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Don Burleson Blog 








Golf ball speed limits

Golf Tips by Don Burleson


Anyone who has used a wooden driver from the 1950's knows that golf has undergone a huge technical revolution, better titanium clubs and soft, long balls, making super-long drives easier than ever before.  This technology has added at least 50 yards to the drive of the average golfer, and the golf technology now threatens US golf courses, who cannot afford to extend hole lengths to accommodate the changing technology. 


It's all about real estate and keeping the golf courses "long" enough.  Golf course real estate is more expensive than ever before, and the USGA has stepped-in to impose performance limits on approved golf equipment.


Lets tale a closer look at how the USGA limits golf technology.


Limits on Golf ball performance

Its hard to believe, but the USGA imposes a speed limit" for golf balls!

This USGA article shows the dynamics of the speed of a golf ball, showing the basic correlation between club head speed and distance.  There is a movement to "slow-down" the ball distances, but only for the best golfers:

Now, if it was true that these new, high-tech balls and drivers were benefiting the longer hitters the most, we would obviously expect to see that they had the biggest distance increase.  However, as the chart clearly shows, this just wasn't true.

Measuring golf ball speed

Golf ball coefficient of restitution (COR) is used to express golf ball speed limits and the COR is defined as:

A measurement of the clubface's ability to rebound the ball, expressed as a percentage that is determined by a ball's speed off the club head divided by the speed at which it struck the club head.

The term [coefficient of restitution] came into the popular lexicon as ultra-thin-faced drivers began to proliferate. An effect of the thin faces is known as the "spring-like effect" or "trampoline effect":

The face of the driver depresses as the ball is struck, then rebounds - providing a little extra oomph to the shot. A driver that exhibits this property will have a very high COR.

Illegal golf balls

There are many golf balls that exceed the USGA specification and are "illegal for tournament play".  These illegal golf balls have names like Bandit and Desperado, all technically illegal golf balls because they will fly too far.  Remember the Whamo Superballs from the 1960s?

 "Illegal" golf balls exceed USGA speed limits

This article notes the USGA speed limits for golf balls:

Although a speed limit on golf clubs is a recent action (see December 1999), limits on golf-ball performance have existed since the U.S. Golf Association set a distance standard in 1976-280 yards plus a 6-percent tolerance.

The USGA also limits a ball's size, weight and initial velocity.

There is also a movement for a "miracle" golf ball that would allow beginners to have a long drive while limiting the distance for PGA professionals:

The reactionaries' solution is to advocate what's being called "the miracle ball." It's the hypothetical golf ball that would limit Tiger to 290-yard drives, but at lesser swing speeds (ours, for example) results in no or little loss of distance.


Golf ball feedback


Today's gold balls are "soft", and designed to compress easily, providing for the "spring" that gives longer distance:


Addressing the ball Simulation of strike compression


My Callaway Fti Driver has a huge sweet spot (perfect for a beginner like me), but best of all, it keeps a dimple imprint, showing the amount of ball compression after my swing.  Below, we see the clear evidence of the golf ball impression with about a 90 MPH club head speed (225 yard drive):


Testing the long balls

I purchased a box of "illegal" golf balls and went to Brad Clayton, an amazing PGA pro with a consistent swing that could be used to test the coefficient of reciprocity for these illegal balls.

Brad did a one-armed swing with both legal and illegal balls.

For the best golf instruction in North Carolina, we recommend The Golf Zone.  PGA Master pro Brad Clayton is one of the best golf instructors on the eastern seaboard.




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