Data Dive: Do Range Balls Fly Shorter Than Normal Golf Balls?

If you’re like me, there’s no doubt at some point in time you’ve been told by other golfers that range balls fly shorter than normal golf balls.

I can’t remember where I heard it (and you’re probably the same), but for as long as I can recall I’ve believed that range balls only travel two-thirds the distance than regular balls.

My local golf pro even told me a hilarious story one day about an elderly player who was complaining to him that he had lost distance on each shot over his past few rounds – only for the pro to uncover the gentleman had unknowingly been using range balls during competition rounds instead of proper ones.

But is the ‘range balls fly shorter’ statement correct, or simply an old wives’ tale that has been mistakenly accepted as fact?

Studies have not definitively proven range balls fly shorter than normal golf balls. Some testing has shown little difference between the two in terms of carry distance, while other data suggests range balls will fly around one-club shorter when using wedges and short irons (but are virtually the same with driver).

I touched on the debate about range balls versus normal balls in another article (where I explained the difference in performance of foam practice balls compared to regular balls), but it’s time we delved a little deeper into the data.

Am I losing distance hitting range balls?

Statistics have shown you may lose up to 10 yards of carry and total distance hitting range balls when using wedges or short irons, however results vary. Most testing has shown a negligible loss in distance when hitting range balls with driver, compared to regular balls.

When researching for this article, I expected to find conclusive evidence to support the statement that range balls fly much shorter than regular balls, but to my surprise that hasn’t completely been the case.

YouTube golfing personality Ali Taylor tested three clubs – his 52-degree wedge, 7-iron and driver – by hitting range balls versus Titleist Pro V1x balls to determine whether there was any noticeable distance loss.

I’ve compiled his data into an easy-to-read table below that shows there was a noticeable drop in distance when hitting range balls with both his wedge and 7-iron, but not a huge difference with driver (although, carry distance was a lot less).

52-degree wedge data

BallTitleist Pro V1xRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)82.881.8
Ball Speed (MPH)91.488.5
Carry (YDS)112.3102.0
Total (YDS)113.6100.9

Seven-iron data

BallTitleist Pro V1xRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)88.787.5
Ball Speed (MPH)119.5110.8
Carry (YDS)165.9154.9
Total (YDS)171.7165.0

Driver data

BallTitleist Pro V1xRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)107.3108.5
Ball Speed (MPH)158.7162.5
Carry (YDS)249.1238.3
Total (YDS)281.7276.1

The full video of Ali testing each club can be viewed below:

But, interestingly, an almost identical test was conducted out by 2ndSwing’s Drew Mahowald and Thomas Campbell comparing range balls to Callaway Chrome Softs – also using a 52-degree wedge, 7-iron and driver – and the results showed almost no difference in distance between the two.

What the data did show, however, that wedges and irons impart far less spin on range balls than they do with premium balls.

I’ve again entered the numbers into a table below so you can easily see the variations yourself.

52-degree wedge data

BallCallaway Chrome SoftRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)83.782.6
Ball Speed (MPH)97.694.3
Spin Rate (RPM)91934137
Carry (YDS)121.6126.4
Total (YDS)123.6135.7

Seven-iron data

BallCallaway Chrome SoftRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)83.782.6
Ball Speed (MPH)97.694.3
Spin Rate (RPM)91934137
Carry (YDS)121.6126.4
Total (YDS)123.6135.7

Driver data

BallCallaway Chrome SoftRange Practice Ball
Club Speed (MPH)112.3112.8
Ball Speed (MPH)166.8168.8
Spin Rate (RPM)23212193
Carry (YDS)277.4281.0
Total (YDS)303.2299.6

The full video of Drew and Thomas testing each club can be viewed below:

Another series of similar tests carried out by fellow YouTuber Matt Fryer yielded similar results, as demonstrated in this video.

So, for all these years I’ve been of the belief that range balls fly significantly shorter than normal golf balls, but the evidence clearly debunks that myth.

While there is a slight difference in carry and total distance between range balls and premium golf balls when using wedges and short irons, in most instances this isn’t the case when using driver.

So, next time you’re on the range and aren’t hitting the ball as far as you’d like, you can’t blame it on the range balls – instead, it might be worth reading about how you can increase your driving distance without adding any extra speed to your swing.

What is the distance difference between range balls and regular golf balls?

Range balls, as a general rule, will travel up to 10 yards less in distance when struck with wedges or short irons. The longer the club, the less noticeable the drop in distance will be, with data showing drivers suffer almost no loss in distance when hitting either range balls or premium balls.

If you’re trying to work out the gapping distances between your clubs, I would definitely recommend doing it out on the golf course using real golf balls, as opposed to on the driving range, because range balls may give you varied feedback in terms of carry.

Yardage markers out on the course typically indicate the distance from the centre of the green, and the last thing you want is to fly your ball 10 yards over the back during a competition round because you’ve measured your gaps wrong with range balls.

Why do range balls travel less far?

Range balls travel less far than premium golf balls because their inner core is made from a poorer-quality, cheaper base rubber. Range balls are typically covered in a thicker, firmer Surlyn blend – instead of Urethane – to improve their durability, which also affects their performance.

Understandably, range balls need to be constructed in a way that will maximise their lifespan and enable them to be struck thousands of times by golfers at their local driving ranges without wearing out too quickly.

If they weren’t built this way, driving range owners would be forced to spend thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of dollars replacing them far too regularly.

As a result, the materials used to create range balls are far cruder than the higher-quality compounds used to manufacture top-line golf balls – such as the Titleist Pro V1x or Callaway Chrome Soft – which will lead to poorer performance through the air (including variations in direction and sometimes declines in distance).

Another reason range balls travel less far than normal balls is from the damage they suffer being belted by golfers day-in, day-out.

Range balls can stay in circulation at their local driving range for months, even years, and over time will begin to wear, crack, split, chip or even be bent out of shape – all of which will impact the way the balls fly through the air, and hence lead to a decrease in distance.

Do range balls fly straighter than normal golf balls?

Range balls don’t fly straighter than normal golf balls as they typically have structural deformities – such as wear, cracks, splits or chips – that negatively impact their performance through the air. New golf balls will fly the straightest, as their surfaces are unblemished.

While I’m no science expert, I do understand how friction works.

Range balls, due to being repeatedly struck by golfers each week, are more likely to be out of shape or have structural blemishes – such as scratches, chips, dents or cracks – that will make them less aerodynamic and cause the air, via friction, to have far greater influence on their flight.

These natural forces can cause range balls to wobble through the air, or move them left or right (similar to what happens when mud is stuck on the ball during a rain-affected round).

New balls, on the other hand, have no such imperfections when you tee them up – having only just removed them from their packaging – meaning they are far more likely to fly straighter, and less likely to suffer from negative friction forces.

Final message

Range balls are perfectly fine to practice with, but there’s enough data to suggest there may be some variations in how far they fly through the air.

For this reason, if you’re trying to determine your gapping yardages for each club – whether it’s using a flight simulator such as Trackman, or simply zapping your distances with a rangefinder – I would definitely recommend using new golf balls to do so.

They will provide you the most accurate data as they fly straighter and most consistently each time.

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