Finding your perfect ball starts with our 2021 golf ball Hot List. 

Matching a golfer to the right golf ball, as much as we would like to help, is largely your responsibility. Working with a qualified fitter is a good place to start: launch-monitor data can reveal differences here and there with a driver, iron and wedge. However, the most airtight way to identify the ball that complements your game best is out on a golf course or, better yet, at a short-game practice area where you can figure out if a performance feature resonates with you. That is precisely what tour players do, and it is primarily what we do in determining the golf ball Hot List, our guide to the balls that you should focus on when starting the buying process.

We considered 85 balls for this year’s Hot List, and the 28 entries that earned our highest marks (which includes a combined total of 45 balls) show that plenty of golf balls work exceptionally well. 

The best one for you, though, goes beyond our recommendations and rests squarely in your hands. 

“We believe golf balls should be fit by the customer’s spin needs within 150 yards,” says Bo Hodnett of Golf Tech, a Golf Digest Best Clubfitter in Plano, Texas. “It’s not uncommon for us to send a customer out to test golf balls within 150 yards, and then we might re-fit the driver based on that ball.” 

Still, there is no doubt that launch-monitor numbers provide direction. Those numbers have shown us that there is a distinct difference between two kinds of golf-ball designs. That’s why this year, we’re separating our list into two categories: Urethane Cover and Non-Urethane Cover. Our data from players and robot testing by Golf Laboratories using the Foresight GC Quad launch monitor indicates that with short-wedge shots, urethane-cover balls, which are the construction played exclusively by tour players, have an advantage in spin. 

Will average golfers notice those differences? Our research in that area is less clear. This is why we believe you should find the ball that appeals to you the most on short shots (assuming there is one) and then make sure it doesn’t compromise any other shots from tee to green. In the end, it’s the shot that matters most to you – off the tee and into, around and on the green – that should dictate which is the right ball for you. As always, let our Hot List help you start that process.

One other change this year: our star ratings now reflect three scores that comprise the total evaluation of each entry. Performance accounts for 65 percent of the score and is based on player evaluations of golf balls (with all identifying marks blacked out) and an analysis of robot testing by Golf Laboratories using Foresight GC Quad launch monitors. Innovation, representing 30 percent of the score, is our assessment of each ball’s technology, manufacturing rigour and sophistication, as well as the company’s commitment to ball-fitting. Demand, based on our review of market success and consumer enthusiasm, accounts for 5 percent of the score.

Each star rating is relative to the ball category. For example, a five-star rating in Non-Urethane Cover balls does not equal a five-star rating in Urethane Cover balls. In reality, all scores were consistently higher in the Urethane Cover ball category. Finally, this year, we have a Feel assessment, which is not a score but a description of the relative softness or firmness of each ball on the list.