Analyzing Consumer Reports’ Analysis of Golf Balls

Consumer Reports May 2006 cover story touts their “exclusive test” purporting to reveal the best golf balls.I borrowed a copy from my school’s library and have spent several hours reading and thinking about their golf ball analysis.

On the surface, it seems pretty straightforward. Consumer Reports used an Iron Byron to whack their test golf balls with an eight iron, and a driver. Two driver speeds were used: 90 mph to represent the amateurs, and 110 mph to represent the pros.

Each model of ball was hit a total of 48 times. Twelve swings with an eight iron, and 24 with a driver adds up to 36, so they must also have hit the eight iron shots twice—but they don’t say so. Perhaps they also hit those at two swing speeds.

Consumer Reports says that the balls’ flights were recorded using Doppler Radar, and that the ball speed, launch angle and spin were recorded. They also recorded the ball’s carry distance and its total distance.

They boiled much of this data down to two ratings: Distance with a driver, and spin with an eight iron.

And here’s where I find the major flaw in their report. There’s an awful lot of information that they just leave out.

Why did they only rate driver distance? I am just as interested in how far a ball travels off an iron as off a driver. And if they recorded data on carry and roll, why didn’t they report on it? It is important to me to know how long a ball stays in the air off the tee. Further, why aren’t we told about the launch angle and spin rate off the driver? They claim to have recorded the data, so why not report on it?

They were a little more forthcoming on the accuracy stats, reporting on the deviation from center for both the driver and eight iron.

But the accuracy is only for left and right drift. There is nothing on the distance control aspect of accuracy, which is tied into launch angle.

I also question their “soft feel” rating. To do this, they had a panel of experts putt with each ball, and rate its perceived softness as compared to very hard and very soft reference balls.

It’s nice to know how a ball feels when putted. But that is hardly the full story on feel. I think you also have to consider how it feels coming off an iron and off the driver. Consumer Reports agrees, describing feel as “how hard or soft they seem when you hit, chip or putt them.”

But they only measured softness on putts. Why?

As usual, Consumer Reports also gave each golf ball an overall score. The score was based on how far it hit with a driver at 90 mph, how it felt to panelists when putting, how far it strayed from center with a driver and eight iron, and its 8 iron spin.

What we don’t know, however, is how they weighted these factors. Without knowing that, you can’t assess the value of the over all rating.

And I don’t agree that everyone wants a soft ball when putting. If you prefer a more firm feel, then the entire overall score becomes useless for you.

I (along with many others) have long believed that Consumer Reports has a political agenda (especially when it comes to the domestic auto industry). I am, therefore, suspicious of anything they do.

It would not surprise me to learn that they started with the thesis that cheap golf balls are just as good as the expensive one—and that they excluded any data that didn’t fit their thesis. That’s why we don’t see numbers on things such as eight iron distance, spin rates off the driver, and carry and roll.

But you don’t have putt with the GolfBlogger on the Grassy Knoll to know that these ratings are not at all useful. If you play golf seriously (and I have to assume that if you’re reading this site, you do), then even a quick perusal of the magazine on the newstands will reveal the weakness of the Consumer Reports analysis.

6 thoughts on “Analyzing Consumer Reports’ Analysis of Golf Balls”

  1. I found it a little lacking in the review also.  I wasn’t going to change from the primary 2 balls I play right now anyway (HX Hot and e5)—but I am interested in seeing a true comparison.

    But like I posed on the other entry about CR, I don’t trust the Golf magazines either.  Is the Digest “Hot List” anything other than where the marketing buzz and dollars are pointing to?  Anybody else do true unbiased reviews?

    And again, on the car thing, I agree CR is all BS—I don’t know why they have it in for GM, Ford and Chrysler—but it does appear biased—and does not jive with real world impressions of mine or the folks I know.

  2. I agree that the C.R. golf ball review is misleading. Which golf ball works best for an individual can only be determined by a variety of factors that they cannot generalize about. I’m a pretty good player, and I recently went to a fitter for a driver reshafting. His golf ball advice to me was to try the Noodle, Laddie, and Lady instead of the Pro V1 and HX Tour models. Yet, when I looked at the rating, the Noodle and the Laddie were “poorly” rated. This shows that the ratings in general are worthless to me.

  3. For me, Consumer Reports was a mental life-saver. You go into a golf store and see dozens and dozens of golf balls. All you know about them (if you haven’t played them), is their advertising. And don’t you think the manufacturers have more of an agenda than CR ??

    So where does a golfer turn to about the real performance of a golf ball? I know the CR report didn’t have everything in it a golfer could want. Yes, I prefer a harder ball to putt with because I have an insert in my putter – I need a harder ball to feel its feedback.

    But, if you want to score (I WAS a 6 handicap), it’s 150 yards in. I was using an NXT ball and after CR’s report came out I switched to Black Max. I’M NOW A 2 HANDICAP.

    The accuracy of a ball, which I never knew or considered, was killing my approach shots. With a more accurate ball, I’m getting closer to the flag and sinking more putts.

    The difference in accuracy can be as much as 15 feet with an eight iron – 15 feet !!!  Think how much lower you’ll score being that much closer to the pin.

    Anyways, I’m grateful to CR. They cut thru 90% of the advertising bullshit and hit the major qualities golfers are concerned about.

    Get the most accurate ball you can afford. That way you can’t blame the ball anymore smile

  4. For a guy who reads too many reviews about anything golf related, the CR thing was a blessing. I switched balls to the cheap green box Nike and cut four to five strokes my typical round. A slow-swinging golf partner of mine also switched to the CR recommendation and has seen marked improvement in his game and scores. I am also a 40-year veteran advertising guy, so I have a pretty good idea how much hype goes into most of the other so called unbiased reviews from various sources. Put it this way, I’ll trust CR’s less-than-perfect recommendations over all the rest…any day. They sure worked well for me.


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