If you were going to hang a picture on your wall, traditionally, you’d use a hammer and a…?
If you said “nail,” well done, you’re in touch with reality. If you said “umbrella,” you’ve missed a point somewhere. The point being that you use the appropriate tools for the appropriate job.
If you’re caught in a rain shower, don’t raise a nail above your head and expect it to keep you dry.
The same logic applies to your golf balls. There are regular golf balls for regular golf play, and then there are range balls, that are more or less the crash test dummies of the golfing world.
You use them very differently – not to say very much more often – than a standard golf ball, and they’re made in very different ways.
Comparing them is almost unfair, and relatively absurd on a one-to-one basis, but it can help to highlight the differences at work in the two types of ball.
Range balls vs regular balls
The difference between range balls and regular golf balls is akin to the difference between battery chickens and organic free-range named-breed, ethically fed chickens.
For one, life is long but not much fun. For the other, life is just long enough to be useful, but they get the good stuff while they’re here.
Range balls are designed to be hit, and hit, and hit again, by tens or potentially hundreds of golfers who attend the range, giving very little back to the golfers but basic physics.
Regular balls are designed to be hit a couple of handfuls of times at most, by the individual golfer who buys them, and will bring a few tricks to their flight.
Because they’re designed to take constant punishment, range balls have a much thicker outer cover than standard balls – if they didn’t have, they’d fall to pieces in… well, in about the same time that regular balls do.
They also have much less going on inside – they’re usually cheap two-piece golf balls with a cheaper rubber insert and a much thicker coating of paint on them.
They’re more or less designed to minimize the special effects of some regular balls, so that they stay visibly intact, and seemingly ready to take whatever punishment the next golfer doles out.
They won’t give you extra height, extra spin, or any other clever effect. Range balls will give you the simple results of you and your golf club hitting a ball like them down a fairway.
In essence, there’s a stripped-back naked physics to the range ball, and that’s pretty much the point.
They’re there to show you what happens before you add all the cleverness and design to your ball. Their message is “Sure – but this is what actually happens.”
Regular balls, on the other hand, you buy to get the most out of, but for a comparatively short space of time.
Regular balls you buy to give you extra distance, extra spin, extra height, because the point is, you use regular balls in competition play, rather than simple practice play.
Depending on how fancy and clever they are, they can be constructed of anything up to five internal elements, and usually have a thin outer coating so they allow the transfer of energy from the club to the complicated interior, to give you those effects you’ve paid for.
That being the case, regular golf balls are only expected to last you a round or two, because you beat the living daylights out of them and they haven’t got the skin to take it.
That’s the most fundamental difference between range balls and regular balls. With range balls, they’re been constructed more with durability in mind than with performance, or the delivery of particular golfing effects. They’ll last you longer but give you less.
Regular balls on the other hand are constructed to higher internal standards, designed to take less punishment, but also to last you nowhere near as long.
What a feeling
No one is going to complain about the hard feeling of a range ball, because it doesn’t count for anything in terms of strokes and gameplay.
Regular balls are going to be hit around the course, and they’re going to count for strokes and points, meaning they matter a great deal to golfers in terms of their feel – especially by the time they get within sniffing distance of the green.
Again, it’s crucial to remember that range balls are built from the word go with simplicity and thickness in mind, rather than distance, height, or any other niceties of performance.
Compare a range ball with another two-piece ball used for regular golf, and as a baseline, you’ll probably find the regular two-piece gives you 10% more distance – a factor of that long-lived thick outer coating.
Compare a standard range ball with a more complex, multi-part ball, and the difference grows significantly.
Again, that’s down to the differences in construction, and the fact that regular balls are designed to get you further, higher, and to cut down on the number of strokes you take to complete a hole.
Range balls are mostly about taking the beating of your full swing, with none of the clever elements of match play involved.
That’s ultimately the point of range balls. They’re not pretty, they’re not clever, but they are very, very tough. They’re there to take the full impact of your swing and still show you what really happens without the clever built-in physics of modern regular golf balls.
They’re farm horses, rather than racing ponies, and their thicker outer layers, less complicated inners, and thick layers of paint mean they’ll keep on coming back for more, and importantly, still give you a reasonable idea of what your swing looks like when stripped of aiding design.
Your regular balls are what you use out on the course, putting everything the range balls taught you into practice.
You’ll benefit from more complex internal structures, a thinner surface, and some of the complex built-in aerodynamics of a modern regular ball – but each one will last you only a fraction of a range ball’s lifetime.
The point being that you trade lifetime for flight finesse, and like any pay-to-play game, you trade money for faster progress and more wins with your regular ball.