What goes into the design of today’s high-tech golf balls? In this Q&A with Dave Bartels, Senior Director, Callaway Golf Ball R&D, we discover the “ins” and “outs” of creating high-performance balls for a variety of players.
How did you find your way into golf ball engineering?
I was working as an engineer at Hewlett Packard after graduating from college when Callaway started their golf ball business, and I jumped at the opportunity to combine my two passions: engineering and sports. I started here in Golf Ball R&D as an engineer developing new test equipment and, within a couple of years, we successfully launched the first ever Callaway golf balls—the Rule 35 Red and Blue. Since then, I’ve been working on the design and development of new golf balls, the latest being our new HEX Chrome+ ball.
Callaway has a wide range of golf balls in its product line. How do you segment the line and how should consumers determine which ball is best for them?
Golf ball selection can be intimidating for consumers, especially at retail, but we’ve worked hard to design the best performing golf balls at each price segment so golfers get maximum value. When it comes to finding the right ball, we start around the green and ask the golfer how much spin/control their game needs. Better golfers prefer more control, so we would direct them to a ball with a urethane cover for better spin properties. Because average golfers focus more on distance and not as much on controlling the ball around the greens, they can likely get all the performance they need in a Surlyn covered ball. Beyond the cover materials, a good rule of thumb is that the more layers in your golf ball, the less compromise you have to make because we can design certain attributes into a golf ball using the extra layers. For example, a two-piece ball generally has one dominant feature, such as distance or feel, but can’t provide as much all-around performance as a 3-, 4- or 5-piece construction.
The HEX Black Tour and HEX Chrome are at the top of the pyramid in Callaway’s lineup. Where does the new HEX Chrome+ fit in?
HEX Black Tour, HEX Chrome and the new HEX Chrome+ all have similar cover materials—our proprietary DuraSpin urethane blend—but different core constructions. The HEX Chrome family contains a single-piece polybutadiene core. Within the Chrome family, HEX Chrome is a very soft golf ball that performs better for golfers with moderate to low head speeds because it reduces driver spin for longer distance without sacrificing greenside control. The new HEX Chrome+ is a firmer golf ball that is designed for the moderate to higher swing speed golfers. It’s a long golf ball that achieves its distance with faster ball speed, without sacrificing control around the green.
How closely do you work with tour professionals like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and some of the other young guys on the Callaway tour staff as you make changes to your golf balls or develop new models?
We’re continually receiving direction from our tour players on new designs. They’re extremely perceptive to small changes and have given us important feedback that we’ve integrated into our products. For example, most of our staffers like a low, boring trajectory with their irons to help keep the ball from ballooning in windy conditions. We’ve designed an extremely soft inner core in our HEX Black Tour golf ball because it’s a critical component to keeping low mid-iron trajectory. Another example occurred recently with the design of our new HEX Chrome+. One of our staff players wanted more distance and was recently fitted into our new Razr Fit Extreme Driver, which lowered his launch spin. He found that even though HEX Chrome+ had slightly more driver spin than the HEX Black (due to their different core constructions), he could mitigate the increase in driver spin with his new driver settings and gain more distance with the faster ball speed of Chrome+. The result was significantly more distance with Chrome+ without sacrificing any control around the green.
What can working with professionals do to help you design golf balls for the masses, the people with generally slower swing speed?
We continually work with tour players to understand their needs and preferences. That really pushes us to fundamentally understand the construction of a golf ball and what makes certain components of the ball cause it to perform the way it does. As a result, we understand why one design works better than another and can apply that knowledge to a design specific for slower swing speed golfers. Even though the masses swing at lower speeds than tour pros, they still have the same broad range of preferences and opinions when it comes to how a ball should feel and how much control they need. In addition to optimizing performance for different types of players, one key area that we focus quite a bit of our effort on is durability. Professional golfers don’t give it much priority since they don’t buy their golf balls, but we work hard to make sure that our consumers get the most value for their money in a durable golf ball.