Golf column: The right golf ball might not be the most expensive

Which golf ball is the right ball for my game?

That is a question we get all the time and although there are as many correct answers as there are brands of balls, we will cut through some of the advertising hype and try and make some sense of it all.

There are a few basic categories of golf balls and plenty of subcategories.

Larry Norland, Green Haven Golf Course
Larry Norland, Green Haven Golf Course

The core of the ball, the cover of the ball and the construction of the ball will dictate how it performs, how it feels and how much it costs.

To determine which ball is the correct one or ones for you depends on one main factor in my opinion: How much you are willing to pay for certain characteristics?

If you ask the big golf company gurus, they would probably say it is sacrilege to even suggest that cost should be the determining factor.

But let’s get real, golf balls can cost from 50 cents apiece to upwards of $5 apiece, and if you don’t get the benefits of the benefits you probably shouldn’t spend the extra cash. Unless you know where the money tree lives.

The most important characteristic that costs money is spin. The type of cover you have will, in large part, determine the amount of spin generated. A softer cover will generate more spin, and a firmer cover will generate less spin.

Spin is important to keep the ball aloft, but can be detrimental if you have too much spin – think of the slice or drop shot in tennis. Also, coincidentally, the balls that produce the most spin and cost the most will also be the softest ones and therefore the least durable – isn’t that particularly interesting?

Every company also has a ball they say is the longest ball in golf.

Well, the USGA has strict rules governing how a ball can function and what is acceptable performance – so every ball can be the longest, but it is very difficult for one ball to be longer than any other.

The key to maximizing distance for each individual player and their swing speed is to achieve the optimal effective launch of 14 degrees. Think of trying to get the stream of water coming out of your too-short garden hose to reach the far end of the garden, you angle it up to a point that it shoots the farthest before it starts getting shorter.

That optimal angle is about 14 degrees. Coincidence?

You can achieve that angle with a 14-degree driver or you can impart backspin. Currently the optimal backspin is in the low 2,000 rpm to get the necessary parabolic shot shape to get maximum distance, unless you are playing in west Texas on the hard pan, then your putter might be the best.

When you get right down to it, for the average golfer the performance difference and the corresponding scoring difference is so small that the really expensive balls just don’t have the kind of return on investment that the Wall Street types will consider appropriate to the additional cost. (My economics degree shows its head every once in a while.)

But, each player needs to make their own assessment as to which is more important, money saved or the awe you receive on the first tee when you identify that you are playing the latest, greatest and most expensive golf ball on the market.

As always, ask your local PGA professional as they may completely disagree with me and they may be right.

Larry Norland is the Director of Golf at Green Haven Golf Course in Anoka.