There is plenty of focus on drivers in the world of equipment, everyone wants to hit it a long way after all. Irons and putters are often considered pieces of art and wedges are praised for their versatility. But what of the golf ball? We sat down with Titleist’s Jeremy Stone to discuss what goes into making the No.1 ball in golf.
It is simple really, and true of the majority of sports in the world.
Without a ball, the game of golf would not exist.
It is also true for many other sports that the central piece of equipment has developed over time as new materials have been created and utilised, as mass production became common place and as demands and requirements evolved. However, the golf ball has changed more than any other over the journey.
From a feathery – a leather sack stuffed with boiled goose feathers then sewn together – to today’s multi-piece, aerodynamic marvels, the golf ball has come a remarkably long way.
There is no better example of the importance of the golf ball and its evolution than Titleist. A company founded from the search for greater consistency in golf balls, which has long stood at the top of the tree as the No.1 Ball in Golf. And one that ushered in one of the most seismic shifts in golf equipment – alongside steel shafts and metal headed woods – in the form of the Pro V1 that was first introduced in 2000.
The marketing value of being the No.1 Ball in Golf is almost priceless, yet Titleist certainly could not be accused of resting on its laurels. The technology, cost, research, expertise and more that goes into products like the recently released Pro V1 and Pro V1x truly staggering, and more than enough to convince the golfer who just uses whatever they have in their bag to reconsider.
“The founding principle of our whole business was a guy who missed a putt and said it is because the golf ball is no good. And it turns out he was right,” Titleist Vice President of Golf Ball Marketing Jeremy Stone exclusively told Golf Australia magazine. “And that still, to this day, is a promise we are making that, when you get on the tee you should trust what you have in the bag and that starts with the golf ball and at no point in time should you doubt if the golf ball is going to hold you back.
“The golf ball should reward you when you make your best effort. That is what we strive for each and every day.”
Speaking with Stone on the day the new Pro V1 and Pro V1x were launched around the world, it is clear Titleist’s commitment to quality and constant improvement in the golf ball space remains in earnest. The sheer size of the company’s operation and small areas of focus for each member of the team a testament to a desire to improve golfers’ games, be it Adam Scott or a club member in Australia.
“There is over 80 research and development engineers dedicated to the golf ball that range from PhDs in chemistry and materials research and aerodynamic design, all the way to mechanical engineers and electrical engineers that are literally building the machines that mould our products,” Stone says.
“The founding principle of our whole business was a guy who missed a putt and said it is because the golf ball is no good. And it turns out he was right.” – Titleist Vice President of Golf Ball Marketing Jeremy Stone
“You can’t just go to the store and by a golf ball moulding machine off the rack. You literally build it. And every time we go ahead, for example with this new Pro V1 and Pro V1x, there is a whole new dimple design process, we are going to go through about 70,000 dimple design cavities, moulding these golf balls over the next two years. Every one of those cavities, is machined in a Titleist lab, by a Titleist engineer, whose not only programming the machinery but has to walk it through the quality assurance and testing apparatus to make sure that it lives up to our standards.
“That’s the level of detail that you don’t get anywhere else and you certainly don’t get if you outsource the vertical integration of your supply chain.”
Beyond the creation of the product and materials of each Titleist golf ball, all of which is carried out by various teams who then come together to create the optimised finished product, the company’s commitment to testing its products ensure quality and consistency is never compromised. And that each new model actually improves upon its predecessor.
“We could be here all day, I will try and summarise,” said Stone of the testing and quality assurance processes at Titleist’s famed Ball Plants, where all Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls are made.
“Fundamentally, it is a commitment to quality that is pervasive throughout the process. We don’t get to the end of the process, run a hand full of tests on compression and durability and call it a day.
“We are very meticulous when we source the raw materials that go into our golf balls. We are meticulous at the stage of mixing those materials. We are then meticulous at the stage of forming the beginnings of a core into what’s called a prep. So, at every stage in the process we are extracting material, and running it through a test.
“At the raw material phase, it’s a chemical equation and test to make sure that the chemical equations we are looking at are accurate. When you start getting into more formed, solid, golf ball looking golf balls, it gets to be a test that we might be more familiar with, whether it be it’s a compression test, a roundness test, or at the end of the day the tried and true X-Ray test to make sure that the golf ball is concentric.”
But what does all the strict testing and extremely in-depth production processes mean for golfers?
Put simply, despite the doubters and the cynical amongst the golf community, these ensure that each new model in the various categories improves upon the last.
In the case of Pro V1 and Pro V1x for 2021, the first change in the dimple patterns in more than 10 years has seen significant improvement in performance and the new models are on track for the biggest take up with Tour players in recent years.
As always, this is proven first in-house, then taken to the world’s best players to validate
the product. A concept Titleist knows is crucial to each and every item of golf equipment it produces.
“Our core strategies are elegantly simple,” Stone said.
“Number one is make the best stuff and number two is validate it with the best players in the world. Three and four are education and golfer connection. But nothing happens without that number one and number two. The only way you can confirm if you have made the best stuff on earth, is if the best players in the world who are relying on it in order to have success, put it through the fire and put it in play and trust it.”
Of course most golfers are not in the same league as the best players in the world. However, Titleist’s testing also includes robots set to amateur swing speeds. And Stone explains why the company’s top ball models aren’t just for its top players.
“We have mountains of data that shows Pro V1 and Pro V1x when properly fit for you deliver better scores. And we have that across a variety of handicap levels, we know that to be true obviously with Tour players, and then you’ve got 0-5, 6-10, 11-15 handicaps, we have data at every level that Pro V1 can benefit your game.
“It is important to point out, that finding the right model matters. Because if you are playing the wrong model, it can accentuate some of the flaws that a less strong player might have, so we do want to get you fit.”
The concept of ball fitting is a relatively new one in the world of golf. Titleist championing the idea to ensure golfers get the best out of their game, with Australian fitting days for clubs also involving ball fitting elements for attendees, phone consultation fittings a recent innovation by Titleist and online fitting tools all helping to point golfers in the right direction.
All of the above processes focusing on a systematic approach that works differently than many golfers would think when attempting to pick the best golf ball for their game. One that has been made easier with another area of technological advancement in the game.
“Fundamentally whether you are a Tour player or you are an amateur, you are going to start by the green, because that is where the highest volume of shots are and that’s where your scoring clubs,” Stone says of the process. “Work your way backwards, you make sure that you’ve got some good feel, that you don’t eliminate something in that regard, and you go to partial wedge shots, back to full wedge shots, back to iron shots and then finish at the tee.
“That’s not to de-prioritise the tee shot, but if you have chosen a golf ball by then, to then optimise your driver fit for that golf ball.”
For those rare few unable to utilise any of the tools Titleist has available to choose the best model, Stone suggests getting the new Pro V1 and starting there. The introduction of the AVX model – a low flight, low spin, soft feeling option – a number of years ago, means golfers who don’t fall into the Pro V1, which suits the majority, have an option either way in AVX or Pro V1x if needing higher flight and more spin.
The company’s methodology and encouragement to go in without pre-conceived notions of what ball they need, proven by Tour players once again. Two examples including a switch from one model to another, the other finally benching an old favourite in favour of the 2021 version.
“Adam Scott made the move from Pro V1 to Pro V1x,” Stone said. “He’s a feel biased guy, but because of all the changes that we were able to make in the new Pro V1x, we were able to get that golf ball into a spectrum that was acceptable to him from a feel perspective, and deliver performance that he was looking for. Which in his case was higher flight and some more distance.
“Ryan Palmer is another guy who is very discerning. He was in a 2013 model until 2021 came out. He is so discerning when it comes to his equipment, he is notoriously slow to change. It came to life, at Riviera, heavy air right by the ocean and he was hitting some shots into the wind and then hit some prototypes and they carried the green better. And he was able to see immediately the value of improved aerodynamics and he was able to look at it and go ‘Wow, okay that is different, that is meaningful performance difference that I can see’.”
It is clear Titleist takes creating golf balls for everyone from the best players in the world to those just getting into golf very seriously.
Armed with this knowledge, golfers can be confident that choosing a Titleist golf ball is more than just selecting a brand name, but like Stone and the entire Titleist team constantly reinforce, finding the right ball is of the utmost importance.
And like the Pro V1 and Pro V1x trickle down to amateurs once Tour players have put it through its paces, the company and Stone himself have one more piece of golf ball advice all players should take note of and follow the lead of those playing for a living.
“It is clear Titleist takes creating golf balls for everyone from the best players in the world to those just getting into golf very seriously.”
“The most important thing you can do as a golfer is play the same golf ball,” Stone said. “Because there is nothing that is going to help you less than if you are playing whatever is in your bag and you go out and hit a great shot on the first, you rinse it on hole 2 in the water and then on the third you hit a shot and it behaves differently.
“Well, now you have introduced a variable. Did it behave differently because you made a different swing, did it because you used a different golf ball? At least if you are using the same model every time, you know and can verify that it wasn’t the golf ball that changed.
“And so, honestly that is why we put so much energy into the consistency of our golf balls because we never want you to doubt if it is the golf ball.”