Teeing off with a white golf ball is synonymous with the game of golf for professional, amateur, and leisure players. For five centuries, players of this high-end sport have played with white golf balls. As colored balls with increased visibility appear on the market, one wonders why golf balls are white.
Golf balls are white as they are the professional golfers’ top choice due to their visibility and tradition. The white golf ball with 500 years’ history is part of the game’s culture, like its rules and constitution. The color visibility of a white ball is a good strategy for a professional player.
The age-old tradition of playing golf with a white ball dominates the golfing fraternity. Whether this is customary or the practical aspect of visibility that influences the choice for white, it’s worthwhile finding out.
Modern fluorescent balls are equally competitive in degrees of visibility. So, what’s the story of a white golf ball?
Top Golfers Choose White Golf Balls
There are more than 60 million golfers across the world, and the game’s history is as much about the clubs that golfers belong to, the golfing fraternity, and definitely about the golf ball. Over 500 years since the sport started, the golf ball has been designed and developed, from handmade to technically perfect.
The white golf ball’s design is for visibility, and the choice of color has been white for almost half a millennium. Today’s balls’ design is about aerodynamics too, but visibility matters.
There are different types of balls, hard and soft, for varying levels of golfers’ ability – professional, amateur, leisure, and beginner golfers. The white ball always stands out. To learn more about the construction of golf balls, check out this post, What Are Golf Balls Made Of?
Whether watching tournaments on the big screen or sitting at a club looking at players come in at the 18th hole, the golf balls played with are predominantly white.
In speaking to golfers, it is quick to make an assessment. Yes, white is the color of choice for golf balls. The white balls are the most specific and unchanging aspect of this game. Golfing attire and equipment (golf clubs, kit/bag, markers, gloves, etc.) are part of a golfers’ paraphernalia, yet the color white for the golf ball is the most fixed of all.
The classic golfers’ stance is synonymous with this world-famous sport too. Golfing clothing and even prestigious affiliations to clubs make the sport a tradition. This tradition has influenced the manners and mannerisms of golfers’ choices for their golfing apparel, gear, and kit.
These items like the white golf balls are a shorthand description for the game.
White Golf Balls Tradition
Interestingly, professional golfers choose to play with a white ball worldwide. Speculation is that professionals associate white balls with golf and that this choice is due to the history and tradition of the sport.
Nonetheless, whether it’s tradition or conservatism, the selection of white golf balls remains firmly established due to the game’s entrenched history.
What is known is that the ball’s color does not indicate the kind of game that you’ll play:
- The color of the ball will not affect your tee-off, shot, or putt.
- The color of a golf ball does not affect the speed or trajectory path of the ball.
- Using a white golf ball will not necessarily make a champion golfer.
To sum up, there’s no difference between white and yellow golf balls in terms of performance.
The most apparent indication of why golf balls are white is the white balls’ visibility. Visibility is essential in golf, whether checking on the flight trajectory or where the ball lands, especially when considering how many golf balls are lost each year.
It’s not as much about finding the balls (though this matters), but professionals depend on following the flight of the ball for successes in championships.
Although there’s been an uptake in buying colored balls, the white ball is still the top choice. Even leisure players will use white balls. Even though the stigma that yellow golf balls were made for the driving range or high-handicap golfers is no longer a thing, amateur golfers also play competitively with white golf balls.
It is primarily older golfers who buy yellow or fluorescent balls for visibility. I must admit that I play regularly with a yellow ball in winter as I see it better in gray skies or when playing golf in the rain. But, I’m old!
Some pros, such as Bubba Watson, have experimented with a pink ball to go with his pink club. However, Bubba has now switched back to a white ball, the Titleist Pro V1x.
Nonetheless, some sports have broken with the white ball tradition. Tennis switched to yellow balls years ago, and now in Great Britain, yellow footballs are used between November and February in several professional soccer leagues. Again, visibility is the issue here, not performance.
Beginner Golfers Stay With White Balls
Chatting to a group of newbie golfers, I was amazed how many of them did not even flinch for a moment when asked what color ball they preferred. They said they were buying white balls as they were more used to playing with white.
Many have looked at the newer designed golf balls on the market. These are balls that have been designed and manufactured in the most technologically advanced ways. Some white balls have funky icons and decorative emblems. But still, the highest amount of golf balls sold is all white.
The baskets full of jam-packed golf balls at many professional golfing shops are white balls, yet on specialist shelves, you’ll find two-tone balls in various colors. Some white golf balls have been inscribed with three lines for improved alignment when you putt or tee off. But still, it’s the color white that dominates.
Playing With White Golf Balls Is Strategic
More than just outright bias, the use of white golf balls is a strategic choice. Since the start of the game, this has been as the ball’s visibility in flight is paramount to knowing how well you are playing or where you need to improve.
As visibility matters, white golf balls are often compared with colored ones. Though white golf balls’ visibility is high, some modern fluorescent and more reflective balls have been rated for their observability in the sky after hitting.
Even so, white balls are still preferred – again for visibility and a somewhat loaded tradition.
Many a good golfer has said that it is essential to follow a ball’s flight in the air to where it lands and settles. A golfer needs to assess and plan for the next or future shots. Playing with a white ball is part of a golfer’s strategy to play well and win.
The First White Golf Ball
The golf ball story starts with the game more than five hundred years ago. Some even say this sport dates back to Roman times, but it’s unsure if the balls were white then. These might even have been wooden.
From historical data and golfing memorabilia sold at high prices on auction worldwide, we know that the first golf balls were handmade by artisans who also played golf. The earliest ones were called hairy golf balls or ‘hairies.’ These were hand-sewn round leather balls filled with cows’ hair and straw.
The leather pouches later were improved by stuffing them with wet feathers. The pockets’ shape was like a ball, and the feather stuffing made balls firm and hard when they dried. In those early days, golfers could hit longer shots with these more solid balls.
The making of these balls took long hours, and they were therefore prized items. Golfers could not afford to lose them either. Artisans painted them white to be visible in the rough. It appears that from early on, golf balls were white. The white paint contrasted with the grass and vegetation, and it was easy to spot a ball.
Golfing Decorum And The White Ball
The white golf ball lies at the heart of this 500-year-old game. Whether the mystique of carrying on this age-old tradition still influences the choice of color white for a golf ball is curious. But as the game has a link with the prestigious St. Andrews in Scotland, it’s not impossible that playing with a white ball is a tradition too.
Golf balls are as much part of the game’s history as the place where this game historically started. The use of white golf balls in golf, like the rules and conventions of the game, stems from the sport’s birthplace. Almost as if playing with a white golf ball is part of the rule book.
Related: Why Golf Courses Have 18 Holes
Some golfers are superstitious and won’t want to go against accepted norms, values, and customs associated with golf and its early origins. The use of white golf balls, especially in top tournaments, suggests that professional golfers will not willy-nilly break this traditional pattern.
A snap survey amongst golfers was a uniform vote favoring the white golf ball. Not only do they say their choice is for visibility. But they say they associated the game with white balls. Colored ones might make a good gift, but they rarely want to bind themselves to a color choice.
The size of a golf ball is regulated, but the color is not. Yet the color white has remained the number one choice for a golf ball. Professional players, amateur, and even leisure players choose white balls over colored ones.
What matters, and the white golf ball ticks the boxes is visibility and to follow the ball’s trajectory. From professionals to amateurs and leisure players, the visibility of a golf ball in flight is strategic too. Golfers plan and strategize by using the flight path when determining how to improve their game.