Used vs New Golf Balls?
Is a recycled golf ball a sacrifice in the quality department?
This is a debate that rages on regardless of what the science says, so before I weigh in on the pros/cons of a refurbished golf ball, let me give a few disclaimers for golf ball purists and then I’ll make my case.
- If you are playing at an important qualifying tournament or you’re a semi professional golfer, go ahead and play with a new ball. I don’t want you to blame used balls if you don’t make the cut.
- If you have plenty of cash at your disposal, go ahead of play with a new golf ball. We all benefit when you hit a shiny Pro V into the nearest water hazard.
- If you are really concerned with appearances, go ahead and play with a brand new golf ball. I want you to feel good about who you are. Leave it to your scrubby friends to play with cheap gear.
If you don’t fit any of the descriptors listed above, then you should at least consider playing with refinished golf balls.
Why Play with Recycled Balls?
The answer is pretty simple – there isn’t much of a difference in performance, but there’s a huge difference in price.
Older golf balls were made differently, so when they spent time in water or tougher conditions, they definitely lost some of their performance. Newer golf balls, however, consist of a solid core, urethane cover, etc.
Since a new ball uses better materials all around, lost balls can maintain their integrity for a longer period of time.
There’s just no reason to pay 50% more for a golf ball that performs almost identically.
Mike Bailey ( @accidentlgolfer ), a Senior Staff Writer over at GolfAdvisor.com, did an helpful write-up on pre-owned golf balls back in 2014. In the article, he spoke with Andrew Linn of LostGolfBalls.com, the largest online retailer of used golf balls. Some key takeaways:
- At LostGolfBalls’ facility, golf balls are sorted and rated based on their condition.
- AAAAA balls are balls in the best condition. They look and play as if they were new.
- The next level down is AAAA. These balls have minor blemishes, but they basically play as if they were new.
- The rating system goes all the way to AA. Balls with severe and moderate surface blemishes (balls in poor condition) are ultimately disposed of.
New vs Used Golf Balls Test Results
Since their business model is centered around selling used golf balls, LostGolfBalls made arrangements for independent testing to determine whether or not used golf balls are really up to par (pun intended).
You can see full details of their study here , but I know that most of you like pictures more than words, so feel free to cut to the chase by looking at the graphics below.
Is the data conclusive? LostGolfBalls would say so. They post three days worth of testing on their website with each day split into two parts. That leaves you with six data-rich studies for your inner-nerd and some good food for thought next time someone refuses to play with a refinished golf ball.
That being said, there are some guidelines you should consider when purchasing the right golf ball for your situation.
Used Golf Ball Dos and Don’ts
When purchasing reconditioned golf balls:
- DO find a reputable reconditioning company. I’ve included a decent list below.
- DO consider brands other than Titleist Pro V1. We all know the Pro V1 and Pro V1x are great golf balls, but there are many refurbished ball options at a decent price. Find a ball that works for you and do some internet sleuthing on ball speed, spin and ball flight as well as other factors that can affect your carry distance.
When reclaiming golf balls for your own use:
- DO NOT reuse golf balls that spent time in salt water. The salt does bad things to the finish of the ball.
- DO NOT reuse golf balls with significant scuffs and scratches. These marks will obviously influence performance. The dimple pattern should be clean and free of abrasions.
- DO NOT play with multiple brands of used golf balls during your round. Consistency helps, so try to stick with the same brand for the duration of your round.
A Few Places to Buy Used Golf Balls Online
It’s only fair to hear both sides of an argument, so this quote from Team Titleist must be considered:
We would not recommend recycled Titleist golf balls for anyone’s game – regardless of a person’s ability. Arguably, the consistency of a new, pristine golf ball is more beneficial to a higher handicap as it provides a better opportunity to shoot lower scores. If you are a golfer with mid to high handicap who plays with whatever golf ball you find in the pond or in your bag, you are not allowing yourself to shoot the best score possible.
Worth noting: The Pro V1 may be the best tour ball on the planet (and also one of the most expensive golf balls in existence).
However, these legendary balls are also a key part of Titleist’s revenue stream. It makes sense that they wouldn’t take a favorable view of recycled balls.
Old Golf Digest Article (worth noting – the study was conducted many years ago. Golf balls from the 90s utilized different materials than golf balls today).
Meet a Character in the Used vs New Golf Balls Business
Check out this story about Wes Stanfield. He spends his time diving with crocodiles and snapping turtles to fuel the used golf ball marketplace. If you’re struggling to find a job you love, this could be it.
What is a refurbished or refinished golf ball?
A refinished ball is usually wet blasted to remove the original markings (logo, alignment aides, number). The ball will then receive a new clear coat, a new coat of paint (logo, etc) and a final clear coat. A refurbished or refinished ball will sometimes have a stamp identifying it as such.
What is a recycled golf ball?
This is a ball that has been cleaned and repackaged for sale. A recycled ball doesn’t get any special treatment other than a basic washing. It’s just a clean, used golf ball.
What does X-Out mean on a golf ball?
The X-Out stamp that you see on some golf balls means that the manufacturer identified some imperfection. This marking usually highlights a printing error and nothing more, so X-Out balls can often be purchased at a lower price.
What does Practice mean on a golf ball? Is a practice ball the same as a brand new golf ball?
A practice ball or a ball stamped practice is similar to an X-Out golf ball. The manufacturer identified a flaw (usually a misprint or paint error). For quality control purposes, the manufacturer decides that they will label the ball as practice and sell it at a discount.
Most practice balls will perform the exact same as a regular golf ball.
How long before a golf ball starts to deteriorate?
Modern golf balls are remarkably durable. Several years ago Golf Digest reported that the average golf ball should last seven full 18 hole rounds without a decrease in performance. Most golfers (not you, of course) will lose their ball before they have to worry about it deteriorating. However, scuffs should be taken seriously as they will have a direct effect on spin rate, etc.
Your Thoughts on Used Golf Balls vs New Golf Balls
Visit some of the popular golf forums and you’ll see that this discussion is recurring. What’s your take on new vs used debate? Are you secretly sporting some used TaylorMade TP5 or Callaway Chrome Soft?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.