IT'S the only product in a golfer's bag which is used for every shot, yet many players in the past have thought more about the equipment in their hands, rather than what they strike.
Yet that has started to change as golf ball innovation develops across a number of top golfing brands. Golfers are starting to realise the importance of using a golf ball that suits them, and are paying more attention to golf ball research and development capabilities rather than "blindly" picking up a random box of balls at their local pro shop.
Titleist, whose Golf Ball Research and Development (R&D) Centre is based at the Titleist headquarters in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in the US, has been producing golf balls for over 75 years. The company releases a new series of golf balls once a year and all products are on a two-year life cycle. "One year we will launch new Pro V1 and Pro V1x and that product will then remain in the market for two years," explains Tom Hutton, product manager, Titleist Golf Ball South-East Asia (SEA), adding, "The following year we will launch a new and improved Top Grade Product, again on a two-year life cycle."
In South-east Asia, Titleist carries two Tour Played Golf Balls; the Pro V1 and Pro V1x and six top-grade Golf Balls; NXT Tour, NXT Tour S, NXT Tour S (Yellow), Velocity, DT SoLo and DT SoLo (Yellow). The Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls are the most popular golf ball product line for Titleist in Singapore, South-east Asia and internationally, and are chosen by more professionals and amateurs worldwide than any other ball.
The current release of Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls has the blessing of a number of touring professionals. Says Padraig Harrington, who won the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia the first time he put the current release of Pro V1x in play: "I put it straight into play and won. I was very confident with the New Pro V1x and hit it a long way. It is longer and holds its line better off the tee. It's definitely got a more penetrating ball flight, has superb distance control and the Pro V1x has always been brilliant around the greens."
So what is it about the R&D in the Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf ball which makes them so superior? "They combine outstanding short game spin control with exceptional distance to deliver the highest levels of performance to touring pros, low handicappers and high handicappers alike - as most shots played in a round of golf are into the green, it makes sense for golfers of all levels to play a golf ball that gives them the best performance for those shots," says Rick Brown, Titleist brand manager, South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand, adding, "We find that the Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls are usually the best choices for all ranges of golfers, not just touring pros and low handicap players. The Urethane Elastomer cover on both the Pro V1 and Pro V1x provide golfers with added spin and softer feel around the greens. Combine this with Pro V1's ZG process core technology that allows for more consistent ball flight and Pro V1x's dual core technology that reduces spin on longer shots, and golfers are able to choose a ball that gives them the spin and trajectory suited for their game."
Nike Golf introduced a new innovation in its premium 20XI golf balls called RZN, which replaces conventional rubber cores with a radical new game-changing material. RZN is a highly neutralised polymer that's faster and lighter; engineered to produce longer distance and more controlled shots. This technology accomplishes three critical performance components to maximise benefits from a golf ball - more distance off the tee, straight ball flight, and increased control around the greens.
In a step further, by adding more RZN to its new 20XI ball, which will be available in February next year, the Nike Golf engineers have created an even faster engine. "The added RZN mantle provides faster speed off irons and, therefore, more distance," says Rock Ishii, Nike Golf's product development director for golf balls. "Not only did we increase speed with 20XI, but we added softness for improved feel around the greens, creating a balanced tour model golf ball." He adds, "With ONE RZN, we are able to bring revolutionary advances in golf balls to a wider range of athletes. There's not a product out there in this category of golf ball that has technology of this scale."
Mr Ishii has been designing golf balls for 23 years and has been with Nike Golf since 2002, working out of their global headquarters in Oregon, US, and started using the RZN lightweight technology a few years ago.
"We at Nike Golf have been testing this new golf ball with Tiger Woods for more than three years. For him, it's a 14 club deal - the golf ball has to perform to the level that he expects with 14 clubs. When you put in a new driver you're looking for a change for one particular piece of equipment in your bag, but when you change a golf ball, essentially you're changing all 14 clubs because the ball reaction to each club will be different."
The 20XI will be available in two versions, the 20XI and the 20XI X. While both balls deliver faster speed and high levels of MOI, the 20XI ball is designed to improve feel and enhanced short game control, The 20XI X delivers maximum distance, improved feel and reduced spin for greater accuracy off the tee.
For Dean Snell, vice-president of Golf Ball R&D at TaylorMade, the biggest changes in golf balls over the last five years have been the improvement in performance from tee to green. "We are now looking at 3 wood, Rescue, 4 irons, 5 irons as well as short game spin and control, where in the past it was simply drivers and wedges," he explains, adding, "Core technology has allowed us to make cores softer and lower in compression without losing any ball speed. This allows us to keep driver spins low, and increase distance with softer feel. Aerodynamics have also played a major role in the added distance. Today's clubs are launching balls higher, with less spin for added distance. We have to keep up with new aero patterns to maximise the flight and prevent balls from ballooning into the wind."
In addition, Mr Snell feels that the current trends when it comes to golf balls are that the better players are looking for total performance. "With multiple layers, we are able to create spin differences throughout the set, making balls easier to hit long and straight off the tee, but have softer feel and higher short game spin where it is needed to shoot at pins. Tour balls are starting to trend softer in feel, and two-piece balls have already been at the lower compression ratings for some years now."
Currently available in the TaylorMade golf ball stable - their R&D centre is based in Carlsbad, in the US - are four core global models; the Penta TP5 (premium 5-layer tour ball), the Penta TP3 (a tour-proven 3pc urethane ball), the RocketBallz (a long three-piece ionomer-cover ball), and the Burner (a very soft and long two-piece ball). There is also the entry-level XD line of golf balls. The current core models were launched earlier this year; however there will be new offerings early in 2013.
"Overall, the Penta family - our flagship product - is our most popular ball in Singapore, Asia and the rest of the world," says Tomo Bystedt, director, TaylorMade Brand and Product Marketing, Asia. "The performance that we are able to deliver to golfers of all playing abilities due to the unique five-layer construction gives this ball an unusually broad appeal for a Tour-played product."
And as to what the consumer can expect further down the line in terms of future technology trends, Mr Snell answers, "Today's tour balls are targeted at the better player with the multi-layered designs. There are a lot of opportunities to develop product for the average golfer, or senior or lady using this multi-layered design. I think you will see golf balls at the tour level continue to trend towards softer feel, and optimum spin and control in varying playing conditions such as temperature, wind and so on."