Do Golf Balls Go Bad? The Shelf Life of a Golf Ball

damaged golf ball sitting in the grass

The life journey of a golf ball is a story of resilience. They can take a beating, no doubt. They can survive the nature of various golf terrains. Golf balls take part in all player frustrations and in the joyous glories too. But after some time, do golf balls go bad? I did some research to find out when golf balls really need to be replaced.

Do Golf Balls Go Bad? 

Golf balls can quickly go bad if they are damaged or waterlogged. In addition, even the slightest scuff marks can decrease a ball’s performance, affecting both ball flight and how they roll on a green after a putt.

Design and Engineering of the Modern-day Golf Ball

The modern-day golf ball goes through a state of the art design and engineering. They are a big step of evolution compared to their older counterparts, whose structural strength relied on a single layer of material. Today, your golf ball has an inner core of tough rubber layered with a softer core and then a harder mantle and a smooth exterior cover.

These four layers of hard and soft structural material achieve balance and rigidity in the face of impact. The engineering similarly works wonders on the drive length of the balls, compared to what was possible, say, in the 90s.

Even so, golf balls can go bad. And small tiny changes on their exterior structure can drastically impact gameplay.

Golf balls go bad, yes, but that takes an incredibly long time to happen due to their multi-layered core, as mentioned before. Over time, you may start to notice scuff marks on your golf balls. That happens due to overplay with the same ball, or during a wedge shot where the club’s grooves can rip the ball up.

These scuff marks downgrade the smooth movement of the ball. If you notice that the resultant roughness affects the performance after a hole or two, the best move would be to clean the ball or replace it.

What’s the Shelf Life of a Golf Ball?

A golf ball in good cosmetic shape will hold its shelf life for 5-7 years or seven 18-hole rounds. However, scuff marks from any unfortunate play are more likely to result in a player changing golf balls much sooner than losing their core integrity.

Do Golf Balls Wear Out and Get Old?

The only indication of wear on the ball is the scuffing that impacts the consistency of its exterior structure and aerodynamics. Other than that, golf balls are often so robustly engineered that they won’t show any further evidence of damage.

Today, your golf ball is comprised of durable materials and a design that withstands even a swing speed of 125mph. These balls can similarly take mishits without showing extreme signs of deformation. Nonetheless, the ball’s exterior may not be as immune to impact as the interior is meant to be.

Inside the golf ball, the core comes from sturdy and durable polymer construction. That delivers more stability compared to liquid and rubber cores that manufacturers used in the past. So no matter how hard you strike a golf ball, don’t expect it to change shape.

The cover bit comprises an ionomer material, which is primarily soft urethane. The durability and ability of your golf ball to resist wear and cuts really depend on the quality of the material used for this exterior. Top-of-the-line balls use urethane, which holds up well to severe cuts in the ball, but they can still be scuffed up pretty well. Likewise, those sharp iron grooves on your golf club cover can cause substantial damage to the ball’s thin cover.

Do Golf Balls Get Waterlogged?

Golf balls can get waterlogged after several days in the water. Repeated play on its own may not necessarily damage a golf ball. However, exposure to water and moisture might accelerate the damage caused by scuffing and scraping on the exterior cover.

golf ball sitting in the water

Tests and studies show that when a golf ball sits too long in the water, its driving distance drops significantly. So, how do golf balls go bad in the water? How bad is it when it happens?

The Polyurethane foam surface used on most golf balls is made of small cells that can attract moisture. If a golf ball sits in the water for too long, water diffuses into this cover and worsens the damage already caused by scuffing. When this damage spreads to the core, your golf ball can become impossible to use.

Experts say that after several days of a golf ball sitting in water, it loses its drive distance between 5 and 10 yards. That’s because when water penetrates the molecular structure of the exterior and gets into the core, it causes a mass imbalance between the inner layers. The ball similarly loses its elasticity because of the reduced internal space.

Even without the ball sitting in a lake or pond, it can still sustain water damage when playing with a wet club surface. The presence of water on the surface reduces the friction on the ball, making it slippery and causing it to be gabbed by the grooves in each swing. The result is further wearing on the ball cover and reduced performance.

When Should I Replace My Golf Ball?

If your golf ball is taking a lot of abuse on the course — such as hitting cart paths or rocks and gathering a lot of scuff marks — it’s time to replace your golf ball. If you are so lucky still to have a pristine ball after seven complete 18-hole rounds, consider swapping for a new golf ball.

Golf balls go bad in many ways, as seen above. If you pick up a ball that’s badly worn on the cover or water-logged, what are you to do? Is it even wise to continue playing with such a ball? A damaged golf ball reduces player performance. It can be a frustrating experience to play with such a ball. So when should you change it?

If you do not see any damage on the cover, keep playing. And if your ball has not had contact with water for more than 24 hours, keep using it as well. In all these two cases, your ball will be intact and smooth enough for better gameplay.

However, if you notice extreme degradation on the cover, such as scuffing that’s too rough, you should consider replacing it. You should also replace your golf ball if it gets in contact with water for a day or two. These factors reduce the travel distance of the ball and lead to poor performance. No passionate player should put up with that.

New Balls Mean Better Performance–Pros Know That

Wear and moisture damage aside, your golf ball can last as many as seven 18-hole rounds before you notice major performance issues. Even so, professional players often carry as many as 12 golf balls for one game. Why is that?

The number one reason could be that golf balls get lost on the course too many times. You, therefore, need to have a spare one handy. Most importantly, though, pros believe that a new ball guarantees performance. That’s why they use several balls per round.

But again, golf balls can be costly. So do what you think optimizes your gameplay without hurting your pocket.

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Joe Morelli

Joe Morelli is the founder of TopRankGolf, a passionate golfer with decades of experience playing this amazing sport. He's dedicated to helping golfers learn, improve and enjoy the game of golf.