How to Tell if a Golf Ball is Still Good: 5 Tips and Tricks

How To Tell If A Golf Ball Is Still Good: 5 Tips And Tricks

Golf balls can wear out with time, but they’re built extremely tough for a reason.

After all, a golf ball can be whacked so hard that it travels 211 MPH through the air, on a repeated basis, and doesn’t break apart.

Compare that to tennis balls, which are swapped out after every nine sets. Golf balls are built tough, but since they can’t last forever, you need to know the signs that your golf balls might be ready to put out to pasture.

There are professional online businesses that do nothing but salvage and sell used golf balls.

If they find some TaylorMade’s or Titleist golf balls, ones that are usually $3.99 per ball on average, why not sell them at a discount if they’re still good?

Let’s show you everything you need to know.

So, do golf balls wear out?

Do Golf Balls Wear Out?

golf ball in the grass


Does it happen quickly?

No, not at all.

As a matter of fact, there are still some golf balls from the late 90s that people are using regularly.

It’s something that you can’t easily predict, so instead, you throw some somewhat ambiguous timelines on to try and keep your golf balls as fresh as possible.

Your golf balls have a layer on top, which is called the barrier or the cover, and a complex interior. This can either be a dual-layer or a multi-layer.

Dual-layer golf balls tend to run out their welcome a little faster than multilayers. There’s less to withstand the vibrations and collision of a steel golf club end crashing into it a few hundred times.

There are a few things you can do to test your golf balls. Since most are made to handle enough force to travel over 130 MPH (the record being 211 MPH), they’re more resilient than you think.

Try these quick and easy tips out to see if they’re still functional.

Use These 5 Tips and Tricks to Test Your Golf Ball

tournament golf balls

#1 The Bounce Test

Simply done, you take a new golf ball and bounce it next to the old golf ball.

You can do this on a granite countertop, a tile floor – any hard surface that’s going to send the ball bouncing and moving through the air.

Monitor the way the balls move. The newer one is likely to have some more bounce to it since it’s never been used before, but your older golf ball shouldn’t be far behind it.

If they both bounce at relatively the same height, your older golf ball should be okay.

If you’re going to use this method, account for the size of the drop. If you can set them to both falls off a surface at the same time, from the exact same distance from the floor, that’s going to be your best bet.

One last thing to keep in mind is to not directly look down while the balls are bouncing. It’s a surefire way to have one of them come up and hit you in the face.

Let them go, stand back, and monitor how they bounce to see just how effective they still are. It’s a lengthy process, but a good way to individually test each ball.

#2 The Audible Pang

This one can be done with a DIY at-home shooting range where you use a golf net.

Otherwise, you’re going to have to chase the ball down. The acoustics of steel on the cover of a ball is going to be different indoors than they are outdoors, so keep that in mind.

Use your driver, and hit the ball. Do you know that sound the ball makes when you hit a brand new one right out of the package?

That’s that audible pang sound that’s just so crisp and clear. You want to be able to hear that.

It’s the sound of vibrations rattling throughout the layers of your golf ball, and then reverberating off of the cover, which is usually made of some type of ethylene.

If you’re not able to hear that sound, it means that there might be a microfracture somewhere on the cover’s surface.

At that point, you can’t really seal it. You could, but the ball’s compression has already been affected, so putting some kind of epoxy resin would just be a waste of time and money. Once the cover is cracked, it’s completely useless to you.

Sometimes, the noise will be a little bit faded, which could just mean that your golf balls are on their way out but haven’t completely died yet.

If you play competitively, you should replace them right away. If not, see how many more games you can get out of them by checking out the additional tips on this list.

#3 Will It Float?

golf balls test in the water

Back to that cover again.

Your golf balls should float… in saltwater. There’s a whole law of buoyancy, which is why golf balls will sink to the bottom of a freshwater lake on a golf course.

If you have the opportunity, you need to get a couple of cups of seawater, or make your own using a beaker and carefully measuring out salt to make a seawater equivalent.

Tap water has many of the same ingredients as seawater, so boiling that with 35 grams of salt, 1,000 grams total mass, will emulate seawater just fine.

Now, see if your ball is going to float. Drop it in, and walk away for a minute or two. If the cover is intact, then there should be absolutely no leakage to the internal area of your golf ball. If it starts to sink or you see any air bubbles coming up at all, it’s a sign that the cover has a microfracture.

While these aren’t going to be visible like a full-on split (otherwise you would have already known that the golf ball is bad), it will be small and almost impossible to see.

This ruins the compression rating, which in turn ruins how the ball responds to your clubhead.

#4 Hopefully, It Can Go the Distance

The whole point is to be able to drive your ball as far as possible, then make it under par.

That’s the dream, anyway. The most simple way to test this is to simply go to the driving range or to the course (whatever works best for you), and mark the balls you’re considering getting rid of.

Hit them with the driver, then cart out to go and collect them all. Identify where they are and remember how hard you hit them. If you can, use a laser rangefinder before you hit the balls to figure out how far you want them to go.

If they went as far as you needed them to, and you didn’t have to throw your back out to send them this way, then they’re good enough to continue playing with.

If they fell flat of the marker you’d set, they could just not have as much oomph as they once did. When a golf ball is on its way out, you can lose 5-25 yards depending on the damage.

#5 Is It Chipped?

damaged golf ball

This one is fairly simple, but you just have to go around and find out if the ball is chipped in any way.

Most notably, you would be able to spot splits or major breaks in the cover, but you have to look a little bit deeper.

If you can see scratches all along the peaks of the dimples, that’s a sign that it could be chipped. It doesn’t look like it head-on, but the peaks of the dimples are prone to chipping when your club makes contact (especially if the club is wet).

These can nullify the compression rating entirely.

If you spot these upon closer inspection, test the ball out to be certain, then toss it in the garbage. If this is the case, it probably won’t pass the bounce test.

How to Preserve Golf Balls for a Longer Shelf Life

Modern golf balls are as close to indestructible as they’re going to get (until I’m proven wrong years after writing this article).

If you’re thinking about golf balls being destroyed from improper storage, then you should know that we’re not using balata balls anymore.

Modern design makes it extremely difficult to damage your golf balls simply by storing them improperly. Thanks to the production of ethylene covers, they withstand high and low temperatures without transferring it to the dual or multilayer core of the golf ball.

This is important to remember: just keep your balls between 37° F and 82° F for the best possible results.

That margin I just gave you isn’t even the full thing, because it can go a little bit lower or higher than that, but the temperature isn’t the only thing that could affect it.

Humidity, altitude, and other factors go into play, so keep this safe, wide margin handy and follow it to a tee.

Do Golf Balls go Bad in the Water?

wet golf ball

If your gold ball gets wet, it’s not immediately going to break or diminish.

If it does, it’s a sign that there was already a microfracture somewhere on the ball’s cover.

But exposure to water won’t damage it initially. If you’re one of those people who go and hunt down all the lost balls in streams and ponds on golf courses, first of all, that takes dedication and I respect that.

If you do, or if you’ve ever looked at secondhand golf balls online, you’ll notice a recurring theme: half of them are bleached of color. Even if you have a white ball, the logo or brand name will be faded off.

That’s because UV rays from sunlight, which can be intensified by the water and act as a lens, will begin to corrode the ethylene cover of the golf ball.

Since these bodies of water on golf courses are freshwater, there’s no lens of organisms to darken the water and prevent those UV rays from coming through. It’s like a magnifying glass.

The UV light is one of the only things that we know of that can naturally break down synthetic polymers, which are used to make plastic bottles, plastic chairs, and even golf ball covers.

Depending on how long it’s been in the water and how bad the bleaching is, it might just be a lost ball.

Do Wet Clubs Damage Golf Balls Even More?

Yes, they most certainly do.

If you’ve got a light drizzle, dry off the ball and the club before you place it down to strike it. It’s why you should always have spare towels in your golf bag.

But if it’s not just a light drizzle or pitter-patter, that means that you need to pack it up and call it a day. When you strike the club when the ball and clubhead are wet, there’s no friction.

The friction of these two things meet is what sets the ball spinning.

With water, it mishits the ball, even if only by a tiny bit, and doesn’t distribute that force correctly.

Instead, it leads to chips on the dimple peaks, which could mean that you have to completely throw out your balls and buy new ones. Nobody wants that to happen.

You strike the ball differently and speed up the wear and tear while upping your chance of breaking the ball on contact. It’s just not worth it on ultra rainy days, so be sure to dry off your clubs before swinging.

How to Use or Refurbish Old Golf Balls

clean and polish golf ball

At home, there’s only so much you can do to refurbish golf balls.

Commercially, the process goes something like this:

The fish out golf balls, briefly test them to see if they’re still good and then sandblast the entire cover away. Using compression machinery, they apply a new ethylene cover to the ball and imprint a new logo on it.

After one last round of testing, they’re off to market.

Notice the part about compression machinery. Instead of doing all that, you can still refurbish golf balls, you just don’t have to be nearly as in-depth about it as the big secondhand golf ball companies are.

For you, follow these steps to refurbish old golf balls that other players left behind.

#1 Collect Them

First things first—get yourself a ball retriever, scour the woods on the edges of a golf course, and dig in the little pond that’s at the back of the course. At any point, you can find hundreds of golf balls that have been left for dead.

#2 Clean Them

Easier than it sounds. Using a soap solution, soak your golf balls for ten to twenty minutes.

Remove them from the water and use a soft nylon or plastic bristle brush to scrub away any dirt and debris. Cleaning is important because excess grime can mess with the aerodynamics of a golf ball.

#3 Polish Them

You want them to look good, so add a bit of wax or polish and make them shine.

The goal here is to make them look like they were brand new out of the box, no matter what it takes. Use a shoe shining brush or a simple rag with polish on it to get a nice buffed effect that looks like the real deal.

If you’re refurbishing balls, you’d as well have fun with it.

You should take the time to apply a new logo, or get a stencil custom made online and spray your own logo on them. Personally, I’d inscribe something witty to make the next golfer who finds my ball laugh a bit.

#5 Test Thoroughly

Use the bounce test, float it, do everything you have to do to make sure it’s going to hold up.

It’s a process of cleaning and making it look like new because sandblasting them would require you to somehow forge a new cover that includes dimples.

If your golf ball doesn’t have dimples, it’s not allowed in competitions or tournaments, which is why you shouldn’t go too hardcore during the restoration process.

Keep a Rotating Stock of Golf Balls

Your golf balls can go bad, but even when they do, you’ll have gotten more than your fair share of games out of them.

Restocking golf balls doesn’t have to be expensive if you pick up a new box once a year, and continue to rotate your existing amount.

Now that you know everything you can do to preserve them, test them, and ensure a great game every single time, you’ll be better equipped to maintain all of your golf gear.

The more you learn about golf balls, the more you appreciate the science that really goes into them.

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