How Long Do Golf Balls Last?

You’ve managed to keep the same ball for a couple of rounds and now you are wondering how long do golf balls last? Let’s address the elephant in the room.

You are way more likely to lose a ball than take it out of play because its performance has degraded. Unless you are a low-handicapper that doesn’t lose many balls this is not something you really need to worry about.

Most golfers lose one (or more) balls per round so the question “how long do golf balls last?” is somewhat academic for the majority of players.

How Long Do Golf Balls Last

Do Golf Balls Have A Shelf Life?

Modern balls are all solid construction so unless you are storing them in extreme environments such as very high or low temperatures then the balls are going to perform the same for many years to come. Some like Daril Pacinella would argue they might last ‘forever’.

Titleist staff say that their balls will last at least 5 years if they are kept away from excessive heat.

Wound balls that used to be popular 20+ years ago would lose up to 1% of their initial velocity after being stored for 10 years. This would equate to no more than a few yards for most of us.

If they were subjected to extremes of heat or humidity then that degradation would likely be even worse.

So if you find some old wound balls in your garage then you might want to leave them for your practice bag.

In fact, if you store golf equipment in your garage you might want to think about moving it into your house as your garage likely gets quite a wide variety of temperatures that might affect your balls as well as your other golfing equipment.

How Many Hits Can A Golf Ball Take?

That will depend to an extent on the ball. A urethane-covered ball is more likely to be damaged during play than an ionomer one because it is “softer”. However, it comes down to the quality of strike and where the ball ends up.

If you are hitting your ball into trees, cart paths and bunkers then the cover is going to scuff up quite quickly which will affect its aerodynamics. Whether the effect is significant enough to affect your performance depends largely on how good you are.

The grooves on wedges can, when still new, rip little chunks off the cover of your ball.

Again most players are going to lose their ball before they reach a point where the ball is being adversely affected by damage to the cover.

How Often Should You Replace Golf Balls?

Partly that comes down to how good you are and partly to what you can afford. Golf professionals might change their ball as often as every hole. Even quite minor damage to a ball will cause them to change it. That is a lot easier to do when you don’t have to pay $4 for every ball you use though.

If you pay for your own balls then that is definitely going to be one of the limiting factors on how often you want to change a ball.

The other is the condition of the ball and how well you play. If you are a beginner then even a fairly battered ball may not make that much difference to your performance. A few minor nicks certainly aren’t going to make a noticeable difference to the quality of your shots.

On the other hand, if you are a good ball striker then you don’t want to be using a ball that is chewed up as it will affect your ability to put the ball where you want.

The rule of thumb Titleist use is that damage to the cover larger than a dime (in the UK a 5p piece) should make you think about changing the ball out.

Are Lake Balls Bad?

The jury is out on this one. A study by Thomas Raffel of Oakland University concluded that balls that had been in a lake for 1, 3 and 5 months showed no significant performance degradation when compared to brand new versions of the same ball.

The balls that had been submerged had a carry distance of 0.7 yards less than the new balls so less than 0.5%.

On the other side, you have Vice Golf. They cite that numerous studies have shown that balls immersed in water for as little as 12 hours can show performance drop-offs.

My opinion is that I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the performance of lake balls but I can usually get new balls for not that much more so why bother with used balls. However, there are a number of reasons why you might want to give lake balls a try.

How Much Distance Do You Lose With Old Golf Balls?

Like so many of the questions in this article, the answer really is, it depends.

Practical Golf performed a study looking at different grades of used Titleist Pro V1 to see how the performance compared with a new ball.

They found there was only a few yards difference in terms of carry distance with a driver and sand wedge. The spin numbers were also very similar. 

It appeared however that he was able to generate pretty consistent ball speeds and spin numbers from swing to swing.

If you aren’t managing to strike the ball the same time after time then are you going to notice a few yards difference here or there anyway. The quality of your strike will probably have as much or even more effect on the outcome than the quality of the ball. 

Rick Shiels 20-Year-Old Golf Ball

Back in 2018 Rick Shiels did an interesting comparison between a 1998 Titleist Professional and the current Pro V1 of the day. His findings were really not that surprising with the modern ball having a few extra mph off the clubhead leading to a few extra yards of carry. (11 with a driver). This backs up the point that a wound ball would lose around 1% of its initial velocity after 10 years.

The spin numbers were fairly similar.

So even a 20-year-old ball didn’t do too badly!

Do Golf Balls Decompose?

According to research undertaken by the Danish Golf Union, it will take a normal golf ball between 100 and 1000 years to decompose.

It is possible to get biodegradable golf balls but looking at what they are manufactured from I doubt guys on the PGA Tour will be looking to make the switch! Although considering you are looking at around $2 per ball and you are only supposed to hit them once I am not sure they will catch on outside of a narrow set of venues.

How Long Do Golf Balls Last: Conclusion

Modern golf balls will last a long time on the shelf if stored correctly so you don’t need to worry too much about that box of balls someone brought for your last birthday.

Damage to the surface of the ball will affect aerodynamics so think about swapping that battered old ball occasionally!

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