Manufacturers of high-end golf balls work on developing a new and improved ball every year.
It weighs just 45g and has a diameter of 43mm. Yet this small white sphere has the greatest effect of all the tools at the disposal of the modern golfer. Welcome to the world of the not so humble golf ball. A host of golf ball manufacturers vie for their place on the tee. Among them are TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike, Srixon and Bridgestone. But leading the pack by a long way is Titleist. Almost 70 per cent of last year’s US PGA tout teed up with the leading Titleist Pro V1. And when it comes to elite amateur competitions that number tops 90 per cent.
The Titleist Pro V1 has revolutionised the game since its introduction in 2000. In its brief professional career it has notched up 22 majors and is closing in on its 2,000th tournament victory.
When the elite of the world’s golfers took to the first tee at the legendary Augusta National Golf Club in April for the US Masters most of the leading contenders would have been playing the Titleist Pro V1. Among that number is 2012 champion Bubba Watson.
“I know every time that Titleist makes a new ball, it’s going to be better,” he says. “It’s going to be just as good, and then, better. There’s no reason to come up with the same ball. So they’re making a product that’s better.
“It’s going to be good for my game, it’s going to help my game, and help me get better. When you see that name Titleist on the ball, you know you have confidence in it, you can pull off any shot. The ball’s going to react the way you want it to react. Now it just comes down to me swinging it the right way.”
“The golf ball is the only piece of equipment you use on every shot,” Michael Mahoney, director of golf ball product management at Titleist says. “One of the big differences between lower- and higher-handicap players is the number of shots they hit into and around the green.
“It’s less about the 14 drives you hit during the round and more about how often you’re hitting the green and getting up-and-down. The closer you hit it to the hole, the more putts you’re going to make. If you make more putts, you’re going to shoot lower scores. You need to find a golf ball that’s going to provide the best performance on those scoring shots.”
Mahoney adds: “The reason Pro V1 and Pro V1x are the most trusted and best-selling golf balls around the world is because of their outstanding short-game performance and their consistency, from shot to shot and from ball to ball.
“2013 Pro V1 and Pro V1x are the highest performing, most consistent golf balls we’ve ever made. We’ve used our ZG Process core technology in both models to improve overall performance and consistency.
“We’ve also implemented a new cover and paint system that significantly increases the durability of Pro V1 and Pro V1x by making them look whiter and brighter throughout the course of play,” he continues. “The new paint system also provides excellent adhesion to the cover which not only protects the cover, but also helps produce an even more consistent flight.”
Pro V1 and Pro V1x are high-performance, solid core golf balls with Urethane Elastomer cover systems. “We cast our own urethane - we believe it’s the highest performing urethane in the industry,” Mahoney says. Pro V1 has a single solid ZG process core and a spherically-tiled 352 tetrahedral dimple design. The compression is in the high 80s. Pro V1x has a dual core with a ZG process centre and spherically-tiled 328 tetrahedral dimple design. The compression is around 100.
“This has been a multi-generational development project for our R&D team,” says Mahoney. “The cover is what delivers the most meaningful performance of Pro V1 and Pro V1x - the drop-and-stop, short game performance - and helps golfers shoot lower scores. It was crucial that any change we made to the cover formulation would not impact that short-game performance.”
Playing at the core
The US PGA rules of golf allow for balls weighing as much as 1.620oz, and since the core is the largest component, the overall weight is adjusted here.
The core is a high-resiliency rubber composition that makes up the centre and largest component of every golf ball. In the Titleist R&D department, an entire team of chemists and engineers has been dedicated to formulating cores and advancing the technology, such as the Titleist Pro V1’s new ZG Process Core Technology, that helps power the most played golf balls at every level of the sport.
“Plain and simple, the core is the engine of the golf ball,” says Bill Morgan, senior vice president of Titleist R&D.
The core’s main ingredient is Polybutadiene, a synthetic rubber that produces a high-energy return and can be manufactured to a number of desired characteristics.
“Stiffness, compression, resilience, size - whether it’s a single or a dual core, all of those things factor into performance characteristics of the golf ball.”
Spin rate for control, initial velocity for distance and compression for feel are all affected by differences in core construction.
In addition to the base rubber, cores contain cross-linking agents that will increase resiliency (speed) when cured, peroxides to catalyse that cross-linking, and fillers to adjust the weight.
“Generally speaking, every element that you add to a golf ball changes multiple characteristics of the ball,” Morgan says. “So you balance what a particular compound or dimension does against performance characteristics, and you’re trying to match that to golfers’ needs.”
The Pro V1 features a single solid core, 1.530in in diameter, constructed with ZG Process Core Technology. The ZG Process, which took over five years to develop, has resulted in Titleist’s most uniform core ever - from within the core itself, from core to core within the press, and from press to press.
The transformation from uncured rubber to the engine of a Titleist golf ball takes less than 15 minutes at over 300ºF.
Other features include a responsive Ionomeric Casing Layer (0.045in thick), high-performance Urethane Elastomer Cover, and spherically-tiled 352 tetrahedral dimple design. “It’s important to remember that no single element of design can determine the performance of the golf ball,” says Morgan. “There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between all of the elements.”
Golf ball development at Titleist is managed by a team of 75 engineers and scientists. Each year’s new ball is developed, thoroughly tested and sent to the governing bodies for approval. “It always starts with the golfer,” Mahoney adds. “We’re constantly in the field spending time with golfers, listening to their needs, testing prototypes and gathering their feedback. Not just with tour players, but with golfers of all skill levels and swing speeds.
“We also send out test samples to members of our Team Titleist community and ask for feedback. R&D puts every golf ball through extensive machine testing, but you need golfers to experience the product and validate its performance,” he says. “It’s the most important part of our process. We won’t release a new product unless it has meaningful performance improvements and benefits to golfers.
“Our Golf Ball R&D team is made up of more than 75 brilliant minds who come to work every day dedicated to improving golf ball design,” Mahoney concludes. “We want to get better. We want golfers to shoot lower scores. That will never change.” *