Can Smaller Brands Compete?
Lately we've been inundated with a rash of direct to consumer golf balls. Each claims to be something extraordinary. They're “Tour Level’ or “Really straight”, and each ball pushes some sort of outstanding value.
Each one has some sort of distinct hook; subscription services, charitable donations, eco-frienly packaging (or lack thereof), or a metal core. No doubt some of these value-added features will be of interest to some of you, but at the end of the day it should be about performance and value.
What we really want to know is: Are any among this new wave of direct to consumer golf balls worth putting in your bag?
Using one of the best-selling balls in all of golf as our control sample, we put six of these upstart balls to the test. Our field includes:
Here's what you need to know about the balls in this test (click tabs for full info).
- 3UP: Original design with help of manufacturer.
- Lightning: Original design with help of manufacturer.
- Monsta: Original design.
- Nicklaus: Designed, tested and perfected under the active involvement of the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
- OnCore: Original design.
- Snell: Dean Snell - Inventor or co-inventor of the Titleist Pro V1, TaylorMade TP, Penta, Project (a), and Tour Preferred.
- 3UP: "The 2nd largest ball manufacturer in the world behind"
- Lightning: Taiwan
- Monsta: Asia.
- Nicklaus: Bridgestone
- OnCore: Suppliers are based in both US and Taiwan
- Snell: Korea
- Tacky cover offers more greenside spin
- Progressive core helps cover a wider range of swing speeds for compression
- $3 of every dozen goes directly to golf related charities
- Long off the tee because of the 3 layer construction
- Urethane cover gives a very soft feel around the greens to get the ultimate spin
- Subscription service. No packaging is eco-friendly and provides lower costs to consumers
- Superb spin off lofted clubs
- Cover has tacky feel, like the older balata covers but much more durable
- Our progressive core provides consistent ball flight
- Optimizes feel and distance for players who play from the back tees
- High Speed Gradient Core for longer distance
- Tour-caliber Urethane Cover for optimal control
- Highest initial velocity of any ball
- Truer line on the putting green
- High backspin around the greens
- Very soft, fast low compression core to help keep the driver spin low and ball speed high for longer driver shots
- Mantle layer works with the core to control spin and launch on long and mid irons
- The soft, cast urethane cover works with the mantle layer to create excellent short game spin, control, feel and durability
Each ball was subjected to Launch Monitor testing as well as on course play by our testers. Our testers were also asked to hit multiple chips and pitches with high lofted clubs to verify durability using the same ball in each instance.
6 Iron Performance
Good: Snell's My Tour Ball is long off the tee, solid with irons and offers outstanding spin off the wedge. It's also among the best feeling ball we've ever encountered. Trajectory is consistent, and durability is excellent.
Bad: It’s too bad we can’t walk into our local store and purchase it.
Notes: It's the ball that anyone who hits it says, WOW! We seriously had trouble keeping our testers from sneaking off with our limited samples. One tester described the Snell as “A better Pro V1” and we can’t help but agree. It's as if Dean Snell took the very best of his past work and rolled it all into a single ball.
The My Tour Ball is a phenomenal all-around performer from tee to green. Take that performance and combine it with the lowest price of any ball in this tests we can’t think of any reason why you shouldn't try Snell's My Tour Ball.
The clear best of breed within this field.
Good: Long off the tee, good iron performance and outstanding wedge spin always make for a great combination. The Nicklaus Black also displayed good durability and great feel around the greens. Our testers also noted how good a driving ball it is given its low launch and low spin characteristics.
Bad: Mid-iron distance lagged a bit, and the large logo may not be for everyone.
Notes: The ball designed for "those who play from the blacks", was a collective early favorite with our testers and it never disappointed. The Nicklaus Black checks all the boxes for those looking for a Pro V1X or Bridgestone B330 alternative. It ties for the cheapest shipped dozen balls in our test at $32 (with $1 going to both Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and St. Jude's), but becomes an amazing value when you factor in the occasional 3 dz/$75 promotion and their $27 monthly subscription prices.
The best low spin driving ball tested.
The Rest of the Field
The 3up 3F12, Lightning SmackDaddy and Monsta balls all performed admirably and certainly compete with today’s tour balls, but a few attributes such as price, distance and durability put them solidly in the 2nd tier.
Good: Offers the feel of an old balata. Compares favorably to most of today's tour balls from tee to green. Charitable donations with every purchase.
Bad: Like balata balls, the 3F12 feels a bit heavy off the driver and irons, and is almost sluggish coming off the putter. Average distance when compared to our control sample and the top balls in this test. Cover durability leaves a lot to be desired .
Notes: At under $40/dozen the 3UP 3F12 still passes our "competes for cheaper vs big name balls" test and a $3 charitable donation with each purchase still makes the 3F12 a worth considering.
Good: Solid all-around performance. Slightly softer feel than a lot of balls. Good feel of all clubs including the putter. The SmackDaddy may appeal to lower ball hitters as it should launch higher than most. Above-average durability.
Bad: Higher launching, which may not appeal to everyone.
Notes: We were please with the Lightning Hl3 SmackDaddy's performance overall, but those numbers don't quite reach that of our top choices. The per dozen price point is decent and with long term subscription pricing of $35.10/dz there's even more value.
Good: Solid overall performance, but really shines in the wedge spin and control department. Outstanding feel off the putter.
Bad: The Monsta lags behind in the distance category.
Notes: $32.99 per dozen (plus shipping) is reasonable, though not exceptional, given Monsta's performance.
Good: Decent feel.
Bad: Distance is disappointing. It sounds odd (loud), and it absolutely jumps off the putter. Price point matches that of high-end tour balls.
Notes: Distance is underwhelming, and it sounds terrible. You can spend considerably less, for a significantly better ball.