The Core War
In the design and engineering of the golf ball, the chief considerations are the core, cover, and dimples. The cores it the source of energy and differences in its construction affect many important performance characteristics: spin rate for control, initial velocity for distance, and compression for “feel.”
Primary core constructions are solid (two pieces) and wound (three pieces). A two-piece ball consists of a solid rubber core with a durable thermoplastic (ionomer resin) cover. The three-piece ball consists of a smaller solid rubber or liquid-filled center with rubber thread wound around it under tension, and an ionomer or balata rubber cover. The solid center gets an ionomer cover and the liquid center a balata cover. With its larger solid core, a two-piece ball generally travels father than a three=piece wound ball, particularly on the roll (more than the airborne carry). Golf ball design and production involve tradeoffs, however, and the extra yards usually come at the expense of control and feel.
Nonetheless, the extra distance and tougher covers have resulted in two-piece balls now making up 70% of all golf ball production. Spalding champions two-piece balls, which it introduced in 1968 and which is all it produces. Titleist dominates in three-piece balls, the choice of most touring pros and other expert golfers. This year it joined the two-piece trend with its new HCV ball. The company already had been making the Pinnacle brand two-piece ball.
Spalding consistently has promoted its Top-Flite series as achieving the greatest distance. Many experts, however, maintain that any leading brand can be shown to go farthest, depending upon how a producer’s mechanical testing machine is programmed. USGA technical director Frank Thomas describes the differences in quality among the top balls as “minimal,” adding that “the difference between the longest ball and the 100th longest ball in our tests is only 10 yards.”
Wilson, the fourth-largest producer (behind Dunlop and its Maxfli models), also claims to have the longest ball and even hired a major accounting firm to support its case. The company conducted competitions around the country in which amateurs hit their favorite brands and also Wilson’s new Ultra balls, and the results were tabulated on-site by Coopers & Lybrand. The Ultra outdistanced its competitors by average 5.7 yards per drive. (Another golf ball not approved by the USGA advertises greater distance, but it reportedly is heavier and smaller than regulation.)