If you’ve ever played a round of golf, you’ve surely noticed the different brands and numbers on golf balls. It’s pretty obvious why brands put their names on golf balls, but it’s not as clear regarding the numbers.
So what do the numbers on golf balls mean?
The numbers on golf balls are meant to identify and differentiate balls of the same brand. Many golf balls look alike but fortunately come with identifying marks, like numbers, so you can better identify your ball. Custom-made golf balls also make identifying your ball easier.
Understanding why there are numbers on golf balls is only the tip of the iceberg. For beginner golfers, it is important to understand the make-up and design of golf balls to find the specific ball that fits best for their swings and abilities.
To learn more about the evolution of the golf ball, why it is designed the way it is, and tips on finding the right golf ball for you, you’ve come to the right place.
How Are Golf Balls Numbered?
Most golf balls are sold by the dozen with four individually packaged sleeves of three balls. The balls in each sleeve have the same number with most brands choosing 1, 2, 3, and 4 as the numbers used.
How a ball is numbered is up to the brand with some brands opting to use four-digit sets like 00, 11, 22, and 33 or 5, 6, 7, and 8.
There are no restrictions to golf ball numbering, as it is up to the brand to determine how they want their golf balls to look. The ability to distinguish one ball from the next is very important and is covered later in a brief review of the Rules of Golf.
Golfers are not limited to what brands offer in terms of numbering. Just about every brand of golf ball will allow you to order custom numbered golf balls and will let you choose between 0 and 99.
A couple of things to note: unless you differentiate, all custom golf balls will have the same number and most brands require a minimum order of one dozen balls.
What Does the Color of the Number on a Golf Ball Mean?
In a bygone era, before golf balls were engineered for the wide array of golfing abilities, most golf ball manufacturers colored their numbers to indicate the compression rating of the golf ball. Red golf ball numbers indicated 90 compression rating while black numbers on golf balls indicated 100 compression balls.
Golf Ball Compression Guide
All golf balls are compressed by the force of the club when they are hit. However, some golf balls compress more than others and there is a very specific reason that directly correlates to the swing speed of the golfer.
A great way to understand golf ball compression is to think of a soccer ball. Imagine you have two balls, one filled with as much air as possible, and the other filled ¾’s full.
When kicked at the same speed, the ball with less air will compress and bounce off the foot more than the fully pumped up ball.
This is similar to hitting a golf ball, as a slower swing speed requires a lower golf ball compression rating (70 or 80) while a faster golf swing needs a higher compression rating (90, 100, or 110).
A softer, lower compressed golf ball will allow for increased distance and trajectory off the clubface to make up for slower swing speeds, but this comes at the cost of decreased accuracy.
Because beginners, as well as senior and junior golfers, tend to have slower swing speeds, it is recommended they use golf balls that have a lower compression rating.
The Evolution of Golf Balls
The golf ball has evolved dramatically since the early-1800’s when the ‘Featherie’ roamed the fairways of Scotland. Once an expensive and time-consuming commodity to make, modern golf balls are now one of the cheapest and most abundant products in the game.
- The Featherie: Introduced in the early 1600s, the Featherie was a small, hand-sewn leather ball stuffed with goose feathers. The exterior of the ball had a rough surface to add better ball flight characteristics. Making these balls was incredibly expensive and time-consuming and the balls had little durability.
- The Guttie: Introduced in the mid-1800s, the Guttie was made from the sap of the tropical gutta-percha tree. The tree’s white sap was easy to mold into the shape of a ball when heated. Eventually, patterns were imprinted on the balls to provide improved flight characteristics. The Guttie was much more durable and production molds made them cheaper and easier to make.
- The Haskell: A man named Coburn Haskell invented the first ‘layered’ golf ball around the turn of the 20th century. The ‘Haskell Ball’ was constructed from a solid rubber core, wrapped with a tightly wound rubber thread, and covered with a thin layer of gutta-percha. This modification immediately added 20 yards of distance to the average shot. Dimples were added to the outer gutta-percha layer around 1905 and subsequently added more accuracy and distance due to the increased aerodynamic qualities.
- The Modern Golf Ball: Modern golf balls are constructed of synthetic and plastic materials that consist of 2-5 layers of materials with a softer, resilient outer shell, one to three layers of materials of varying thickness, and a solid rubber core.
- Golf Ball Standardization: The two major governing bodies of golf, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association, began standardizing and restricting the size and weight of golf balls around 1920. However, uniform standardization was not in place until 1990.
Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?
Today’s golf balls have anywhere from 300-500 dimples on the outer layer. The original Haskell golf ball had a smooth surface but golfers noticed that as wear and tear added potch marks and scuffs to their balls, they flew further.
The addition of dimples and the industrialization of the golf ball brought significant changes to the game. Golf ball manufacturers began harnessing basic aerodynamic principles in that the dimples decreased drag and increased lift.
These two factors directly affect a golf ball’s ability to fly farther and land softer with better accuracy.
What Do the Markings on a Golf Ball Mean?
Numbers aren’t the only thing you will find on the cover of a golf ball, so what do the other markings indicate?
- Brand: From Titleist to TaylorMade, from Callaway to Top-Flight, each ball is marked with the specific brand or company that manufactures the ball.
- Ball Type: The type of golf ball is listed in a thin line along the side of the ball, adjacent to the brand and number.
- Arrowheads: On either side of the ball type are arrowheads. Together, the arrows and script create a straight line that most golfers use to help with target alignment when putting. The line allows the golfer to aim their putt along their chosen target line, ensuring increased accuracy as the ball rolls towards the hole and thus a higher probability the ball goes in the hole.
Should I Add Identifying Markings on My Golf Balls?
A major aspect of the Rules of Golf is that a golfer MUST play their ball throughout their round. Hitting a ‘Wrong Ball’ (a ball that is not the golfer’s ball in play) will result in a 2-stroke penalty.
While golf balls come packaged with distinguishable and identifiable markings (i.e. numbers, brand, and type), what do you do when you find your ball lying next to another that is exactly the same golf ball?
Is there something you could have done beforehand to prevent this from happening? Why yes, there is!
While no specific rule in golf states a player MUST put identifying marks on their golf balls, it is recommended that another mark is added. Here is where most golfers get creative.
Using a sharpie, golfers add colored dots, lines, and even drawings and patterns to make their ball unique from others on the course.
Another option for golfers is to special order custom-made balls with specific numbers, corporate logos, initials, and phrases. Additionally, it is helpful to tell fellow playing partners the brand and type of ball you are playing as well as any markings or logos that are on them. Distinguishing your ball from a partner’s ball is especially important if you’re using the same brand.
This will help avoid confusion during the round and your partners will know what ball to look for if you hit yours into the woods.
Finding the Right Golf Ball for Your Swing
For new golfers, trying to find the right golf ball can be like walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There are so many options that it can be paralyzing trying to make a decision. Here are a few tips for finding the right golf ball for your swing.
- Ask a PGA Professional: A vast majority of golf shops around the country employ certified PGA Professionals who are more than happy to help you find the right golf ball. Their understanding of golf swings and their ability to ask you the right questions will help you narrow down your purchasing options.
- Sign-up for a Ball Fitting: Golf ball manufacturers routinely host demo days where the general public can test the manufacturers’ new products firsthand. Sales reps let you hit their product line of balls and use sophisticated launch monitors to help you find the right ball for your swing speed.
- What’s the Price?: If you are a beginner golfer, don’t buy the most expensive golf ball on the market. Those golf balls are designed more for advanced and professional golfers. If you tend to lose a lot of golf balls during play, buy the cheap ones.
- Understanding the Type of Ball: Many golf ball types include letters like ‘s’ or ‘d’. Knowing what these mean can help you narrow down your selection. ‘S’ stands for spin and helps intermediate to advanced golfers naturally generate backspin on their ball that allows it to fly higher and land softer. Many beginners or golfers with slower swing speeds (seniors and juniors) need help generating spin on the golf ball so these softer cover balls allow for that to happen. ‘D’ stands for distance and can add a handful of yards which can make a world of difference. These types of balls are generally have a lower compression rating and are designed for golfers with slower swing speeds.
- When All Else Fails, Read the Back of the Box: The backside of a box of dozen golf balls will highlight the features of the golf ball and provide the necessary information needed to make your all-important purchase.
Now that you understand why there are numbers on golf balls and how to choose the right golf ball for your next round of golf, get out of the house, get to the golf course and start swinging!