Don’t get fitted for golf clubs using range balls. It’s something we say all of the time. To some extent, the reasons are obvious. Even if you’re not immediately aware of the performance differences between a range ball and premium offerings, you’ve almost certainly figured out that range balls feel hard as rocks, are uncomfortably loud off the driver and are often in trash condition.
Save the occasional uncomfortable water carry where risking a Pro V1 just doesn’t make sense, most of us would never think of playing golf with a range ball.
So, at the risk of asking the obvious: If you don’t play golf with a range ball, why would you get fitted using one?
The idea that you should get dialed in with the ball you actually play is exactly why we recommend you get fitted with the ball you play. When that’s not possible, we’d suggest using a ball that’s like the one you play. And, yeah, if it happens that a range ball is like the ball you play, we’d politely suggest getting a new ball.
Of course, we understand that it’s one thing to tell you not to get fitted with range balls and another to explain why. So, to help clarify things a bit, we included a popular range ball in our recent ball test. The Pinnacle Practice balls we tested are among the most popular (if not the most popular) range balls on the market. The balls we tested were in new condition which is probably better than the range balls used in many fittings. To an extent, our data represents the best-case scenario for range-ball fitting and it’s still not good.
Here’s a list of reasons why you shouldn’t get fitted with range balls.
1. Range Balls Spin … A Lot
Really simply, the range balls we tested (Pinnacle Practice) spin more and, in some conditions, a lot more than the urethane balls in our test.
Let’s start with the driver. Across the three swing speeds we tested (85, 100 and 115 mph), the range balls spun about 250 rpm more than the average ball in our test. To put this in context, 250 rpm is in the ballpark of what we’d expect to see from adding a degree of loft. Effectively, the range balls we tested would make a 9.5-degree driver spin like a 10.5.
With irons, the spin differences are bigger still. I’d classify them as massive.
For the slowest speed we tested, the range balls produced about 600 rpm more spin off an 8-iron than the average ball (and a Pro V1) and 1,200 rpm more than the lowest-spinning ball we tested (Bridgestone Tour B RX).
At mid swing speed, the range balls produced more than 1,000 rpm more spin than the average ball and nearly 1,800 rpm more than the lowest-spinning ball (TaylorMade Tour Response). To put this in terms many of you can understand, the Pinnacle Practice balls spun 1,100 rpm more than a Titleist Pro V1.
Finally, at the highest speed we tested, the range balls spun 1,100 rpm more than the average ball, more than 1,800 rpm higher than the lowest-spinning ball (Vice Pro Soft) and 1,200 rpm more than a Pro V1. That’s an absurd amount of spin; more than we’d expect to gain by swapping our 8-iron for a 9-iron.
Now imagine you got fitted into a set of irons based on spin numbers that were 1,000 rpm (give or take) more than you’ll experience on the golf course with a real golf ball. Your real-world results are going to be wildly different and likely very disappointing.
2. Range Balls Fly Differently (off irons)
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s nothing particularly concerning or abnormal in the ball flight of range balls off drivers. Looking at key trajectory metrics like launch angle, peak height (the highest point in a ball’s flight) and peak height distance (how far down range it reached that height), and descent angle (the angle at which it returned to the ground), the Pinnacle range balls we tested fall right in average range for all of the above. With allowances for the spin differences we’ve already covered, I suppose you could argue that getting fitted for a driver using range balls isn’t the worst thing. That’s not to say it’s a good thing but it’s certainly better than getting fitted for your irons with range balls.
Why is that?
Off irons, range balls fly low
At slow swing speeds, it’s just a few feet but for higher swing speed golfers, we’re talking more than 10 feet lower than the average ball. I realize that, over the course of a golf ball’s trajectory, 10 feet doesn’t sound like much but we’re talking about peak height that’s a bit more than 10 percent lower than average.
Range Balls Peak Sooner
We would say that ball that reaches its peak height farther downrange has a penetrating trajectory while the ones that reach that height sooner are somewhere between high and ballooning. Range balls likely qualify as the latter.
For slow swing speed golfers, range balls reached peak heights five yards closer to the hitting area. For mid swing speed players, it was nine feet and for high swing speed players more than 10 over the average ball (and 20 feet sooner than the latest peaking).
On percentage, it’s an appreciable, though not massive difference, but it’s one more thing that illustrates the differences between range balls and the balls you (hopefully) play.
3. Range Balls Are Shorter
This first part might surprise you. Because range balls are relatively firm, they’re typically every bit as fast as Tour balls. So, even with their higher spin, the higher speeds helped keep the range balls we tested in the average to even slightly above average range for driver distance.
As we’ve already seen, the bigger differences are found with irons.
At slow and mid speeds, the range balls are about four yards shorter than the average ball. At higher swing speeds, the distance gap creeps above seven yards.
In iron fittings, distance is typically a secondary consideration but it’s one more point to reinforce the idea that there’s enough difference between range balls and real balls that getting fitted with range balls isn’t really getting fitted at all.
4. Range Balls Don’t Spin Off Wedges
Full-swing spin numbers with wedges will typically mirror what you’ll get with an iron. A ball that’s spinny off your 8-iron is almost certainly going to be spinny on a full wedge. Get closer to the green, however, and things change.
We know the realities here. Most of you aren’t going to get fitted for your wedges but, if by chance you do, definitely use a premium golf ball. A range ball won’t come close to representing what you’ll see in the real world.
5. Range Ball Aerodynamics Are Not Optimized for Performance
When golf companies design a dimple pattern for a premium ball, the objective is to optimize trajectory based on the performance characteristics of the golf ball. We’re talking about things like how high it flies, where in the flight it peaks, etc.. For example, for lower-spinning soft golf balls, dimple patterns are often designed to produce higher trajectories and steeper decent into greens which helps offset the lower spin.
Not that range balls do crazy things in the air but at least be aware that optimization of ball flight is often a secondary concern. The primary goal is durability. They need to withstand thousands of shots.
6. Sound and Feel Are Trash
As I mentioned, the Pinnacle Practice balls we tested are firm. The compression is on par with the majority of “X” balls in the market. Most golfers would describe that as firm. When paired with thick, hard covers, the sound implications of range balls are amplified.
If you’ve followed along with me over these last several years, you know I’m not one to obsess over feel but range balls are louder and generally more unpleasant-sounding than any ball you should reasonably play. Getting fitted with a range ball can make a perfectly acceptable club sound and feel worse than you’re willing to tolerate. Before you spend any money, you’d probably like to know how a club is going to feel on both well and poorly struck shots. In that respect—in most any respect—range balls won’t tell you what you need to know.
7. Range Balls Are Often Beat to Sh*t
Once a ball is turned loose on the range, there typically aren’t any quality standards. Visit most any range and it’s pretty clear that nobody is actively trying to remove the damaged balls. Dimples wear, covers cuts and gouges … so what? Even a small amount of damage can impact golf ball performance so if you absolutely must get fit with range balls, make sure they’re in good condition.
A Word About Launch Monitor Normalization
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that some launch monitors have ball mapping/normalization features built in to their software. Normalization takes the data you get from a range ball and runs it through an algorithm designed to tell you what a real ball would have done under the same impact conditions.
To some extent, normalization features allow you to get a reasonably decent fitting even when range balls are the only option.
It’s important to understand that normalization can work but, even with a number of ball profiles, it relies on some generalizations that don’t fit every model. For example, balls that might typically be classified as Firm Premium cover a wide range of spin properties, many of which don’t fit the generic profile. If your fitter is well-versed in ball mapping, he can probably get you close.
Ultimately, leveraging a normalization feature is better than getting fit with range balls alone but not nearly as good as getting fitted with the ball you play.
Whenever possible, using the ball you play during your fitting, especially when getting fitted for irons or wedges.