Golf Ball Rules and Conformance Testing - Q&A

What are the specifications relating to the golf ball? What is the List of Conforming Golf Balls? Do practice and refurbished golf balls conform to the Rules? Claire Bates (Assistant Director – Equipment Standards) explains…

What are the Rules on golf balls?

Rule 5 requires players to use golf balls which conform to the Rules of Golf, and all of the applicable specifications can be found in Appendix III. These Rules are generally concerned with limiting the performance of the ball – i.e. how far it can travel and how much energy is lost during impact. There are also limits on minimum size, maximum weight and the ball must be designed to be symmetrical.

In addition to the above performance related specifications, the ball is also required to be traditional and customary in form and make.

How do golfers know that their golf ball conforms to the Rules?

The truth is that most golfers probably don’t know for sure whether their golf ball conforms, but they generally trust that it does. They trust that manufacturers are only producing and selling products which conform to the Rules.

For the most part, manufacturers do only produce products which conform to the Rules.

The added wrinkle is that, for competitions involving expert golfers (e.g. at the professional or elite amateur game), the golf ball the player uses must not only conform to the Rules of Golf, but it must also appear on the List of Conforming Golf Balls. This is a condition of competition that can be introduced by the Committee (see the Note to Rule 5-1 and Appendix I, Part C, 1b).

Could you explain more about the purpose of the List of Conforming Golf Balls and the associated condition?

The existence of the Conforming Ball condition and the List of Conforming Golf Balls provides an added layer of comfort to those Committees in charge of elite level events, as it helps to ensure that the balls being used have been submitted for testing and they have been determined to conform. Without this condition and without the List, there would be no way of knowing for sure, and in a timely fashion, whether or not a ball conforms to the Rules should a query or claim be raised.

While it is generally possible to tell whether a golf club conforms to the Rules on inspection or by performing various tests available in the field, it is impossible to determine just by looking at a ball whether or not it conforms to the Rules.

How do balls get listed?

In order for a ball to appear on the Conforming List, two dozen samples must be submitted for testing, together with a completed submission form and the appropriate payment.

Assuming all of this paperwork is in order, the product is then logged into our system and allocated a decision reference number. One of our main challenges with golf balls is that, outwardly, the sole method of distinguishing one model of ball from another is via the markings which have been printed onto the cover. With this in mind, before a ball can be accepted for testing, the identification markings must be inspected to ensure that they are unique and that they are clearly identifiable by description and colour alone.

Once this processing is completed, the product goes on to be tested for size, weight, initial velocity, overall distance and symmetry. All of our test protocols for these tests can be found here. All tests conducted on balls submitted to The R&A are carried out by the United States Golf Association.

Assuming that the ball satisfies the requirements set forth within these test protocols and the requirement that it is deemed to be of traditional form and make, the ball will be included on the next updated List.

How long does this process take?

The whole process, from start to finish, usually takes about six weeks, but can take longer during busier times. Manufacturers receive a schedule of deadline dates at the start of the annual cycle.

The List is updated on the first Wednesday of every month and can be accessed here

All being equal, a model of golf ball remains on the List for a year. In order for a model to remain on the List longer, the manufacturer is required to resubmit further samples using the same submission process as before. If the manufacturer decides not to resubmit, the ball expires from the List, but it would still be presumed to be a conforming ball (see below).

What is the status of a ball which is not on the List?

The following flowchart should help answer this question:

Conforming Balls

It should be remember that even if a ball is “presumed to conform”, if it is not on the Conforming List, then it must not be used in any competitions where the condition is in use. The ball may be used in all events where the condition is not in use, e.g. Club level medals and competitions.

How does the List cope with customised markings?

We are aware that there are many ways in which a golfer can obtain customised balls. They can be purchased as souvenirs from trips, they can be gifts from suppliers or they may have been personalised - with a decorative image, initials or name. The balls sometimes used by Tiger Woods have the name “Tiger” printed on the seam; Ryo Ishikawa has sometimes had an image of his face!

In general, such logos are not regarded as identification markings – and the ball would be considered to be the same model of ball as that included on the List.

What is the status of “X-out,” “refurbished” and “practice” balls?

Decision 5-1/4 in Decisions on the Rules of Golf provides the answer to this question as follows:

“X-out” is the common name used for a golf ball that a manufacturer considers to be imperfect (usually for aesthetic reasons only, e.g., paint or printing errors) and, therefore, has crossed out the brand name. A “refurbished” golf ball is a second-hand ball that has been cleaned and stamped as “refurbished.”

In the absence of strong evidence to suggest that an “X-out” or “refurbished” ball does not conform to the Rules, it is permissible for such a ball to be used. However, in a competition where the Committee has adopted the condition that the ball the player plays must be named on the List of Conforming Golf Balls (see Note to Rule 5-1), such a ball may not be used, even if the ball in question (without the X’s or without the “refurbished” stamp) does appear on the List.

In most cases, “practice” balls are simply listed, conforming golf balls that have been stamped “Practice,” in the same way that golf balls often feature a club or company logo. Such balls may be used even where the Committee has adopted the condition that the ball the player plays must be named on the List of Conforming Golf Balls.

If the same model of ball is produced with different coloured covers, are they considered to be the same ball?

While the design and construction of the ball may be the same, for the purpose of the Conforming List, these balls are considered to be different models and, as such, they are listed separately. This is only really relevant for competitions when, not only is the Conforming Ball condition in use, but also the One Ball Condition.

The One Ball condition requires the player to play with the same model of ball, as detailed by a single entry on the List, during a stipulated round.

For further information on how to submit golf balls for testing, please click here.