019 US Open using its clubs and, of course, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has a long association with the company.
For all but the most fortunate, when buying anything the first consideration must be price and Wilson scores extremely well, offering well-manufactured quality at an entry-level price point. The headlines are that the Deep Red ball is mid-compression with a hard, durable cover so, if you’re not in the habit of losing many balls, it will be a while before you have to retire one. The Wilson golf ball is aimed at the beginner to high handicap golfer which, let’s face it, is most of us, considering that the average handicap, in England at least since the introduction of the World Handicapping System, has been calculated at 17 for men and 27 for women.
What all of this means is that the Deep Red is an extremely good all-rounder for the budget conscious. It is not the most sophisticated, offering the latest in cutting-edge technology but will not let you down.
Price: £19.99 for 15 (£1.33 per ball).
Callaway Warbird 12 ball pack - £16.99
· Colours: White
· Price Per Ball: £1.40
Reason to buy:
· High launch angle with a strong trajectory and plenty of roll after landing
· Reasonable amount of grip on the greens
· If you're wanting impressive distance, this would be a great choice
In a mantra that will now be becoming familiar, the Warbird offers distance at the expense of soft touch, which is a characteristic of nearly all the budget golf balls we review here. If you want genuine feel and are good enough to notice it, don’t buy a budget ball (apart, that is, from the Callaway Supersoft). There is a good deal of feel for chip and pitch shots and putting with the Warbird but not the same degree as you will get from the premium products at the top of the range. Then again, if we higher-handicap golfers had the sensitivity of touch to notice the difference, we would probably all be watchmakers or cardiac surgeons.
The Warbird is a two-piece construction with an extra-large core, described as high-energy, to give a high launch angle with a strong trajectory and plenty of roll after landing. The extra distance it gives is especially noticeable with irons, particularly wedges. With these clubs, you get a reasonable amount of grip on the greens, but the ball is not going to sit up and beg or tap dance around the flagstick. Even better news for us hackers is that even off-centre strikes tend not to damage or scuff the surface of the Callaway ball, so durability is impressive, despite the fact that the Surlyn outer layer is one of the thinnest around. For those of a technical bent, it features 332 dimples in a hexagonal pattern.
Around the green, golfers tend to fall into one of two camps. These are the Phil Mickelson wannabes, who like to throw everything up in the air and stop the ball quickly, and those who prefer (assuming no bunkers or ponds are in the way) to keep the ball low and get it rolling as soon as possible. The Warbird is the ball for this latter group. If your priority in golf is to launch a ball from the tee with impressive distance, this would be a great choice that doesn’t require you to take out a second mortgage.
Price: 16.99 per dozen (£1.40 per ball).
Callaway Supersoft 12 ball pack - £22.99
· Colours: White & Yellow
· Price Per Ball: £1.90
Reason to buy:
· Superb feel on and around the greens
· High ball flight
· If you have a slow swing-speed this would be an excellent choice
The clue, and only information you really need, is in the name. In contrast to the other balls described here, this Callaway offering gives superb feel on and around the greens, and although that comes at a price of slightly reduced distance, especially if you have a faster swing-speed, the trade-off is not all that great. Where it also scores particularly well is that it gives a high ball flight, even with long irons; because of the reduced spin you can generate. So if you have trouble getting the ball airborne, this is a strong contender. That low spin rate also means that any tendency you have to hook or slice will be reduced. For the touch and feel golfer who can afford to sacrifice just a little distance from the tee, it’s a super bit of kit for the price. For the technically minded, the Supersoft features a Trionomer blend cover with a core of Polybutadiene and has 332 dimples in a hexagonal design (no, I don’t understand all that, either). Not surprisingly, it has a very low compression of 38, and with that sort of number, softness of feel is a given. The feel on the putting green is nice and sensitive but because of the ball’s comparative softness, you may need to be a bit more positive on long-distance efforts.
The Supersoft has been one of Callaway’s best-sellers since its launch and if you have a slow swing-speed but want a ball that flies high and gives plenty of roll, it would be an excellent choice. It comes in a range of colours; matte green, matte pink, matte orange, matte red, and yellow.
Price: £22.99 per dozen (£1.90 per ball).
Fazer XR4 Distance 30 Ball Pack - £24.99
· Colours: White
· Price Per Ball: £0.83
Reason to buy:
· Good distance, but you lose a bit of feel around the greens
· A budget offering that nevertheless performs well
Honesty tells and honesty sells, so the headline news is that the Fazer ball is a good option if price is your main consideration and you’re prepared to sacrifice a little in performance. It is a firm ball that gives good distance, but you lose a bit of feel around the greens. Marketing information can sometimes need de-coding, for example, the maker of these balls tells us: ‘This ball utilises a Neodymium Reactor Core which combines a high COR with low compression which gives distance and feel, pushing the limit for maximum allowable velocity for noticeably longer shots.’ To translate: COR stands for coefficient of restitution, one of those phrases beloved by those who want to baffle us with jargon. What it means is the amount of energy lost or retained when two objects (in this instance, a golf club and golf ball) collide. Because clubs and balls are made of different materials and will have a different mass, there will always be some reduction of COR when the two meet. The ambition of manufacturers is to keep this loss as low as can be achieved, so that as much energy is transferred from clubhead to ball as possible. COR is now often used in conjunction with CT, or characteristic time. This measures how long the ball stays on the clubface before launch, or the relative elasticity, or ‘bounce’ of both clubface and ball. Longer CT means greater spring-like effect and more distance. This is a long-winded way of saying that if a golf ball has a high COR, it will fly further and that is what the Fazer XR2 Distance is all about.
If you want to hit the ball to your optimum distance, can sacrifice a little feel around the greens and don’t want to spend a fortune, this might well be the ball for you. It is, in short, a budget offering that nevertheless performs well.
Price: less than £10 per dozen (£0.83 per ball).
About the Author
Martin Vousden - Golf Writer
Martin Vousden joined Today’s Golfer in 1988 as a staff writer and quickly rose to become editor; under his stewardship it became Britain’s best-selling golf title. He then became launch editor of Golf Buyer and Swing magazines, before moving to Scotland to take over at ScottishGolf. After five years he became (and remains) a freelance journalist, having written for numerous titles, including Golf Monthly, Golf Punk and The Clubhouse, which is based in Malaysia. He lives in Angus, about 12 miles from the Carnoustie course that beats him up every time he plays it, so he joined Kirriemuir GC. His handicap of 19.3 rises inexorably with every passing year.
Martin’s golf bag contains:
Ping G400 driver
King Cobra F/Speed 3-wood
Kane Golf 5-wood
Callaway Big Bertha 7-wood
Wilson D9 irons, 5-gap wedge
Yonex Z-Force sand wedge
John Letters Golden Goose lob wedge
Putter: GEL Ruby or Odyssey 2-ball blade (depending on which is behaving itself)
TaylorMade Distance Balls (yellow, just because he likes the colour)