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GolfWRX takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Callaway ball plant

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In Chicopee, Massachusetts, there is an unassuming red brick building that predates the existence of every modern golf OEM. From the outside, it could be confused for any other American manufacturing facility if not for the proudly displayed Callaway sign. Inside, there are over 400 hard-working people producing the highest quality golf balls using state-of-the art manufacturing techniques and tools — this red brick building is the Callaway golf ball plant.

To understand what you see when you first enter the ball plant, it’s best to first understand why it is here in the first place. When I initially asked this question to one of my tour guides, Vincent Simonds, the Senior Director of Global Golf Ball Operations, his answer started with a story that predated cars…it was at this point I knew that these guys mean business.

The modern history, however, starts in 2003 when Callaway purchased Top-Flite brand and subsidiaries, and with it purchased the entire Top-Flite manufacturing facility. In its it heyday, Top-Flite/Spaulding was producing its full line of clubs and balls out of this building, and that included equipment made for Bobby Jones. Chicopee, Massachusetts, was essentially the center of the golf club technology universe.

Part of the original Spaulding golf club factory

Letter from Bobby Jones discussing the advantage of the newly designed ball

Page 2 of the Letter from Bobby Jones

When its comes to balls, most modern golfers don’t equate Top-Flite with premium equipment or breakthroughs, but during this time period the ball plant in Chicopee was responsible for just as many technology and scientific breakthroughs as its modern Callaway self.

One Example is Bob Molitor. In 1972, Molitor developed the first two-piece golf ball with a Surlyn cover by combining the right amounts of various ionomers. This allowed golf balls to have much greater durability and along with it improved distance. This development is part of the reason the USGA had to establish the “One Ball Rule” because players would switch out depending on the hole since there was a huge distance advantage to this Solid Core Surlyn Cover design. Imagine that – the USGA having to change rules to accommodate a new technology, seems to me our current daily discussions about bifurcation aren’t something so new after all.

There were a lot of other great innovations over the years that lead to new technology making its way into the bags of players all over the world, one of which caused a revolution that we still benefit from today. In the 90s Top-Flite, under the Strata brand, cracked the code of merging the soft, high-spin “tour ball” performance with the lower-spinning, longer-flying, and more durable “distance ball”, this three-piece ball was like two balls in one. Strata’s design team accomplished this feat by placing a soft polyurethane cover on a Top-Flite distance ball, and then added a thin layer between the cover and the core that encased the ball’s already large and solid rubber core. In short, the modern golf ball was born. 

This brings us back to the modern day Callaway ball plant, a facility where the average employee tenure exceeds 20 years, and where every single premium Callaway Ball on the planet is made. The thing I quickly realized upon entering the plant for the first time is the pride every person has for their role in making world class golf balls. This sense of pride, and a friendly, yet hard-working environment is something I witnessed before at Callaway’s Carlsbad facility too — a testament to the company’s corporate leadership and the culture that they promote everyday. The “Victory Flag,” as they call it, was flying high thanks to Xander Schauffele’s win just a few days before my visit. 

The start of production begins with materials formulation

I was able to observe a pre-shift meeting, and you would think that based on the discussion of machine tolerances, quality control, & equipment inspections this plant is making parts for a yet-to-be-seen shuttle being sent into space, but they’re talking golf balls. Speaking to the tolerances the plant works within, the in-house machine shop had some amazing equipment, including some things I unfortunately could not share through pictures. This equipment works with the tolerances of less than the 1/30th the thickness of a Post-It Note. For example, each single side to a cover mold for the Chrome Soft line takes more than 30 hours of machine time to complete — an amount of time which might seem excessive, but when you think of the speed and forces impacting a golf ball from first driver strike and along its parabolic trajectory, we really are talking space shuttle physics.

Some of the most impressive equipment has nothing to do with the performance of the balls but rather how they look. I’m talking here about the Truvis patterned balls. What was perceived by many golfers at first as a gimmick (and something than even some Callaway management believed would be a fad) has proven to be an absolute slam dunk. The pentagon pattern provides a tangible benefit by creating an optical illusion that makes the ball look bigger (and easier to hit) especially out of the rough, and also gives visual feedback for short game shots and putting.

Let’s just say that what started as a toe dip with one machine has turned into an area of the plant with more than a dozen machines,  and Callaway is also producing Truvis balls with custom colors and logos — they’re not just printing pentagons anymore.

GolfWRX Truvis

For actual production, every ball starts as raw materials, and compounds are precisely mixed in house, allowing Callaway to control the entire production process. The amount of materials engineering and chemistry I witnessed was way beyond what I was expecting, and to be frank, I went in with already high expectations. After initial mixing each batch is tested and sent to the next step.

Mixing Station

Pre cut core “slugs” ready for baking

Ever wonder why the cores of various golf balls from a single OEM are so bright and differently colored? It’s actually done to make each material identifiable in the process and give production staff another way to make sure materials get to the right manufacturing line. Of all the questions I asked, this one had the most simple answer.

Callaway ERC ( Left ) vs. Chrome Soft ( Right )

The next step is the “cooking” process of the inner core. Each oven press is precisely controlled for pressure and temperature along multiple areas of each unit, this ensures a core that comes from the outer part of the press is formed and “cooked” to the exact same spec as one from the middle. The same process is used for both parts of the dual core.  

Hydraulic press “oven” for producing cores

 

Cores post-pressing and still hot

Callaway utilized a proprietary manufacturing and molding technique to ensure exact specifications are met for centering the core and achieving correct cover thickness. Once the covers are in place, we officially have a golf ball, but we’re not done yet. There are still more quality control checks done by machine as well and humans to once again ensure each ball that leaves the plant is built to the highest quality standards and will perform just like the one before it.

Chrome Softs just after the cover process – Still very warm to the touch as the urethane cools

Even the final paint and clear coat are highly engineered to resist staining, sheering, and stay on during deformation. To quote of one my tour guides, “The force applied to the cover and paint on the ball by a wedge would be like taking a hatchet to the paint on the side of your house.” It might seem like a simple process, but to ensure full coverage of sphere requires some pretty unique tools to get the job done.

This brings us to the new Triple Track Alignment system and how it was developed to help golfers play better. The new system helps improve alignment on putts from all lengths and it also happens to be on Callaway’s longest ball to date: the ERC Soft.

The alignment aid wraps 160 degrees around the ball and offers three parallel lines with high contrast (no more need to try and draw that long Sharpie line around your ball).  For those who choose to putt without the Triple Track alignment, Callaway considered you too, since the other 200 degrees around the ball unsure that you won’t see those lines from address.

Triple Track Alignment visible vs hidden

Every shot taken means something to someone, whether it be a golfer trying to break 100 for the first time, or a tour professional lining up a putt on Sunday afternoon of a major championship. The golf ball is the one piece of equipment a golfer will use on every shot, and each person at the Callaway ball plant in Chicopee, Massachusetts, is proud to put their name behind it, even if you don’t see those names on the box.

 

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. DanT

    Mar 14, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    PROBLEM – NOT ALL CALLAWAY BALLS ARE PRODUCED IN THE US!!

    The SuperSoft is made in Taiwan!!

    In my opinion – this story makes you think – all Callaway balls are made in the US –WRONG!!

  2. Perplexed

    Jan 20, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Did the USGA come up with the one ball rule? I don’t recall having ever seen it in the USGA rules. It seemed like a PGA Tour rule to me.

  3. Mark

    Jan 19, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I’m curious if you asked if they run special batches for their tour players and what % play one of the standard production balls?

  4. Willie Carmichael

    Jan 19, 2019 at 11:01 am

    It’s spelled Spalding.

  5. Bill C

    Jan 19, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Golf balls are very fascinating. They seem so simple, yet the amount of engineering which goes into their design and manufacture always amazes me.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Interesting photos from the Zozo Championship

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This week is the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Golf Club, and with most of the worlds top golfers including Tiger Woods playing and prepping for the November Masters, there is a lot going on around the range when it comes to gear and testing.

As a reminder, you can check out all of our photos in the GolfWRX forums.

New Fourteen irons and wedges

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The irons are a throwback to a classic “channel back” style iron with mass positioned towards the top and bottom of the face to increase vertical stability of the blade while also maintaining feel.

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Justin Rose with Artisan lob wedge

The little shop from Texas continues to make big waves with more wedges spotted on tour every week including in former world number 1 Justin Rose.

Xander Schauffele’s new Apex irons and testing putters on Quintic

Xander’s prototype Callaway Apex irons look a lot like the newly released 2021 X-Forged irons but with obvious Apex branding. We also can’t forget about putting, and it’s cool to see a Quintic high-speed camera system on the practice green getting players dialed in to launch conditions just like how they would for a driver.

Ricky using older generation Cobra Amp Cell Pro Irons

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If there is one thing pros love, it’s a set of older irons—they’re the golf equivalent of putting on a pair of comfy broken-in jeans. For Ricky and his custom Amp Cell Pro’s with tungsten toe inserts, there must be some magic there because he has previously used multiple newer sets of irons but continues to gravitate towards these.

Shigeki Maruyama testing new Bettinardi putter

Shigeki isn’t someone to shy away from testing putters, and this week he was spotted testing one of the new Bettinardi putters that debuted last week in Las Vegas at Shadow Creek.

Pros are “just like us” – Justin Thomas and Mac Hughes edition

Yes, tour pros are just like us except for the fact that they are exceptional golfers, but even JT likes help in his long game and has a Titleist T300 3-iron in the bag, and when it comes to breakfast Mackenzie Hughes happens to like ketchup with his breakfast sandwich—although personally, I’m anti-ketchup when it comes to breakfast sandwiches.

Mickelson testing older X-Hot 3Deep

We’ve heard rumblings, of Champions Tour terminator Phil Mickelson testing 47.5″ drivers in the name of speed and distance, but as a way to also have a “fairway finder” it appears that he is contemplating putting his old X-Hot 3Deep in play. (Being able to identify a multi-generations old fairway wood from a distance based on its paint scheme is part of the reason we are WRX)

Gary Woodland testing Ping G425 driver

With the launch of the Ping G425 woods on tour a few weeks ago, it’s no surprise to see more players testing them in prep for the Masters, and for the fact that, they are the next evolution of the well-loved Ping G410—Gary Woodland is no exception.

 

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2020 Zozo Championship

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GolfWRX is live from the 2020 Zozo Championship, which takes place at Sherwood CC this year following the cancellation of the tour’s Asia swing.

With a loaded field that features Tiger Woods, there is plenty of WITB intrigue, as well as a number of Japanese players, whose setups are always worth taking a look at.

Check out our 12 general galleries and a selection of special collections below, including plenty of Woods, Mickelson, and McIlroy photos.

General galleries

Special galleries

See what GolfWRXers are saying in the forums.

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Morning 9: Could Phil be the greatest senior golfer ever? | Tiger’s best statistical performances | Morikawa’s interesting Masters plans

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1. Could Phil Mickelson be the greatest senior golfer ever?
While he acknowledges Phil won’t actually turn to the senior circuit full time, Shane Ryan’s thought experiment considering what it would be like if he did is an excellent read.
“…If Phil did turn 100 percent of his energies to the PGA Tour Champions, just imagine what he could accomplish! The G.O.A.T.s right now are Hale Irwin, with his record 45 wins, and Bernhard Langer, with his record 11 majors. And sure, Mickelson has a very long way to go, with his two victories and zero majors. But! If he started now, how long would it take him to get 10 wins? Five majors? In a non-pandemic year, there are just shy of 30 events on the PGA Tour Champions calendar and five majors. Within three years, on his current form, I’d put Mickelson conservatively at 15 wins and six majors. That’s one win every six events, and while that would be a ridiculous pace on the PGA Tour, it doesn’t seem all that radical for Phil among the AARPers.”
“There’s a chance that this is coming off as an insult to Mickelson’s new old peers. That’s not my intention; I know the level of play is extremely high. I know that just because Phil has gone 2-for-2 so far, it doesn’t mean he’d continue at anywhere near that same rate. The fact remains, though, that he has an age advantage on his competitors, and an uncommonly strong game for a 50-year-old … as you can tell by the lack of other 50-year-olds who are still competitive enough to finish second in a World Golf Championships events after their golden birthday (Mickelson did just that at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude in August). Plus, he seems to be in the best shape of his life, he’s hitting the ball a mile and though he’s sustained a couple of down years on the greens, he’s at worst an average putter by PGA Tour standards. In other words, the man still has his touch.”
2. The best statistical performances from Tiger’s 82 wins
Justin Ray, writing for PGATour.com, breaks down Tiger Woods’ best statistical performances in a fascinating article.
“Off the Tee: 2009 Memorial Tournament…Woods’ performance at the 2009 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide was a statistical masterpiece off the tee. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, but didn’t do it how you may think. Woods hit 87.5% of his fairways, tying his highest percentage as a professional in a PGA TOUR event. That included a run of 18 straight fairways hit to conclude a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk.”
  • “Non-ShotLink division: 1997 Masters: To this day, partly because of the course changes that came after Woods’ 12-shot win, a 21-year-old Woods holds the Masters Tournament single-week average driving distance record, at 323.1 yards. Woods’ advantage over the field average that week was an incomprehensible 46 yards per drive (277.1). For perspective, Bryson DeChambeau averaged 322.1 yards off the tee in 2019-2020, 25.7 yards further than the TOUR average for the season.”
  • “Woods also hit 47 fairways for the week, one fewer than he hit two years prior as an amateur. Since statistical tracking began about 40 years ago, there are two instances where a player averaged 310 or more yards and hit 45 or more fairways in a Masters. Both were Woods (1995 and 1997).”
3. Bob Mathers!
Golfweek’s Julie Williams…“Bob Mathers is the only player in the Golfweek Sandestin Amateur field marking his Titleist 6 with his grandkid’s initials. The event at Sandestin’s Raven Golf Club drew in a field of mostly college players looking for tournament starts in a fall season marred by COVID.”
  • “Mathers lives 20 miles up the road in Niceville, Florida. He retired on Sept. 1 after 32 years as a pilot for Delta Airlines. When a friend told him about the event, he assumed it was only for college teams. He googled it and determined he was eligible.”
  • “There’s at least a 40-year age difference between Mathers and most of the other players in the field, but he lands squarely in the middle of the pack – T-24 in a field off 55 players after opening rounds of 75-73.”
4. “The attention of the entire golf industry” 
Geoff Shackelford writes…“Lauren Ohnesorge’s of the Triangle Business Journal takes a look at the USGA’s testing center move to Pinehurst and it’s certainly exciting to see the potential development of talent, turfgrass and museum exposure to more eyeballs. “
  • “But the notion of a manufacturing center remains very odd in Ohnesorge’s characterization.
  • “As N.C. Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland outlined in an August letter supporting the project, made available through a public records request, officials envisioned a golf cluster in North Carolina.”
  • “Having the Test Center in Pinehurst will focus the attention of the entire golf industry on North Carolina and will very likely attract many golf equipment manufacturers and suppliers to not only Moore County but also the region so they can be in close proximity to the Test Center,” Copeland wrote.”
GolfWRX Recommends 
 
We think a quarterly journal is the best complement to a website that publishes dozens of articles daily. And while that might not make sense to you now, it certainly will once you subscribe to The Golfer’s Journal and dive into some of the best golf writing and photography around. 
 
GolfWRX may earn a commission on sales of “GolfWRX Recommends” products.
5. Great question…
“National Club Golfer staff…“Golf consistently ranks in the top ten of the most popular sports on the planet. And its numbers are growing. The game has an overall reach (play, watch or read about it) of approximately 108 million in the United States, which equates to 1 in 3 Americans over the age of six. In 2019, 34.2 Americans played golf. And it’s not declining either, with 2.5 new players last year alone (it was 1.5 million in 2011).”
  • “So what makes golf so popular? What’s the sport’s secret? As a from-the-cradle golfing nut I’d argue that it’s just blatantly obvious, but the real answer is of course a little more nuanced.”
6. Morikawa’s Masters plan
Geoff Shackelford writes…“Perhaps it’s familiarity with the course through television. Or maybe a change in how players view local knowledge. Plenty have been burned by not seeing the course in tournament week conditions, which get pushed Wednesday evening after the practice round. So it was not a huge shock to see Collin Morikawa plan to take a modest approach to his first Masters.”
  • “From today’s ZOZO Championship press conference, the first event for Morikawa in his native southern California since winning the PGA Championship in August”
  • “I don’t want to put any of these things in my head where I’m going to have to show up and, man, this is going to be so much harder to prep for than another event. I think I’ve done a really good job every course I’ve gone to for the first time in figuring it out and I feel like I’m very prepared. I never feel on a Thursday like, oh, man, I wish I had one more practice round. I don’t think that’s going to be the case at Augusta. Yes, I’m going to want to be out there a little more just to figure out some greens, figure out the slopes, but I’m not going to just go out there at 8:00a.m. in the morning and leave at 6:00p.m. just because it’s Augusta National. I’m going to spend my time-wisely and really get my rest because at the end of the day you want to feel as prepped and pressure fresh by Thursday.”
7. New Donald Trump golf course cleared for development in Scotland
AP report…”Authorities in Scotland have approved plans by President Donald Trump’s family business to build a second golf course in Aberdeenshire, despite campaigning from environmental activists.
  • “The Aberdeen council published documents Friday showing it gave full planning permission for the development, subject to some conditions such as measures to minimize the flooding risk at the site, located on Scotland’s northeast coast.”
8. Rockstar Billionaire founder makes “Monster” real estate deal, on property linked to Tiger Woods
Darrell Hofheinz, Palm Beach Daily News …“Weiner sold the oceanfront house for a recorded $41.77 million and the smaller house for a recorded $6.42 million, the records suggest. He bought and sold the properties as trustee of a revocable trust in his name.  Weiner is the creator of Rockstar Energy Drink, which he sold to PepsiCo last spring in a deal reported at $3.85 billion. Weiner has an estimated net worth of $3.7 billion, according to Forbes.”
9. LPGA’s “Drive on for the future” 
Cool stuff. From the LPGA Communications team…“The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Foundation announced today the “Drive On for the Future” Virtual Scramble, a two-person scramble fundraiser with the goal of bringing the golf community together to empower and inspire more girls through the game of golf.”
  • “The tournament was inspired by the recent success of the Virtual Pro-Am and Virtual Scramble hosted by the LPGA Professionals and LPGA Amateurs, respectively. From Aug. 28 to Sept. 13, over 1,100 players and 191 teams raised $56,185 for the LPGA Renee Powell Grant, the LPGA Amateurs Women on Par Scholarship and the LPGA Professionals COVID-Relief Fund.”

 

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