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When it comes to picking the right golf ball, most people just go by the name on the front of the ball. Others will look at how many layers the ball has, but another big factor you need to consider is the cover material, which could be urethane, ionomer, or Surlyn.
As a general rule, ionomer and Surlyn golf balls are cheaper and will spin less, which makes them great for beginners and high handicaps. Urethane golf balls are made for better golfers because they produce more spin and better control with faster swing speeds.
One of the biggest differences is how the ball feels when you hit it. Also, golf balls can be different in a lot of ways and not just the cover material (core, layers, dimples). For more, check out our article on the different types of golf balls.
What Are Urethane Golf Balls?
Urethane is a polymer whose firmness and durability can be controlled when heat is added. These attributes are beneficial when manufacturing your golf ball’s outer skin, as more precision and design flexibility can be imparted via re-heating and re-moulding.
Not quite as durable as Surlyn, for example, urethane has the advantage of providing more spin and control with your irons and is often used in multi-layered balls (at a consequently higher price) by more skilled golfers.
For me, there is very little that beats that ‘schniiiiick’ sound created when a Pro V1 or other urethane golf ball is compressed correctly (rare in my case) and sent off to land gently on the green.
I find there is no discernable loss of distance off the tee when I use a urethane ball, but senior players in my fourball do struggle.
I was chatting to one a few minutes ago, and he would rather play with a ball that can give him some distance, and is happy to take his chances when hitting to the green. For many players, as long as they can hit a nine iron or shorter into the green on their second shot, they are very satisfied.
Most balls will allow these distances if you have a decent drive, but the urethane’s advantage is the feel, spin, and control imparted into the green, and that’s what brings many of us back, time and again.
Although to the average golfer in the golf ball aisle, it might seem that urethane balls are the obvious choice since tour pros and other top golfers use them, this is not the case.
Certainly, if you are a mid handicap golfer (10-20) and looking to improve, you should use a ball that allows that improvement and challenges you.
However, if you’re a high handicapper, you are probably not generating sufficient clubhead speed to take advantage of the urethane cover and will lose distance. A Surlyn cover might be the better option for you. You can see our test, do high or low compression balls go further, to give you a better idea.
That said, I know of a 24 handicapper who hits a good distance off the tee box (though he is often off-line,) and he has seen his short game improve tremendously with urethane balls.
Putts are one facet of golf that often ignores what polymer the ball is covered with: urethane will give a lot more feel off the putter’s face, which helps improve direction and distance. This can make a sizable difference to your score and subsequent handicap.
Next time your fourball is putting, take a listen to each putt, and you will hear the difference between the ‘bump’ of the urethane ball and the louder sound of the ionomer one.
Examples of Urethane Balls –
- Titleist Pro V1
- Titleist Pro V1x
- Srixon Z-Star XV
- TaylorMade TP5
- Bridgestone Tour B RXS
- Callaway Hex Black Tour
If you want to see what cover material each golf ball has then be sure to check out our golf ball cover chart here. It has all the info you’d need to know about every golf ball out there.
What Are Ionomer Golf Balls?
Ionomer is a polymer that is used to cover golf balls. It is harder and more durable than, say, urethane, and as a result, offers less feel and spin from the shorter irons, but provides more control and less side-spray to beginners and high handicap golfers.
Ionomer golf balls are more forgiving off the tee and are particularly good for long-distance play. They cost noticeably less than urethane balls and will last longer (if kept out of water hazards).
The cover is also good at reducing damage, so this could be a good ball for you if you tend to smack your golf ball in the teeth (An hour with the club Pro might also help).
Because Ionomer balls offer less spin, they tend not to produce much side-spin off the tee, which higher handicappers will certainly appreciate. Your pushes and pulled shots will still veer off course, but hooks and slices will improve somewhat.
As a counterpoint to this, your balls may bounce more and stop less quickly on the green.
Interestingly, Ionomer balls can be engineered softer, according to Golf Monthly, and if this is done, they do not maintain their strength as well as urethane does.
Examples of Ionomer Balls –
- Srixon Soft Feel
- Titleist TruFeel
- Wilson Duo Soft+
- Bridgestone e12 Contact
- TaylorMade Project (a)
- Nike RZN Tour
What Are Surlyn Golf Balls?
Surlyn, rather than something completely new, is a brand of an Ionomer polymer and is also used to cover golf balls. Created by the Delaware chemical company DuPont, Surlyn-covered golf balls are very strong and durable, offering more distance and less spin.
DuPont used the same resources to develop Lycra, Teflon, Mylar, and more to create Surlyn, which is extremely tough and an ideal golf ball cover for high handicappers.
Players in this range are more interested in hitting straight and far off the tee than landing gently on a dime beside the flag. Plus, they’re also going to be easier on the wallet.
Surlyn balls are generally two-piece, but a small number of three-piece balls are available. These are extremely durable and are the toughest on the market, at the lowest price.
RELATED: 2 Piece vs 3 Piece Golf Balls
Don’t expect tight spin from a Surlyn-covered ball, but if you are sitting in the 20s or 30s as your regular handicap, these are probably the best bet for you, initially at least, as they fly far and straight if hit reasonably well.
Examples of Surlyn Balls –
- Slazenger Raw Distance
- Titleist Velocity
- Volvik Vista iS
- Callaway Hex Warbird
- Maxfli Revolution Low Compression
My eyes were certainly opened when doing the research for this article, and if you also understand – perhaps for the first time – that a golf ball is not just a golf ball, we can’t leave you hanging:
Which Golf Ball Cover Is Right For You?
The choice of golf balls will depend on how much you’re looking to spend and what sort of features you’re looking for. That being said, the most important thing to look at is your skill level and handicap number.
Higher Handicap Golfer (20+)
With a handicap higher than 20, you are probably spending a fair amount of time off the fairway, which will cause you to drop shots as you try to recover.
A harder cover on your golf ball will give you the best chance of hitting the fairway more often, as the ball will spin less on impact. This means that an imperfect drive will spin less to the side but does also mean less stopping ability on the green.
Surlyn is the best bet in this case, as it offers the strongest casing for the occasions when you hit trees, paths, and fences, and is the least expensive covering. You should lose fewer balls in the rough, but you won’t have the same feel you will later require as your handicap improves.
RELATED: Best Golf Balls For Average Golfers
Medium Handicap Golfer (10-20)
This is the biggest market for golf balls and also the trickiest. No golfer I have ever heard of has reached a 20 handicap and not wanted to join the teens and eventually single figures.
If you are hitting the fairway with most drives, it would seem your direction is good, and a urethane ball will help you with touch and grip on the flat surface.
If you are struggling a little with distance or direction off the tee, an Ionomer ball might just tweak things for you. It will give you a little more distance and will certainly spin less to keep those drives on the fairway, but of course, there will be slightly less feel and control from your irons.
Will you notice the difference? Perhaps not with feel, but certainly from the score, and you can always experiment with different polymer coverings to check which you are happiest with.
Ionomer-covered balls are cheaper than urethane, but choosing the correct ball is more important to dropping your handicap, than saving a few dollars.
RELATED: Best Golf Balls For Mid Handicappers
Low Handicap Golfer (10 and lower)
Once you get down to single figures, you will need the absolute best equipment to lower your handicap further, and the correct ball is vital.
A multi-layered urethane ball (3 piece vs 4 piece golf ball) will give you the best option around the green. You’re clearly driving straight and far, hitting most greens in regulation, and the only way forward is to stop the ball really close to the pin. This is the ball for you.
This ball is the priciest and is the least durable, but hit it correctly, and it will produce the best spin, control, and feel. Examples would be Pro V1, Callaway Chrome Soft, Taylormade TP5, Srixon Z-Star.
Note: This article is part of the series on soft vs hard golf balls. If you want to know more about the differences, the pros and cons, and who should use them, go check that out.
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