In the endless quest to develop a golf ball that flies farther and straighter than its predecessors, the ball's cover material and its aerodynamics are important considerations. But the inside layers are also key factors in the ball’s performance. Material and design upgrades to a golf ball's interiors since the late 1990s offer today’s serious and casual golfers a better playing experience.
Manufacturers have put plenty of different materials inside of golf balls over the centuries, including wood, chicken feathers and latex. More recently, multiple-piece balls, known as “wound” balls, featured liquid or rubber cores wrapped in elastic bands. Wound balls began fading with the advent of modern multi-piece balls, beginning with Top-Flite’s groundbreaking Strata in 1996, which featured a solid rubber core wrapped in a firmer rubber mantle.
The wound ball was once a top choice of pro players because it was easier to control, even though it sacrificed distance relative to harder balls. Modern technology has replaced the windings with mantles of synthetic rubber or plastic. As of 2012, multi-layer balls contain from one to three mantle layers between the core and the cover. Each mantle helps to reduce the ball’s spin when it’s hit by a driver. Excessive spin causes the ball to soar higher in the air with a resultant loss of distance.
Liquid cores are basically gone, replaced by a variety of synthetic rubber materials, with polybutadiene – a polymer that combines elasticity with the ability to rebound quickly – a popular choice. A recent Nike golf ball uses a very lightweight resin core designed to reduce spin on drives while maintaining control with short iron shots, thereby limiting the gap in the distance vs. control trade-off.
The Five-Piece Ball
TaylorMade created the first five-piece ball (cover, core and three mantles) in 2009. The soft rubber core limits the ball’s spin rate off the tee. Each of the three mantle layers then becomes progressively firmer. The innermost mantle layer is made from soft synthetic rubber. The middle layer is constructed with HPF 1000 (a thermoplastic polymer), with the outer mantle made from firm thermoplastic. The ball is designed to give high-level golfers the best of both worlds, providing lower spin rates (resulting in greater distance) on drives and high spin rates (permitting more control) when struck by lofted clubs.