If you go to a miniature golf course, selecting a ball is pretty easy. You can choose from cherry red, lemon yellow, bright orange or lime green. Like M&M’s, it doesn’t really matter what is inside the colorful coating.
Life isn’t so easy on a full-scale golf course. About the only thing you can’t choose about a ball is the color. You have two-piece balls and three-piece balls, soft covers and hard covers, distance balls and trajectory balls, high compression and low compression, balls designed to go straight and balls designed for backspin.
Dimple patterns vary, too. Most are circular or elliptical. One manufacturer uses the terms icosadodecahedron, and even rhombicosadodecahedron, to describe its dimple patterns. It’s enough to make you want to take up geometry. Or perhaps tennis.
For the record, golf balls generally are white, 1.68 inches in diameter and weigh 1.62 ounces. And regardless of any marketing claims that might be made, all balls are quite capable of sinking to the bottom of a water hazard.
To a new golfer, choosing a ball should not lead to sleepless nights. If you are playing for the first time, the top priority is to make contact with the ball, not to maneuver its flight. It is more important to have an ample supply of balls in your bag than a name brand. Pro shops, golf retailers, department stores and even your neighborhood drugstore often have bins of cheap balls to be picked over.
There are actually companies that pay golf courses for the right to scour water hazards to recover wayward balls. The balls are cleaned and resold as “used.” Pros wouldn’t be caught dead using these balls, but no one’s going to tell if you try a few, especially if you’re on a budget.
If you insist on new balls before you play, ask for a durable, cut-resistant brand. New golfers are more likely to hit the ball with the blade of the club and slice into the cover, creating a not-so-funny “smile.” A cover made of surlyn withstands a mis-hit better than a cover made of balata, which is a softer material. Read more about golf balls here.
One less-expensive option for new golfers is X-out balls. These are new balls but with slight imperfections, usually in the way they are printed. The word “X-OUT” appears on the ball, or the manufacturer’s name is visible behind a series of X’s. Because the balls still perform, they are not considered factory rejects.
Golf balls usually are sold in cartons of 12 or 15, or in small boxes or sleeves of three. Individual balls range from about $1.50 to over $4 apiece. But again, new golfers should steer clear of expensive balls at first, unless you get evil pleasure out of watching $20 worth of balls disappear into the woods.
Frankly, you are not likely to notice a difference in ball quality until you develop consistently solid contact with your clubs. Look at it this way: at a driving range, it doesn’t matter what brand of ball you hit as long as you make some improvement.
As long as you step up to the first tee with a clean white ball, preferably minus a red stripe, everything will be all right.