Do you play with the same type of golf ball all year round? I don’t anymore. And here’s why I choose to switch when the seasons change and the colder days set in. It all started back at school. Not Q-School, more like Grange Hill without the glamour.
School physics magic
When I was a lad (so many years ago) I sat in a school physics lesson in an oddly smelling old wooden-work-benched lab with 29 study-shy boys, when our teacher, The Prof, did a physics magic trick that had us spellbound. To be clear, I didn’t go to Hogwarts. J.K. hadn’t written about it yet, but our school must have been her inspiration. The Prof’s theatrical experiment was a brilliant teaching moment on how temperature can drastically affect the physical properties of materials, like rubber balls.
Boiling the ball
The Prof produced a scruffy black rubber ball from his tweed jacket pocket having previously confiscated it from Sniffy Watts due to unauthorised soccer in a science lab setting. Rugby would have been acceptable. Prof bounced the rubber ball several times on the lino floor with an impressively judged near-ceiling apex. The front row of keener pupils started to regret their enthusiasm, like a line of coconuts on a fair ground stall. The Prof donned safety glasses and a pair of old wicket-keeper’s gloves. That got our attention. Sniffy in the back row turned off the gas tap, hid his lighter and began to look concerned.
Prof gently lowered the ball into what looked like a flask of steaming boiling water while flashing a wicked smirk in Sniffy’s direction. The liquid started boiling and spitting steam, getting everyone in the class cheering at the apparent revengeful destruction of Sniffy’s property.
Revenge is a ball dropped cold
Grabbing a pair of tongs the Prof extricated the ball from the liquid, smoky vapour streaming down from the ash-grey sphere. Placing the ball in his gloved hand, he stepped to the side of the teaching bench for all to see, raised his hand high and with a knowing smile, opened his gloved palm and dropped the rubber comet.
Bounce it did not. It shattered into pieces on contact, leaving a pile of smoking debris across the lab floor. We gasped in amazement then cheered, “Do it again Sir”. Even Sniffy was impressed. That graphic lesson taught us the joys of liquid nitrogen at -196 C and how extreme cold made bouncy stuff as brittle as glass.
While that tale is an extreme example, something a bit more subtle happens to golf balls in cold winter conditions. That nice-feeling golf ball I played in summer at 20 C gets harder on cold winter days and that soft-off-the-face ball starts to feel like I’m hitting concrete, sending seismic shocks up the steel shaft.
I usually play with a softer ball. It suits my average swing speed and can feel like hitting a tennis ball off the sweet spot and a bit more satisfying when chipping and putting. I’m not so keen on a harder ball but I’d definitely play one in a summer long drive competition. But when winter comes I turn to an ultra-soft ball to maintain that summer feel. I even change the colour.
Dayglow winter fashions
The soft, muddy, worm-casted winter fairways can dirty and hide a classic white ball pretty quick. All of a sudden you can start losing a lot of well hit, nicely placed shots in plugged lies, under leaves or hunkering down in a longer cut of dirty wet grass. That’s when I switch to a bright dayglow-yellow ball which stands out a bit more and glows a little in bluer winter light. However, the timing of the switch is critical.
Leaves on my line
I don’t make the change until the autumn leaves have blown away or rotted down to brown mulch. Those pesky yellow leaves provide perfect cover for a yellow ball. But since Storms Arwen and Barra have blown through, there’s less random leaf cover to deal with.
So, dayglow colours are back in fashion this winter. I might even go bright orange. It’s the new white.
P.S. Do not attempt to experiment with liquid nitrogen at home unless you are a physics professor wearing appropriate safety gear.
Write in and let us know if you experiment with golf balls through the seasons. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker and enthusiastic golf improver.
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