Do Range Balls Fly as Far as Regular Golf Balls?

buckets of golf driving range balls
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How does the distance performance of range balls compare to that of regular golf balls you use on the golf course? Not good, but maybe not in the way you think.

Harder Covers, Heavy Use

The general perception is that golf balls made specifically for use on driving ranges do not fly as far as regular golf balls. And, generally, this is true. Range balls have much harder covers - in order to stand up to all the punishment they receive - and that alone causes a slight drop-off in distance performance (probably less than 10 yards).

Range balls can lose more distance through the constant pounding they take from golfers of all skill levels. And some range balls are specifically engineered to fly a little shorter - 20 yards, 30 yards - if there are space considerations at the driving range.

One way to get a better idea of what the distance performance of your range balls is supposed to be is to ask the driving range personnel. If they are buying range balls designed to fly a little shorter, they should be able to tell you.

Range of Distances Is the Biggest Difference

But the biggest difference between range balls and regular golf balls is not distance, but the range of distances from ball to ball.

This was quantified in a study conducted by Golf Laboratories in San Diego, California, in 2014, on behalf of Golf Digest. The lab used a robot to hit "barely used" Titleist Pro V1s and also 20 range balls that had been gathered at random from several driving ranges.

The difference was huge. But the biggest difference wasn't that range balls were shorter but that their distances showed a huge range of outcomes. Regular golf balls, everything about your swing being equal, produce distances that are very consistent and fall within a narrow range of about 10 yards or less from swing to swing (assuming same swing speed, quality of contact, etc.).

But the range balls Golf Laboratories tested had huge distance ranges: There was up to a 50-yard difference in distance between the shortest and longest range balls hit with a 7-iron!

Range Ball Distances are Unreliable

Many of the range balls tested were shorter than the Pro V1s, but some shots were actually longer (the pounding range balls take can change their characteristics in mysterious ways ...). The moral of the story, as Golf Digest put it, is "Forget practicing distance control on the range. Instead, focus on shot shape and direction."

(Note that some driving ranges, because of severe space limitations, are very shallow; they might extend only, say, 200 yards. Such ranges might deal with that lack of depth by buying range balls specifically designed to fly only half as far as regular balls, or some other fraction of a regular ball's distance. These severely restricted-flight balls are sometimes called "Cayman balls" after a short golf course in the Cayman Islands that inspired their creation.)

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Kelley, Brent. "Do Range Balls Fly as Far as Regular Golf Balls?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 13, 2015, Kelley, Brent. (2015, October 13). Do Range Balls Fly as Far as Regular Golf Balls? Retrieved from Kelley, Brent. "Do Range Balls Fly as Far as Regular Golf Balls?" ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).