Remember the #ballwar? It unofficially started toward the end of January 2018 when Titleist ran a series of ads comparing its 2-piece, ionomer covered distance ball with Callaway’s 4-piece flagship tour ball (Chrome Soft). The comparison was unfair and misleading according to Callaway, though it acknowledged in part, how dynamics within the ball market continue to shift. 

Ultimately, the ball war went nowhere, but the same can’t be said for Callaway’s market share.

In terms of growth, Callaway feels the positive momentum it’s created in the last 5 years is evidence the brand is headed in the right direction. Since 2013, according to Golf Datatech statistics, Callaway is up 113%. National Golf Foundation shipment data, which accounts for balls shipped to all ball customers – and thus gives arguably a more accurate picture of market presence – gives Callaway a 25% market share based on units sold (23% based on dollar amount sold). Perhaps most indicative of how the category continues to morph is Golf Datatech’s survey which assesses consumers perceptions around quality, value, brand reputation and innovative capabilities, which now shows Callaway and Titleist in nearly a dead heat. 

Combat analogies aside, Callaway enters 2019 as the clear #2 in the ball category and riding a wave of positive momentum, which it hopes to continue with the launch of three new balls, one of which is a new addition to the Callaway’s Soft line of balls and positioned to go head-to-head with the Titleist Tour Soft. 

ERC SOFT 

Callaway isn’t one to shy away from audacious declarations. The Chrome Soft line was tagged as “the ball that changed the ball.” Now, the ERC Soft, which pays homage to founder Ely Reeves Callaway (hence the ERC designation which is reserved for products Callaway feels are revolutionary) is said to set the new standard of distance balls – and is Callaway’s direct answer to Titleist’s Tour Soft ball. 

The recipe for a distance ball is slightly different than a true, tour-level premium ball. Distance balls feature a 2-piece construction (core and cover) whereas premium balls (Chrome Soft, Pro V1) have at least 3 layers, the last of which is a thin urethane cover for maximum spin and control around the greens. Distance balls are slightly less expensive, but typically lack the same level of precision around the greens due to thicker ionomer resin (e.g., Surlyn) covers. 

Callaway’s ERC Soft starts with virtually the same Graphene-infused Dual SoftFast Core as the Chrome Soft, though it’s slightly larger. The chief benefit to this core design is lower spin and higher launch off the driver. From a ball engineering standpoint, it’s not the most difficult task to design a ball with these launch characteristics, though Callaway states this core “maximizes compression energy” which more or less means speaks to the efficiency with which players and access the high launch/low spin core. 

Because cover construction – and thus greenside spin control – is where high-performance balls separate themselves, the ERC Soft’s Hybrid Cover technology has the capability to blur the lines between categories (Surlyn vs. Urethane) generally treated as separate. As a point of comparison, Titleist’s Tour Soft ball uses a 4CE grafted construction which it states is as thin as several competing urethane covers. Callaway’s cover starts with a Surlyn base, but adds several proprietary ingredients to both increase ball speeds (on short irons/wedges) and spin. Because urethane has different grades, Callaway claims the cover of the ERC Soft can outperform several competitors which elect to use lesser versions of urethane.

Visually, consumers will immediately note the Triple Track Technology which uses Vernier Visual Acuity (think landing planes on aircraft carriers) for putting alignment. Due to the spacing and color configuration of the lines, Callaway claims this technology is superior to the standard side stamp. If so, it’s fair to question why we don’t see this technology on the Chrome Soft line, which is held over from 2018. 

Pricing: $39.99/dozen 

Retail Availability: 2/8/19 

SUPERSOFT 

Callaway’s Supersoft ball is a popular choice amongst cost conscious golfers, so as expected, the changes for 2019 are more tweaks than major modifications. Specifically, the 2019 version gets a slightly softer cover, enhanced HEX Aerodynamics to reduce drag and a softer Trionomer cover for improved short game control. Callaway is also injecting a layer of fun via a premium matte finish, which is available in a variety of colors. 

Pricing: $22.99/dozen 

Retail Availability: 2/8/19 

SUPERSOFT MAGNA

The Supersoft Magna is effectively the stock Supersoft, but slightly larger – though still within the rules. What’s the benefit of a physically bigger ball? The theory is that the because the larger ball has a higher center of gravity relative to a smaller ball, it’s easier to make flush contact from any lie. Think of it almost like teeing the ball up all over the course. Additionally, the larger ball has a greater MOI, which promotes less curvature, although it is slightly less aerodynamic (more drag).  That said, my hunch is the target audience of slower swing speed players or beginning players won’t notice any appreciable difference in distance.  

Pricing: $22.99/dozen 

Retail Availability: 2/8/19 

For more information, visit Callawaygolf.com.