Golfers know that a round can go bad for a variety of reasons. [Insert your excuse of choice here].
But do golf balls go bad?
Golfers are often fixated on using the latest clubs, improving their swing speed and honing their short game.
All of these factors are important. After all, using the best equipment and making adjustments to your mechanics can take you from a high handicapper to an above average golfer.
But having the best clubs and a great swing without considering the golf ball itself seems a bit shortsighted.
A quality golf ball can make a surprising difference in your golf game. Should you be playing with a set of golf balls that you bought back in the early 2000s? What about those old golf balls you found at a yard sale?
This brings us back to the original question…
Do Golf Balls Go Bad?
Yes, and this is an important question, because ball flight, spin rate and carry distance are all determined, in part, by the golf ball itself.
A golfer who cares about performance needs to understand the factors that can ruin an old golf ball.
About the Modern Golf Ball
First, it is important to note that the modern golf ball is designed to take punishment. There are only a few objects in this world that can withstand damage after repetitive strikes with a golf club. In this regard, we should give those golf ball manufacturers some credit.
Over the years, golf balls have become more reliable and better tailored to golfer’s strengths and weaknesses. Both the average golfer and the avid golfer can find a premium ball that suits their game.
Even though golf balls are incredibly durable, they aren’t invulnerable damage or degraded performance over time. Golf ball age, wear and tear as well as other factors can mean it’s time for a new golf ball.
How Does a Golf Ball Go Bad?
Wear and Tear
The most obvious sign that your golf ball should be replaced is damage to the outer shell (cover). If you see scratches, scuffs or even chips on your dimpled ball, it’s time to swap the damaged ball out with a new golf ball.
This exterior damage can result from a poor golf swing, the ball hitting a cart path, or even just the punishment of a high swing speed.
While some scratches and a bit of damage isn’t uncommon, these imperfections will ultimately influence the ball’s performance.
Remember, a premium golf ball is tested new under “perfect” operating conditions. Don’t expect your ball to continue performing well when its technology is compromised.
Storage Temperature and Conditions
Do golf balls go bad in the heat? What about the cold?
I’ve heard of golfers who store their golf balls in a freezer to maintain compression. This is a bad idea. Extreme cold or hot temperates actually have a negative effect on a ball.
Take it from the experts: Golf balls should be stored at normal room temperatures whenever possible. Team Titleist tells us that “Today’s Titleist golf balls can be safely stored for five years or even more, as long as they are kept away from excessive heat…”
Though the technology between a Titleist Pro V1 and a Callaway ball may be different, it’s safe to say that the same rules apply.
Extreme highs and lows are no friend to golf balls.
Exposure to Water (Lake Balls)
We did a pretty extensive write-up on waterlogged golf balls, but if you don’t want the full story, here’s what you need to know: golf balls that sit in water for an extended period of time will go bad.
Not bad enough that you can’t use them, but bad enough that you won’t get maximum distance off the tee. This can be a cause for concern, especially if you have a slower swing speed or a golf bet on the line.
Twelve hours in water is all that it takes for a ball to start losing its yardage potential. A week or months in water can reduce a golf ball’s distance by 20 yards or more.
A new ball may cost more than a refurbished golf ball, but there are good reasons for this discrepancy.
As humans age, we lose some of our best physical attributes. Golf balls face a similar predicament.
Phil Mickelson’s 2021 PGA Championship win reminds us that old dogs still have some fight in them, but golf ball manufacturers don’t guarantee the quality of their product after more than 5 or 6 years.
If you have golf balls that are over a decade old, it’s safe to say they’ve gone bad. Again, not unusable bad…they’ve just lost some of their edge.
Can Unused Golf Balls Lose Performance?
Yes, as I mentioned above. Like most things in this world, unused golf balls are subject to entropy.
Thankfully, golf balls that are kept dry and stored at a reasonable temperature can last at least 5 years or more without a sacrifice in performance.
Some studies suggest that there would be no noticeable difference between a golf ball that is brand new and one that has been stored for several years, providing it is the same brand and model of course. This durable shelf life is partially a result of tough urethane shells. Golf balls are designed to weather the elements, so they can certainly handle sitting on a shelf.
However, none of the major brands will guarantee the integrity of their unused golf balls for more than 5-6 years.
Do Branded Golf Balls Last Longer?
The most famous golf ball is the Titleist Pro V1, which is the most popular ball among professional players and noted for its great range and overall performance. If you find one of these on the golf course, keep it. This four-piece golf ball has a complex design and carefully-crafted technology.
Titleist backs this Pro V1’s durability with confidence, but that doesn’t mean that it’s shelf life is superior to that of a Callaway Supersoft or other comparable balls.
It’s safe to say that new branded golf balls will last longer than used recycled golf balls, but beyond that, there isn’t any conclusive research (yet).
Do Golf Balls Wear Out? A Summary
Using a quality golf ball can make a big difference in your game. Golf balls can wear out, so if you’re hanging onto an old ball to save a dollar, you’re hurting your average.
We’ve covered all of the ways a golf ball can go bad, so if you feel like you’re playing with an inferior ball, it’s time to step up your game.
Here are a few recommendations:
And if you’re really in spending mode, check out some the Most Expensive Golf Balls in the World.
Know someone who’s playing with old used golf balls? Do them a favor and send them a link to this article.