My name is Dean Snell, and I own a golf-ball company called Snell Golf. Maybe you’ve heard of my company or even used one of my golf balls; that’s great. My company isn’t the focus of this piece, though; it’s you. GolfWRX has given me the opportunity to help its readers understand what type of golf balls are best for them. I’m a golf junkie, like many of you, so I often find my way to this site. I love reading what you all have to say about my golf balls, and golf balls in general. That’s why I said “yes” to writing this article. I hope to save some of you a few strokes, and some of you a few dollars.

To me, there are really only two different types of golf balls; premium golf balls, which are called “tour balls,” and then all the other balls, which for the sake of this discussion we’ll call “distance balls.” They’re more affordable. I sell both a tour ball and a distance ball, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s true what you’ve heard, though, tour balls do technically perform better than distance balls, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs a tour ball. Once you know the facts, you’ll know why.

I’ve been designing golf balls for 27 years, and things have changed dramatically in golf-ball design during that time. The change was so rapid, in fact, that many golfers don’t have their facts straight about what the new tour balls do, and what they don’t do. Back in the early ’90s, when we used to test drivers and 8 irons for performance, the Tour Balata was the true tour ball, but it scared a lot of golfers away due to high driver spin rates. In fact, tour players back then used 6- or 7-degree drivers just to try to reduce the spin a bit. For the average golfer, the driver spin rate would go even higher, thus producing huge hooks and slices off the tee. So if you played a tour ball in those days, you might have had a driver spin rate of 4000 rpm. If you played a distance-ball, your spin rate rate probably dropped to about 2500 rpm. Since reducing the spin of your drives creates more distance, for the most part, many golfers liked distance balls better, even though they were harder to stop on the green.

It took some time, but today tour balls are designed with multiple layers, which help to create what’s called a spin curve across your set of clubs. What that means is the new tour balls give golfers the distance of those old distance balls, but the control of the old tour balls when you need it. The new distance balls are better than they used to be, but they don’t have the same spin curve the new tour balls do. With distance balls, golfers will experience low-spin performance with all their clubs, which makes it difficult to stop shots quickly on the green. Better players also have trouble controlling shots with distance balls, as they tend to launch higher and with less spin, creating shots known as “fliers.”

Now, this may be the most important paragraph in this story. Whether you buy a tour ball or a distance ball, know they will both go about the same distance off the tee. That’s because leading golf ball designers have worked to get the spin rates of all their golf balls in a very similar range off the tee, and aerodynamically each ball’s dimples are correct for its particular construction. The ball speeds of all of them have been maxed out to USGA limits, as well.

Once you leave the tee is where tour balls start to outperform distance balls. Statistically, golfers hit most of their shots from 150 yards and in, and more than half of those shots are from less than 100 yards. Inside 150 yards, and especially inside 100 yards, is where certain golfers can truly benefit from tour-ball performance. Although you may not be able to spin the ball back like a pro, you will still be able to add some spin and control to your shots with a tour ball. With every 1000 rpm of spin you can add to a wedge shot, you can stop the ball 5 feet closer to where it lands on the average green. Having the ball stop faster may mean a birdie, or reduce the chance of a three putt.

So, lower spin rates for longer drives, and more spin for more control around the greens are the biggest pros for tour balls sold today. With the new balls, however, something completely flip-flopped in the feel category. Back in the day, distance balls were very firm in feel, and the tour balls were very soft. Better players used to love the soft feel. To improve their performance, tour balls have gotten firmer over the years, and distance balls have become incredibly softer. So if a soft feel is important to you, some of the distance balls on the market today feel much softer than tour balls. Just like the old days, the durability of distance balls is also still a plus, but the gap is closing. Most distance balls are made with an ionomer or Surlyn cover than is less prone to getting cut, scraped or gouged, but improvements to the urethane covers used on tour balls have added to their durability.

The biggest con of a tour ball continues to be its price, though. They can cost as much as $48 per dozen. Regardless of how you feel about that price point, there is a reason tour balls cost more than distance balls. All tour balls use at least a three-layer construction, which improve performance, and also adds to the cost of making them. Their urethane covers are also more expensive, from both a materials and labor standpoint.

Still haven’t made up your mind about which ball is for you? Here’s how I suggest golfers make the decision between a tour ball and a distance ball.

Get a sleeve of tour balls and a sleeve of distance balls, and compare them against each other on the golf course. You don’t need to play both balls tee to green, though. When you can, hit multiple shots with each ball from 100 yards, 75 yards and 40 yards. Try chips and putts from different lies. Then, go to the next hole and do the same thing, and repeat this process for 5 or 6 holes.

By the time you walk off the last green, you should have a favorite, and it’s not always a tour ball. Maybe you liked the way one ball felt, or noticed that one ball was stopping closer to the hole because it was either checking up more or rolling out more. Something will likely stand out to you. If it doesn’t, then buy distance balls. There’s no reason to throw your money away for no measurable benefit.

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Dean Snell is the founder of Snell Golf, and has been designing golf balls for more than 27 years. He's worked for both TaylorMade and Titleist, and is the inventor or co-inventor of the Pro V1, Professional, Penta and Tour Preferred golf balls. He has more than 40 patents in golf-ball design.

62 COMMENTS

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  1. Good players can debate balls all they want I would like to see more Amateurs on public courses pulling out Polara XS or XD golf balls and hitting drives they can find so we can speed up the public course round…..Maybe if Polara would advertise “Legal for Amateur non-Tournament golf” they could sell millions more…finding tee shots is a much bigger priority for the high handicapper then lhow much spin a ball does or does not have….

  2. Just wondering how many of us reading these articles can afford to have a shag bag with 50 tour quality balls in good playing condition to take out to practice with daily? Also how many of us get to hit tour quality balls (Pro v1 etc) by the hundreds on the driving range? Guarantee your looking at 2 to 3 shots off your handicap if you have that luxury. At least we can get on the putting and maybe chipping greens with the same quality ball we play….

  3. A few other ball considerations: Cover hardness and green speeds. Say you’re playing a ‘soft’ ball, and you’re on slow(ish) greens. Putts falling short, aggravation . . . you can even see this on the Tour level in soft conditions. The pro’s don’t change balls, and can’t adapt their stroke. Ammies like us deal with more variability, such as length of time between mowings, playing different courses, so picking the right putting ball can increase the fun.

    Mr. Snell is correct about assessing the ball behavior around the green, first. You want a ball with cover hardness that matches your favorite putting stroke and makes the ball roll your familiar distance for that stroke.

    Next assess green hardness. Firm and grainy or slow, for example, like Bermuda grass. You need a spinnier ball with a hardish cover. ProV1x, even though your driver swing speed is supposedly ‘not optimal’ for that ball. Firm and fast? Break out a spinny ball with a softish cover….which is why the ProV1 is so popular.

    Ammies miss a lot of greens, so being aware of the spin/roll out characteristics of different balls on chips and pitches can pay real dividends, too. A earlier poster mentioned that players who have a lot of ground game like balls that don’t spin much…they can better gauge the bounce and roll without unpredictable ‘grabbing.’ And ammies tendency to hit/mishit balls short is mitigated by a ball that releases.

    We’d all like to think that using a Tour ball might save us when we have a baby pitch over a bunker but get real . . . 99% of golfers are not good enough to pull that off. And then they gag the three-footer they ‘saved’ anyway!

    • Please don’t take this the wrong way but I think you overthink your game. Just hit the ball. Get lessons from a Pro, practice and work on all the aspects of your game and the ball will go in the direction it is hit at the speed at which you hit it.
      It’s fairly simple.

  4. To the Author…
    Dean, have you heard of the Begock affect? Where multilayer balls after 36 straight holes need to almost “rest” to return to normal. Like sort of re-coup. Is this urban legend or true? #pepegolfdeliveries.com

  5. While I appreciate the article stripped the issue back to Tour versus Non Tour or Distance balls, and assessment was based on construction and cover materials and their impact of flight spin and green stop control, at no time was COMPRESSION discussed. I know several sub 6 handicappers hitting Srixon Green Soft Feels as they provide great feel, yet they are 60 compression that I understand are fully driver compressed at around 80mph. These guys have swing speeds over 105mph so surely they are loosing 25 mph of speed as opposed to using a 3-piece tour ball like a Srixon Z Star or Titleist ProV1. How about a follow up article on ball compressions and swing speeds and how these effect choice. Ta.

    • Compression is simply a way for measuring how a golf ball will feel and has no effect on performance. Titleist and other manufacturers have found that balls “compress” a similar amount regardless of how fast or slow a swing is. The theory that high swing speeds + low compression = less distance is a myth that has been disproved many times. Therefore, there is no need for a follow up article. If these individuals do see a ball speed drop of 25mph it is most likely do to factors such as club head speed inconsistencies, different strike locations on the clubface, dynamic loft, etc.

  6. @ M Shhmizzle, that would be “Straight up yo, best ball fo tha 2’s, 3’s, and fo’s.” If you’re gonna bite the format, get your spelling, grammar and punctuation correct, and keep it consistent.

  7. As a polymer scientist. Disagree with the article. The materials used for the covers of golf balls vary dramatically. Surlyn covers are the real cheap grade and others are elastomers or various blends.

  8. Pretty easy – if you play decent golf then get a premium golf ball, basically anything with a urethane cover. If you lose several balls per round then buy the cheaper distance ball and save some money. I’d recommend trying Snell’s MTB balls personally as they are easily as good as any urethane ball out there and cost a whole lot less too.

  9. If you want to shoot your lowest scores possible, use a “tour ball”. But there’s really no such
    thing as a “Tour ball”. There’s just the BEST ones and the not as good ones.
    Check to see what the World’s best players and amateurs use and you’ll get an idea.

  10. For those of us with slower swing speeds, tour balls feel like rocks and don’t go anywhere. They are only good on and around the green for me. However, I have been using two piece Surlyn for so long, I have learned to control them, and actually prefer the firm feel.

  11. Dean,

    Great insight. I think most of us would benefit from testing out the different golf balls. If price weren’t an issue, then golfers may see a benefit with the tour balls. I went to Golf Galaxy and did their ball test. They did a good job of recommending golf balls at different price points and for my misses. My location even told me which balls to switch to when my drives changed trajectory. It was a great experience.

    I agree with Dean. The key is to test out golf balls and find what works best for each person.

  12. This article comes at a great time for me. I have found a 2 piece distance ball that I just love off the tee – Straight and Far. A real fairway finder. However, on the green, it just lands and rolls, no stopping. I need to do the short game test against a 3 piece ball that I like as well to see if I can get it to stop or to see how much it rolls. The distance ball is half the price of the 3 piece that I like so if there is no difference, I might as well save the money. BTW, I have seen plenty of Senior Golfers (60 and older) who play distance balls along with a “bump and run” game and score just fine.

  13. And Bert you sound like a ” greens keeper ” most of the ones around here think the sun shines out of you know where . Just do the job you get paid to do you are not gods.

    • Alex: if you enjoyed the article, check out out Dean’s facebook page. He’s got a lot of great videos that discuss everything you need to know about today’s golf balls: how they’re made, how to find the right ball for your game, etc. As for Dean’s brand of balls, I’ve been using his MyTourBall for over a year now. MY Golf Spy called it “a better Prov1.” If you’re happy with your current ball, great. If you’re shopping around, you might give Dean’s balls a look.

  14. Excellent brief introduction/summary/update on past/current/relative golf performance. This is really all a golfer needs to know about golf balls regardless of age/gender/handicap. Thank you very much!

  15. Great article Dean. One observation/question. Ive noticed that while tour balls do spin and check more on full or 3/4 swings, on shorter chip shots the low compression balls seem easier to get to stop and control. What does your testing and experience show on those shorter chip shots?

    • Interesting. I had the opposite observation. The Snell get sum balls are very pleasing balls. They feel very soft, fly straight and long, spin less but have an amazing check and stop ability. (I hit the ball very high..). I broke 80s frequently by switching from tour balls to the get sum ball. And the price is so hard to beat ($75 for 6 dozens, man…)

  16. Great article. Too bad I can’t give the same review to the Snell Get Sum ball. I ordered a dozen. In comparison to other two-piece balls I’ve played, these for sure where way near the bottom in performance. Lost 5-7 yards average with my irons and poor feel when putting.

  17. Been using Snell “my tour ball” for about two months now, converted from the pro v1x. Same distance off all my clubs, checks on the green from full wedge shots a little less, which for me is better. Snells simply stop where they land instead of sucking back 6 feet. Great ball, don’t see myself ever going back to titleist unless Snell raises their prices.

    • Yes, agree, used the “my tour ball” in a 2 day four man scramble tournament (got to set that ball up on every approach shot) …also used 7 year old Strata TL Tour balls….Strata even being 7 years hold still would spin back some on fairly dry greens “my tour ball” almost always stopped dead…..not saying that stop dead is not bad for a 12 handicap armature that really does not need to spin a ball back 5 or 6 feet further from the hole….

  18. Except that the majority of golfers underclub and leave the ball short of the pin last thing they need is more spin on the greens.There are balls in between these 2 groups which give good distance and decent spin and cost a whole lot less………..srixon soft feel is one.

  19. Let’s see; have no respect for the course and your Superintendent should be pleased and as well as other golfers;

    “hit multiple shots with each ball from 100 yards, 75 yards and 40 yards. Try chips and putts from different lies. Then, go to the next hole and do the same thing, and repeat this process for 5 or 6 holes.”

    • Let the super do his/her job. Hitting multiple shots is not unusual, and any super who complains about golfers messing up the course playing actual golf should be in another business.

    • Bert,

      Crazy idea here ……… start repairing your ball marks and filling your divots. I don’t know a super in the country that would have a problem with that. Many members of WRX would have the opportunity to conduct this experiment at their club with no issue from other golfers. A little awareness of your surroundings should squash any problems before they arise. It’s all gonna be ok Bert, I promise.

    • You have never played a round of golf with no one in front or behind you? If you have a course that wouldn’t let you test shots out, so long as you are not creating a major bottle neck, then you need to find a new course to play.

    • Damn you kids for disrespecting the game! How dare you hit a 2nd ball into a green and work on your game along a round when the course isn’t super busy! I bet you disrespectful kids also play prefered lies when its rained a bit out too don’t you! Geez play the game it is meant to be played. Hickory sticks and … Geez get off your high horse one time. I think every one on this site …except the high and mighty Bert here have hit a 2nd shot into a green before. You just repair your divots (assuming you can hit the green Bert) and help maintain your course.

  20. I’ve always thought tour balls were a waste of money until recently playing in Spain on greens that were in the region of 12 on the stimp, I knocked the stick out 2-3 times with 7/8 iron playing an NXT Tour S only for it to release off the green. My pal threw me a Pro V1 (no I cried I lose to much distance with my irons) result knocked the stick out again and the ball stopped within 6 feet. I guess I’m saying use the ball that the conditions dictate if you lose half a club in length for increased scoring ability so be it.
    Also would love to try the Snell tour ball but live in the UK!

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