Water hazards – they’re everywhere, right? Imagine how many thousands, or rather, millions, of golf balls, have been fired into a lake or pond.
If you’re buying a batch of used golf balls, you’re probably right to assume that a good chunk of them have been recovered from a lake. And you’re probably wondering, does the water affect their performance? Can golf balls get waterlogged, and lose their spark?
The answer is yes and no, but I’ll do my best to explain it a bit better than that.
How Golf Balls Are Made?
In order to better understand how water can affect a golf ball, it’s helpful to know how golf balls are constructed. Modern balls consist of multiple layers – either two, three, or four. All kinds of flashy core technology could be going on on the inside, but what’s really important is what’s going on with the outer layer.
The two main types of golf ball covers are Surlyn and Urethane. It’s sturdy stuff, designed to protect the inner layers from the elements – including water.
As a whole, golf balls are designed to compress at the moment of impact. If you were to observe one in super slow motion, you would see it shrink and then go back to its original shape. This allows a greater amount of energy to be generated, thus increasing the carry distance of the ball.
Can Golf Balls Get Waterlogged?
Generally speaking, the surlyn and urethane outer shells of golf balls do their job pretty darn well. However, at the microstructural level, there are unavoidable gaps in the molecules. And these gaps are just big enough to allow water particles to squeeze their way through.
Once the water breaches the outer shell, it essentially forms an extra layer within the ball, which in turn affects its mass and energy absorption. The ball won’t be able to compress as much, and so, theoretically, it will lose out on some distance.
But this is a slow process. It won’t happen if your ball spends just a few minutes in the water. Exactly how long it takes for a ball to become waterlogged is a hotly disputed subject – as is the extent to which water affects a ball’s performance.
Does Water Affect Golf Ball Performance?
Theoretically, and anecdotally, yes. A layer of water inside the ball does it no favors. Since the ball isn’t able to compress as much, it will surely not be able to fly as far – especially if it’s been lying in water for months, or even years.
However, a few years back, a rather interesting study was carried out by the good folk at Golf Ball Divers. They commissioned a University-run, independent research study to compare the performance of brand new balls with balls that had spent either 1 month, 3 months, or 5 months at the bottom of an actual golf course pond.
You can read all about the study here, but here’s a summary. They basically found that there was almost no difference in the performance of all of the golf balls. Using Trackman to trackball flight, carry distance, and roll distance, their testing revealed that golf balls that had been submerged for as long as 5 months performed just as well as brand new golf balls.
Of course, this is just one study. More research needs to be carried out in order to provide a more conclusive resolution to the waterlogged ball debate. And, as the Golf Ball Divers themselves admit, this study does not answer the question of how long a ball has to spend underwater before it loses performance.
Should You Play With Waterlogged Golf Balls?
Modern golf balls are, in general, very well put together, and there is now evidence to suggest that a few months in a lake does not affect a ball’s performance.
So if you retrieve a ball from a lake, and you’re confident that it’s not been in there for long, then I would argue that it’s perfectly fine to use. Save your money. The difference in performance, if any, will likely be too small to notice.
Having said that, it’s usually impossible to know how long a ball has been in the water if it isn’t your own. Though there’s a lack of research at the moment, it would be reasonable to assume that a year-long stint in a lake would affect a ball’s performance. Water always finds a way, and once it’s in there, it changes the fundamental mechanics of the ball.
And if you’re a scratch golfer, or a low handicapper looking to push your game to the next level, then no one would blame you for avoiding balls that have spent time in the water. It’s possible that they have suffered water damage, and you could lose out on some precious yardage.
Golf balls have a sturdy outer layer which, as technology has developed, has become extremely effective at keeping water out of the interior. There is now legitimate research to suggest that a 5 month submerged golf ball will not perform any differently to a brand new golf ball.
However, it’s unclear how long a golf ball has to be submerged before it does lose out on performance. Thus, if you’re planning on using balls that have spent six months or more in water, you should consider that they might not perform at their best.
For beginners, the difference will be negligible. You could easily get away with using a waterlogged ball. For more advanced players, however, the potential loss of yardage could be costly. But for all players – rest assured that a quick dip in the water will have basically zero impact on a golf ball’s performance.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.