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Soft VS Hard Golf Balls: The Choice For Average Golfers

If you’re starting out in the game of golf, and considering which golf balls would suit you best, there are a number of factors you should know about to make an informed decision.


What Is An Average Golfer?

An average golfer with a mid-low handicap will be swinging his or her golf club at somewhere between 90-95 mph and shooting near 100 on a par 72 golf course.

It’s a good idea to get your swing speed tested.

Golf Balls And Their Influence On Average Player’s Game Of Golf

Both golf balls and golf clubs are important when you’re shooting low scores and looking to improve. The golf club must be comfortable. A fitted club is best because it takes into account your height and swing style.

There have been enormous developments in golf ball technology but, in the end, golf is about accuracy and consistency. No matter what technology does to improve distance it is up to the player to be accurate and consistent.

“What Golf Ball should I use” by MarkCrossfield on YouTube.

Golf balls differ in what they can do and how they react and perform once hit.

Type of golf ball can influence the number of strokes, which is clearly very relevant to the game of golf. Condition of the ball and its attributes are paramount.

When considering golf balls, there are a number of specifications to take into account:

  • Construction refers to how the ball is constructed, and determines how the ball reacts to contact with your driver, wedge or iron.
  • Compression refers to the pressure felt from the structure of the ball.
  • Spin refers to the rate at which the ball twists while in the air.

Recommended reading:

Golf Ball Information Chart

Learn to understand layers, ball spin, and learning the best type of compression for your swing.

Compression In Golf Balls

Manufacturers calculate how hard a ball is from compression. Compression is measured between 0 and 200.

Compression refers to deflection of a struck golf ball. A 200 ball does not compress. A 0 ball deflects 5mm (1/5th of an inch) or more. Golf balls are usually between 50 and 100 in compression.

The lower the compression number the softer the ball. Lower compression balls are softer, compress more, go a longer distance.

The ball rolls out more and this can give longer drives and higher distances off tee.

Golf balls that have more compression allow greater control and faster swing speeds are required to compress the ball.

Higher compression means more accuracy is possible and the ball spins more. Higher spin balls travel just as far as lower spin and are more responsive on the greens.

Spin In Golf Balls

Balls that give lower spin act to decrease side spin so the ball flies straighter. Distance may be lower and lack of spin means increased roll on landing.

If you tend to slice the ball or want to get distance in your game then you’ll want lower spin.

Mid spin golf balls try to ensure the best of distance and feel. These balls suit a wide range of players, offering distance with variations in feel and softness that are brand-dependent.

High spinning golf balls maximise spin in the air. When you hit a golf ball there’ll be a degree of backspin.

A high spinning ball increases the backspin and this gives longer carry. If you tend to hit the ball right to left with a draw, then a high spinning golf ball would probably suit you.

If draw spin overpowers back-spin you get a wayward hook shot. High spinning balls can help with this.

High spinning balls don’t get the run on the fairway of low or mid spinning balls but they’re great on greens, where they increase feel and improve control.

Construction Of Golf Balls

The number of layers in a golf ball determines whether it is called a one, two, three, four or five-piece golf ball.

The first layer or piece on multi-layered balls is the core. The final layer or piece is the outer cover.

Design of the ball impacts differently when you’re playing off the tee or on the green, for example.

Dimples on golf balls are about drag. If you hit your golf ball well at around 120 mph, moisture and pressure in the air slow it down.

The dimples cause the molecules of air to jitter around and this creates turbulence in the air on the ball’s surface. This allows the ball to travel further.

“Inside a GOLF BALL LAB! How they make golf balls” by Peter Finch Golf on YouTube.

One Piece Golf Ball

The most basic construction is the one-piece golf ball. These are the firmest golf balls and the cheapest to produce.

One-piece balls are mainly for beginners, for playing crazy golf and for driving ranges. One-piece balls are not often found on the greens.

Made from one solid piece of dimpled Surlyn.

Two-Piece Golf Ball

Your average, everyday golfer will use a two-piece ball.

Two-piece golf balls are durable and offer maximum distance.

They are made with a single solid core of hard plastic, usually some sort of high-energy acrylate or resin, and have a robust outer covering that is cut-proof and blended.

The outer cover will be made of Surlyn, which is a specialty plastic, or something similar.

Two-piece balls feel firmer than balls that have more pieces. Two-piece balls produce more distance but aren’t as easily controlled as a softer ball.

Two-piece balls have low spin and high distance.

Three-Piece Golf Ball

The core is made of rubber; liquid or solid. Next, there’ll be a layer of enhanced rubber, or a layer produced from liquid.

The moulded outer cover of a three-piece golf ball is usually made of solid rubber, such as durable Surlyn, or of Urethane, or maybe a material that is balata-like.

These balls are softer than two-piece balls and give more spin and control over ball flight.

Spin separation is associated with the number of layers in the ball. The more layers, the more spin-separation. More spin separation means the driver has more customized performance compared to an iron or wedge.

There’ll be no noticeable spin separation in one and two-piece balls but in a three-piece ball spin separation can be noticed.

Three-piece golf balls have more technology to them than two-piece ones. They’ll be long off the tee like two-piece balls but will be controllable with spin around the greens. They suit mid-handicappers.

Four-Piece Golf Ball

In four-piece balls, each piece, or layer, has its own specific purpose. The layers work together to ensure the best distance and softest feel.

The first layer is the inner core and this will be solid rubber. It’s designed for distance, particularly with the driver. The next piece is the inner cover. This is where the energy from the strike is transferred to the hot core.

The next piece is the middle cover. This is an extra layer which aims to increase driver distance and give spin to the mid-iron and feel on the green.

The final piece is the outer layer, which is where feel comes from. Usually, the outer layer has between 300-400 dimples. It’s the thinnest layer and composed of Urethane so it’s durable and soft.

Five-Piece Golf Ball

The five-piece ball uses more materials and layers to improve spin separation and performance. This type of ball is the most expensive and is used at the highest, Tour-level events.

The high-speed core is separated from the soft Urethane outer cover by three mantle layers, each of which reacts to different shots and swing speeds to ensure optimised performance.

Firmer Golf Balls

A firmer golf ball will have a higher compression rating. A higher compression rating means it takes more speed from your golf club to compress the golf ball.

Firmer golf balls have less pieces and a thicker outer cover.

Firmer golf balls tend to spin less.

Generally speaking, when using the driver, firmer balls are associated with less launch, more side-to-side spin, the same or greater distance as softer balls and hitting less fairways.

When using the iron with harder balls, the harder ball produces similar launch angles and distances to softer balls, although the firmer ball will have more spin.

With the wedges the launch angles are usually similar for softer and firmer balls. The harder ball has higher spin. Distances are about the same for softer and firmer balls when using the wedge.

Factors such as swing speed and brand of golf ball will, however, be of tremendous influence.

Look at golf ball info chart to assess soft and firm golf balls and their relevant compression ratings. Examples of firmer balls are Pro V1x and Chrome Soft X, giving faster swings.

Softer Golf Balls

A softer golf ball will have a lower compression rating. A lower compression rating means it takes less speed from your golf club to compress the golf ball.

Golf balls with lower compression ratings tend to reach greater distances when using the iron or driver, and about the same distance as firmer balls with the wedge. The result is straighter shots and a better feeling from the golf ball.

Soft golf balls have more pieces and a thinner outer cover.

Soft golf balls tend to spin more.

Generally speaking, when using the driver, softer balls are associated with higher launch, less side-to-side spin, the same or greater distance as firmer balls and hitting more fairways.

For the average golfer a higher launch from the ball results in straighter and longer shots, which is a good thing. The average golfer doesn’t necessarily want high side-to-side spin because this curves the ball’s path.

When using the iron with softer balls, the softer ball produces similar launch angles and distances to firmer balls, although the firmer ball will have more spin.

With the wedges the launch angles were similar for softer and firmer balls. The softer ball had higher spin and the distances were the same as for a firmer ball.

The interesting point with the wedge is that the softer ball had more spin, while with the driver and iron the harder ball had more spin.

Factors such as swing speed and brand of golf ball will, however, be of tremendous influence.

Examples of softer golf balls are Titleist Pro V1 and Callaway Chrome Soft.

Does A Softer Or Firmer Golf Ball Work Best For The Average Golfer?

Bear in mind that feeling is subjective and personal. Professionals may opt for a soft ball and beginners may like the feel of firmer balls.

The general rule is that a softer ball is better for average and below players and a harder ball for above average and professional players.

Naomi Hagen

An average golfer will have a mid to low level swing speed. If your swing speed is around or under the average of 90 mph, then hitting a firmer ball is going to feel like you’re hitting a rock, so opt for a softer golf ball.

For above average players, with a swing speed that is well above average, hitting a softer golf ball is going to feel like you’re hitting a sponge.

Better players tend to opt for firmer balls because firmer balls offer higher spin rates with drivers and irons so one can hit draws and fades.

Average golfers are unlikely to be hitting draws and fades so wouldn’t need a firmer ball. Average golfers don’t need those higher spin rates and so prefer softer balls.

For a slower than average swing speed a softer, lower compression ball is advised, because these balls compress with less speed and could travel further.

For those who are beginners or have high handicaps the golf ball will probably matter less that it does for medium or low handicap players.

Beginners, in particular, will be more focused on things like making contact with the ball correctly and learning how to chip and leave the ball close to the hole.


Choosing The Right Golf Ball

There are a number of factors to keep in mind when purchasing golf balls.

If you keep losing a lot of golf balls, then this suggests you should opt for cheaper balls, at least until you improve.

Price is obviously a factor. Some people purchase golf balls that have been recovered from lakes.

These are called ‘lake balls’ and are a cheaper alternative. Lake balls will have been affected by the lake’s water and will travel less. For the average golfer a lake ball can be a very good investment because they are cheaper.

X-Outs Golf Balls have cosmetic blemishes or are factory overruns. They sell for less than top-of-the-line models.

Conclusion

The average recreational golfer with a swing speed under 95 mph would benefit from a two-piece or three-piece golf ball with low to mid-level compression rating.

To hit more fairways and get better consistency in short games, you want a ball that spins less off the tee and lands softly on the green. Spinning less off the tee means you’re more likely to hit the fairway, which could allow you to cut a few strokes.

You’re likely to lose balls, so getting the two-piece or three-piece balls is a good idea because they are less expensive.

If you reach speeds of over 105 mph then a high compression ball would probably serve you better.

You should look into golf ball fitting sessions that are offered by golf ball manufacturers are golf clubs and fitting centers. You can get yourself measured up and get advice.

If you are an average golfer with a mid-low handicap then what you should do is try out different balls. Once you get a feel for the different balls, you’d better know which suits you.

Try a few brands for the best combination of distance, control and feel on the greens. Practice using 2-piece, 3-piece, and 4- or 5-piece balls, and use balls of different brands.

Different balls will serve your purposes on the short game, on the fairway, on the rough and off the tee. Feel and control are essential.

Once you have a ball you like, play with that make consistently. What will help your game is consistency in the type of golf ball used.

By Naomi Hagen

Hi! I'm Naomi Hagen, the Lead Editor of Golftlink. Me and Andrew met during a casual game of golf at Seminole in Florida. I've got a hcp of 5, one of my key achievements in life apart from raising four beautiful children (one is a scratch golfer!). I live with my family outside Florida and absolutely love the game of golf.