I know some frugal golfers, and we’ve had some debates over the merits of used vs new golf balls. It’s fair to say that an average golfer doesn’t need to play a new ball each time they head out onto the golf course, but just how many hits can a golf ball take before it should be replaced?
If you want a quick easy-to-regurgitate answer: A golf ball will last for seven 18 hole rounds without a noticeable decrease in performance.
However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. The quality of a golf ball, the environment in which it’s been stored, and the condition of the cover all play a role in long term golf ball performance.
The modern golf ball is an incredible achievement. There aren’t many objects in this world that can take the impact of a fairway wood or golf driver at 125 mph, but that doesn’t mean you should be playing with an old golf ball that you salvaged from your childhood golf bag.
In this article, we will take a look into how long a golf ball can last as well as best storage practices and other important signs to consider.
Golf Ball Covers
One of the defining characteristics of a golf ball is it’s cover.
The cover is the outer coating (or shell) that usually consists of either an ionomer material which is firm or urethane which tends to be softer.
Urethane covers are normally used on premium golf balls (think three, four and five piece balls). Because this material is thinner, it has the potential for a higher spin rate, but it can also be more susceptible to scuffs or scratches from your golf club. A professional golfer has the budget to replace these balls often, but an amateur golfer may need to use their original ball for as long as possible.
A premium ball like the Titleist Pro V1 or the Taylormade TP5 has a urethane cover. Your clubface may scratch these balls easier, but the performance pros outweigh the durability cons.
Ionomer covers, on the other hand, are a more durable option that’s cheaper to produce but tends to have a harder feel. These balls may feel firmer when they hit the club face, but they tend to improve driving distance because they spin less off the tee. Less spin on drives results in a longer ball flight.
A golf ball like the Bridgestone e6 has a ionomer cover. A range ball often has an extra-durable ionomer cover, so even with brutal clubhead speed, these balls are designed to withstand long term punishment.
Regardless of the material, if the cover doesn’t have any significant scratches or scuffs, it passes the first benchmark and may still be good to use. Once a player’s ball hits a cart path or takes real damage from a golf swing, it should be retired or saved for water hazard shots…not that you’d ever land in one of those.
If you have a solid golf game and your shot mostly lands in the fairway, you can minimize damage to the cover and avoid the constant need for a new ball.
Damage to a golf ball cover is obvious, but the component that many golfers fail to consider is the core. Each carefully-crafted core influences your golf shot in a significant way. Both ball speed and launch angle are influenced by the technology inside of your golf ball.
The modern golf ball core is designed to take 100+ tee shot strikes, but it’s not designed to last forever. If you’ve been playing with the same ball for more than 7 rounds, your golf club distance will eventually start to decrease. This may have nothing to do with your swing speed or swing path … it may just be time for a new ball.
In match play or stroke play events, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Playing with the wrong ball or a compromised ball can hurt your scores.
Changing Your Golf Ball
So in review: How many hits can a golf ball take? Golf balls should last an average of seven 18 hole rounds, assuming they don’t have any visible damage.
If you’re an amateur golfer, you’ll probably lose your ball before it starts to break down. However, the further you advance your skillset, the more you’ll need to monitor the shelf life of your ball. You don’t want to lose distance off the tee because you’re playing with a worn out ball.
If you watch professional players during tournaments, you may notice that they swap their golf ball more often. This doesn’t mean that their ball has worn out after a couple of holes. These guys and gals want to make sure they’re using a ball that’s 100% primed for performance.
From a drives, to pitch shots and the perfect putt — nothing beats hitting a brand new golf ball.
Golf Ball Storage
Do golf balls go bad? Believe it or not, they do.
Proper golf ball storage is another important factor in a golf ball’s longevity. Keeping your golf balls on a shelf at normal room temperatures will ensure that they don’t lose their performance.
In the past, some golfers would actually store their golf balls in a freezer. They falsely believed that the cold temperatures would help maintain “freshness” and compression. The reality is just the opposite — cold temperatures can actually diminish the ball’s performance.
That means if you play rounds in extreme hot or cold conditions, you may need to replace your ball more often.
If there is a certain brand and model that is your favorite, don’t be afraid to stock up. Just make sure you keep your stash at regular room temperature.
Side note: There’s a good discussion on this topic over at the Titleist forums.
How much distance do you lose with old golf balls?
This depends on a variety of factors. Age, brand, rounds played and storage conditions will all play a role in your golf ball’s diminishing performance. One thing’s for sure though — you will lose distance with old golf balls. Even a scuff on a newer golf ball can reduce distance by as much as 6 yards.
Modern golf balls are designed to withstand higher swing speeds and more extreme weather conditions, but they aren’t invincible. Don’t be too frugal. If a ball looks worn or you’ve played with it during multiple outings, it’s time to swap it out of the rotation.
Golfing on a tight budget? Here are some great affordable options.