The ball is the only piece of equipment golfers use on every shot.
The ball is also rapidly proving to be a topic replete with of information, a certain amount of which the golf industry was likely hoping we’d never find out. Transparency only hurts those with something to hide. In that vein, the more we learn about ball design, testing, manufacturing, and performance, the more equipped golfers are to make purchasing decisions based on objective information and not marketing hyperbole.
With that, it’s been more than a decade since Dick’s Sporting Goods acquired Maxfli and all of its trademarks, primarily to give recreational golfers a reasonably priced alternative, which was admittedly good, but didn’t necessarily rise to the level of great – at least not great enough to make much noise beyond the confines of brick and mortar Dick’s retail locations.
Well, times are changing, and the tech story surrounding the current line of Maxfli Tour/Tour X balls suffices as both distinct and different. As noted in MyGolfSpy’s 2019 Golf Ball Buyers Guide, the Tour/Tour X balls feature Center of Gravity Balancing Technology, which Dick’s says produce a longer and higher ball flight.
At first glance, it might appear as though the CG technology isn’t much more than a built-in Check Go Pro or fancy Epsom salts test, but upon further analysis, that’s not exactly the case.
But before we dive deeper into the weeds, let’s start with several ground rules:
- Nobody makes a 100% perfect ball 100% of the time.
- For all intents and purposes, Titleist is the benchmark by which all other balls are judged.
- The overwhelming majority of ball companies outsource some or all of their production.
Among the myriad benefits of #finditcutit, the primary one might be that it’s shifted the focus from the name on the outside of the ball to the materials, ingredients, and guts on the inside of the ball, all of which is somewhat dependent on where exactly each ball is made.
That’s as natural a place to start the conversation as any.
The Maxfli Tour and Tour X balls are produced overseas by Foremost. Foremost makes balls for several mainstream OEMs as well as DTC brands like Vice and OnCore. With that, you might remember a post from our very own @GolfSpyT depicting three Foremost balls from three different companies, offered at three different price points, with strikingly similar construction. This might lead some to believe that every ball coming out of the same factory is more similar than it is different.
That’s kinda, sorta true, but not entirely. Reputable factories (e.g., Foremost, Nassau) which contract with multiple brands, have generic (white box) designs from which anyone who’s willing to place an order large enough (or wait in line long enough) can access. It’s the reason why the same ball can show up under several labels. Factories also have pricing tiers based on what the client requests. Larger clients have more bargaining power when it comes to a number of items – quality-control requests, order fulfillment, unique dimple patterns – and because Dick’s contracts with Foremost on a massive quantity of 2 and 3-piece Surlyn balls, it has an elevated status as a preferred customer – something like the status I enjoy at the local Coldstone Creamery.
A quick refresher – Tour-level balls are characterized by three (or more) piece constructions, including a core, mantle, and urethane cover. Four-piece balls (dual cores, or dual mantles, cover) are more expensive and complex to manufacture. The construction of 4-piece balls often makes concentricity and centering issues easier to spot (once you’ve cut the ball open). With urethane balls, cover problems can also occur because crosslinking (bonds which link one polymer chain to another) is an integral element of the process. When that goes wrong, durability (splitting and peeling) can be an issue. To segment it further, some premium balls have injection-molded urethane covers (Bridgestone, Callaway, Inesis), others feature cast urethane covers (Maxfli, Snell, Vice). Titleist uses a Thermoset cast urethane cover and Srixon a cast-injected urethane cover.
Ok, so back to Maxfli and Foremost. A hell of a lot goes into making a golf ball, and compared to injection molded (TPU) covers, cast urethane covers are more costly and challenging to get right consistently. Foremost started working with urethane in 2010, and as with any new material (note: not all urethane is the same…think of it more like a category of material like cotton), it took some time to work out the bugs. Once it did, Foremost was able to offer ball technology comparable (not necessarily equal) to the major brands.
Working with cast urethane is a tricky proposition, which is chiefly why Nassau and Foremost sit at the top of the overseas ball manufacturing hierarchy.
IT’S DIFFERENT BECAUSE…
If you’re a follower of #finditcut, you’ve probably seen some of the layering and consistency issues in some other Foremost-manufactured balls. It’s reasonable to question whether Maxfli balls are subjected to the same quality control process as everything else from the factory.
I mean, how different can two balls manufactured in the same facility be? Well, as it turns out, a fair bit and with the Tour/Tour X balls, it starts with the construction of the core, a design Foremost reserves exclusively for Maxfli.
Dave Michaels, Senior Project Manager, asserts, “We’re starting from a better place. The Tour X is a dual-core design, which is more challenging to construct, and it’s a higher compression ball than the Vice.”
To clarify, the Maxfli Tour is a 3-piece design and is the softer, lower-launching of the two models, whereas the Tour X is a 4-piece design with higher-compression and marginally higher ball flight. According to Dick’s, both balls should offer similar greenside performance, which is reasonable given both utilize the same 318 dimple urethane cover leveraged in many Foremost-produced designs.
Dimple pattern molds are costly to create and often require the work of teams of mechanical engineers and aerodynamicists – resources that tend to be in short supply for most ball companies. As such, Michaels says, “We continue to work with industry experts and experiment with different designs (dimple patterns), but right now, the 318 pattern gives us the product performance we’re looking for.”
Once constructed, each ball has two essential specifications – performance and quality. Performance is what a ball is designed to do. It accounts for things like speed, launch, spin, and feel. It’s what golfers experience from shot to shot. Quality, to an extent, reflects the consistency with which those specs can be achieved. It’s harder to quantify, harder for the golfer to experience, but wholly essential for providing the expected result from shot to shot.
Quality also provides a better indication of the true cost of a golf ball.
Case in point, if you purchase a dozen balls from a fringe DTC ball manufacturer and shell out $25, but only 9 of the 12 balls meet an acceptable quality/consistency standard, your actual cost per dozen is closer to $34. Moving forward, critical consumers shouldn’t consider simply the price of a dozen balls, but also the percentage likelihood each of those 12 balls meet an acceptable performance and specification standard. It’s in intriguing concept which puts golfers in quite a bind. It’s cost aversive for individuals to buy dozens of balls, cut them open, and catalog the results; however, to date, it’s naïve to think golf ball companies are universally worthy of blind trust.
It’s a problem we’re working to solve. Stay Tuned.
Maxfli’s Tour series goes through two separate quality checks for concentricity. This goal is to ensure the core and mantle are appropriately centered. What happens when a core is off-center? As our ball test indicated, nothing good, including a you had to see to believe it demonstration of shots flying more than 40 yards offline. Guys, robots don’t miss their target line by 40 yards, not even close – at least not without some help.
After these two stages, comes the secret CG sauce. At Foremost, Maxfli balls are the only balls that get CG balanced – Many are familiar with the Check Go method, where a gyroscope spins a ball at 10,000 RPM giving golfers a precise location to draw a single alignment line.
Maxfli’s technology takes it a bit further by denoting the point at which the ball is perfectly balanced after spinning it on several axes.
If you’re familiar with, or have a Check-Go handy, try this. Put your ball in the machine, press the button, and mark the line. Rotate the ball 45° and do it again. Now do it one more time. If the lines more or less overlap, your ball is consistent, but not perfectly balanced, according to Maxfli’s thinking. If the ball looks like it’s been divided into pizza slices, the ball is balanced.
All of this happens before the final logo and alignment marker are applied. In this way, the CG balancing step acts as an additional quality check/fail-safe to ensure the ball is as concentric as is reasonably possible. Again, Maxfli isn’t claiming the Tour/Tour X ball is perfect or superior to the market leaders, just that it’s taken additional steps beyond most other ball companies. The reasoning why others don’t is simple. Each extra step in the manufacturing process costs money – costs that are generally passed to the consumer or skipped in lieu of maintaining more robust profit margins. Dick’s is keenly aware that to compete, it has to beat the major brands on price, and while $35/doz mathematically achieves that objective, as long as there are options in the sub-$30/dozen range (primarily Snell), $35 feels just a hair too safe.
The DTC (direct to consumer) ball market in 2019 is part wild west and a little whack-a-mole. Following the successful launch of Snell Golf in 2015, a myriad of ball companies began popping up like an over-caffeinated jack-in-the-box, flooding the market with more options than most of us can keep track of.
But no one asked questions like “Who is making them? What’s the formula? What QC measures are in place? Primarily because we didn’t know how valuable the answers might be, and the companies most certainly did.
That said, what we know now will likely be only a small fraction of what we will eventually learn, which happens best when ball companies actively work to inform consumers as opposed to just marketing to them.
So, what else do you want to know?