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Are More Expensive Golf Balls Worth It?

TWC golf
Difficulty
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites You must be an experienced golfer to do this project. You'll need a large open space where you can hit a lot of balls (and recover them).
Material Availability Specialty items
Cost Average ($50 - $100)
Safety Make sure that you have plenty of space outdoors, and no one downrange.

Abstract

There is a bewildering selection of different golf balls to choose from for playing the game. Some less expensive, some more expensive, all with different claims for the advantages they will bring to your game. This project can help you determine which type of golf ball is right for you.

Objective

The goal of this project is to test whether you can increase the distance and/or accuracy of your drives by switching to a different ball.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

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Last edit date: 2013-11-15

Introduction

To be a successful golfer, you need to combine distance and accuracy to get the ball from the tee to the cup with the fewest strokes possible. Drives on the fairway need to be long and straight. As you approach the green, you need to be a good judge of distance in order to select the right club to put the ball where you want. Once on the green, you need to be able to read its contours so that you can predict the ball's path in order to sink your putt.

There is a bewildering array of available golf balls. Some are two-piece balls with an outer covering over an inner rubber ball. Others are three-piece, with two internal layers made from different materials. The thickness of the cover layer can be varied. The dimple pattern, shape, and depth can be varied, affecting the aerodynamics of the ball. And of course, some balls are also more expensive than others.

For each of these changes, various claims are made by the manufacturers. Do some background research to find out about the characteristics of different types of golf balls. Which ball do you think will give you the longest shots, or the most accurate shots? Don't take anyone's word for it, find out for yourself with an experiment!

Terms and Concepts

  • Types of golf balls:
    • Two-piece
    • Three-piece

More advanced students should also study:

  • Momentum
  • Elastic collisions
  • Inelastic collisions
  • Projectile motion

Questions

  • How does the initial launch angle affect the distance of a drive?
  • How does the initial launch speed affect the distance of a drive?
  • How does the initial spin affect the distance of a drive?

Bibliography

Learn more about the science of golf with this easy-to-read guide:

Materials and Equipment

  • Golf club (driver)
  • At least 3 different types of golf ball to test
  • Golf tees
  • A large open space for hitting the ball
  • A means for measuring the distance of your drives:
    • For example, you could place meter (or yard) markers at regular intervals (e.g., 25 or 50 meters, measured with a long measuring tape, or a long pre-measured rope, or a pedometer) and use the markers for measuring shot distances.

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Experimental Procedure

  1. Do your background research so that you are knowledgeable about the terms, concepts, and questions above.
  2. Select at least three different types of golf ball to test. Use a dozen of each type for your experiment.
  3. Set up at one end of the open area, in the center of its width.
  4. Use the same club for each shot, and do your best to use a consistent swing for all of the shots.
    1. Alternate between the three different ball types.
    2. For each shot, measure the distance in meters (or yards), and the accuracy (deviation, in degrees from a straight away shot).
    3. Because your swing is not likely to be the same each time, you will need to do a large number of trials for each type of ball and each type of swing (at least 20, more is better).
  5. You can pre-measure the area where you are taking your shots, and place markers at regular intervals. Use these to judge the distance of each shot.
  6. You can alternate which end of the open area you hit from to save walking.
  7. Since the wind can have an effect on the flight of the ball, you should note the wind speed and direction in your lab notebook (see NWS, 2007).
  8. Calculate the average flight distance for each type of ball, and the average amount of deviation from a straight line shot (i.e., hook or slice) for each type of ball.
  9. Calculate the standard deviation for the flight distance and the amount of hook or slice for each type of ball.
  10. Illustrate your results by making graphs that show the distribution of the two types of balls with each type of swing.
  11. More advanced students should also do a t–test (Kirkman, date unknown) to see if any differences in the flight characteristics of the two types of balls are statistically significant.

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Variations

  • Ball launch monitor club fitting session. Three important variables that determine the flight of the ball are: the initial launch angle, the initial speed of the ball, and the spin of the ball. These parameters are all determined in the fraction of a millisecond that the club is in contact with the ball. How well and how fast you swing the club, and the angle of the club face are critical factors for these parameters. Many golf pro shops have "Ball Launch Monitor" technology (usually based on high-speed photography), that you can pay to use to analyze your swing. With this technology, you can get high-quality data on all three of the critical variables: launch angle, speed, and spin. Maybe you can think of ways to enhance your experiment using "Ball Launch Monitor" technology to measure your swing with different golf balls to select the one that is right for you.
  • For a more basic golf-related experiment focusing on club selection and distance, see the Science Buddies project Golf Clubs, Loft Angle and Distance.
  • For a project on the importance of tee height for drive distance, see the Science Buddies project Tee Time: How Does Tee Height Affect Driving Distance?
  • For another golf-related experiment that focuses more on the aerodynamics of the golf ball, see the Science Buddies project A Cure for Hooks and Slices? Asymmetric Dimple Patterns and Golf Ball Flight.

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