Remember that time about three years ago when the place that sells mayonnaise in 5-gallon jugs started selling a 4-piece, cast urethane golf ball?

Yes, I’m talking about Costco – and man, did that situation escalate quickly.

Unfortunately for budget-minded golfers, it wasn’t long after we conducted a test which showed the K-Sig Tour Performance golf ball could hold its own against the perennial market leader, that inventories dried up. A couple more shipments trickled in, but before long, the Kirkland Signature Tour Performance golf ball disappeared for good (at least with a Kirkland logo on it).

Fast forward to 2019 and Costco is back, attempting to catch lightning in a bottle a second time with a new 4-piece urethane ball – the Kirkland Signature Performance One. And the ball is just the beginning. Team Costco is planning an even deeper dive into golf retail. Kirkland Signature putters and wedges are coming soon.

This second breakout of K-Sig fever brings with it significant concerns about the quality of the new ball. Costco has a new factory and a new formula, and some big problems with a new cover that wasn’t quite ready for primetime. Costco (more accurately, Costco’s factory)  is eventually going to get it right, and given the company’s outstanding reputation for customer service, there’s little doubt that golfers will come back.

Price is unquestionably the driving force in that conversation, but the performance specification matters. To that end, we decided to take a closer look at the new ball (even if a new-new ball might eventually replace it).

ABOUT THE TEST

The purpose of this test was to determine the performance characteristics of the new Kirkland Signature Tour One Golf ball.  For comparison, we tested it alongside the previous 4-Piece Kirkland Ball and the 4-piece market-leading Titleist Pro V1x.

HOW WE TESTED

  • Testers hit the Kirkland Signature Performance One (2019), Kirkland Signature Tour Performance (2016), and Titleist Pro V1x (2019).
  • Shots were struck using a Mizuno T7 56° Sand Wedge, Taylormade PSI Forged 6-iron, and PING G400 Max Driver.
  • Five golfers with handicaps ranging from 0-15 and driver swing speeds between 85 and 115 mph participated in this test.
  • Each tester hit 10-12 “good” shots with each club (rotating between balls and clubs).
  • Any gross mishits and shots coming to rest more than 50 yards from the target line were eliminated before outlier analysis and not included in the shot counts.
  • Remaining outliers were identified using Median Absolute Deviation (for several metrics), and dropped before averages were calculated.
  • Ball Data was recorded using Trackman 4 golf radar.
  • Testing was done at Bayville Golf Club with assistance from Andrew Brewer.

RESULTS

To filter and compare by club, use the drop-down list and checkboxes to select the balls you wish to compare. The “Test Distance” drop-down toggles the data at the four distances tested.

OBSERVATIONS

With an inherently different golf ball from the original, it’s normal to expect differences in performance. Here’s what we found.

  • With a driver, the new Kirkland Performance One produced faster ball speeds, but spin rates were considerably higher than that of the original K-Sig 4-piece. Although faster than its predecessor, the Performance One delivered ball speeds slower than the market-leading Pro V1x. Excessive spin rates likely contribute to distance loss.
  • Similar performance was experienced on the 6-iron – ball speeds were comparable across the three models tested; however, spin rates for the new Kirkland ball were significantly (500 rpm) higher.
  • On full shots with a 56° sand wedge, performance for all three balls was similar, though we noted the Pro V1x launched slightly lower than both Kirkland golf balls.
  • Using the same 56° sand wedge, testers hit 40-yard pitch shots. Performance differences were again minimal. The Pro V1x produced the lowest launching shots; while the new Kirkland Performance One produced the highest spin rates.

BEYOND THE DATA

In the golf industry today, it’s not unreasonable to expect a direct to consumer golf balls to produce similar launch conditions to the market leaders. There are several other factors that often reveal significant differences beyond the cost of the balls.

  • We noted that both Kirkland balls produced an appreciably higher number of outliers than the Pro V1x. This could suggest greater inconsistency from ball to ball.
  • While major companies like Titleist and Bridgestone are spending millions of dollars on R&D every year, there is limited space to innovate under the USGA rules. However, brands that own their factories and directly control their manufacturing process from end to end have more control over the quality and consistency of the final product. Are all 12 balls in a box the same? All 12 boxes in a case?… and so on. Consistency is often the hidden differentiator between golf balls.
  • With respect to the Kirkland Performance One, we’ve already seen a mass recall of the ball due to significant (and obvious) cover defects. During testing, we noted that the Performance One was less durable than the other balls tested.
  • While it’s likely of little consequence to average golfers, between iterations of the 4-piece ball, Costco change factories and cover technologies (moving from cast to injected TPU). The factory switch along with the new machinery used to produce the covers almost certainly contributed to the defect.
  • How quickly can those issues be resolved, and will the performance of the ball change as a result? Those answers will have to wait.

The Takeaway

The data suggests the Kirkland Signature Performance One golf ball is generally lower launching and higher spinning than the original. The driver spin is particularly concerning, with averages above 3,000 rpm for the test group. While most want (or at least think they want) higher spin off wedges, there is a point of diminishing returns. For many golfers, we believe Performance One would pass that point.

Having said that, while spin rates are above average, the data suggest that the Performance One isn’t a complete performance outlier. It’s high spin, but not ridiculous spin. From a fitting perspective, that suggests a ball that fits a smaller segment of the market than the original 4-piece. However, golfers looking to limit costs to $15/doz aren’t likely to prioritize fit over price.

Performance characteristics notwithstanding, what we cannot overemphasize is the lack of quality control with this initial batch – The flood of pictures showing massive cover gashes both was alarming and unacceptable. To its credit, Costco has acknowledged as much and refunded customers who bought the balls.

In summary, nearly any factory can match the raw performance characteristics of market-leading, big OEM offerings, but consistency from ball-to-ball,  though hard to achieve and quantify, is what truly differentiates brands and their offerings. At $15/doz, the original batch is a textbook example of getting what you pay for. And while we have little doubt that the new batch will be better, consistency comes at a cost that likely exceeds the price of the Kirkland ball.