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What Are Illegal Golf Balls?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many golf organizations regulate the use of golf balls in tournament play. In the United States, the United States Golf Association (USGA) sets these requirements. Balls that do not conform to these specifications are known as illegal golf balls, but can still be used by members of the public for recreational play. They can often be purchased at sporting goods stores and may be marketed as an advanced type of ball.

The USGA requires that golf balls used in tournament play be at least 1.68 inches (4.27 cm) in diameter. Maximum weight of these balls is 1.62 ounces (45.93 g). Illegal golf balls are typically smaller in diameter yet heavier than regulation balls.

Velocity refers to how fast an object moves in a particular direction. Regulation golf balls can not have a velocity of more than 250 feet per second (76.25 meters per second). The weight and size of the ball, as well as its overall construction, determines velocity. Illegal golf balls typically have a velocity much higher than that of standard golf balls.

illegal golf balls

People who use illegal golf balls often find they are able to hit the ball anywhere from 20 to 25 yards (18.2 to 22.75 m) farther than if they had used regulation balls. That is because these golf balls are designed to fly higher, which in turn maximizes distance. Golfers often find it difficult to put the ball into the hole once it is on the green because it is difficult to spin these balls.

Although they may not be used by professional golfers, illegal golf balls can be purchased by the public and are often used for recreational play. These golf balls are often advertised to give a golfer extra distance. For this reason, many people buy this golf equipment without realizing they are outlawed by the USGA.

Illegal golf balls often look similar to those that meet USGA standards. Like those balls, they are normally white but can also be bright colors. They normally come in boxes that contain around one dozen golf balls.

Golf instructors often advise clients against using illegal golf balls. This is because they can make players feel like they have gained distance on their swing when in fact they have not. The extra distance is usually lost whenever play resumes with regulation balls. People who are unsure whether or not they are playing with USGA sanctioned golf balls should ask a professional in order to be sure they are choosing the correct ones.

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Discussion Comments

By Izzy78 — On Feb 17, 2012

@titans62 - Of course you can use an illegal golf ball anytime you wish to play golf as long as you are not using it in a tournament.

Although some people would deem it as being dishonest, if someone is just out to play a round of golf and is merely looking to have a good time, with little or if anything on the line to play, one could use an illegal ball, an illegal club, range finders, or whatever they want just to use them.

I even know instances in which people that are playing for money agree beforehand that they can use illegal golf balls as this eliminates the worry that someone is going to cheat and put the other player at a disadvantage.

I find this to be quite interesting as high stakes gamblers with golf will do this so often as that it becomes part of the art of gambling and golf, but does show some insight into how far people will go to outplay or sometimes out cheat their competitors.

By titans62 — On Feb 16, 2012

I know for years that when player splayed in the British Open they used a slightly smaller golf ball that would be deemed illegal in the United States, but the ball was legal over there during that tournament.

I know that anymore the specifications on determining the legality of golf balls is pretty much standard and understood across the board, but I wonder if there are in fact places where you can use a ball that may be deemed illegal by the USGA or other governing golf bodies of the world that decide these things.

I am just wondering because balls that add extra distance are fun to hit and if I am just out playing golf for fun and I have nothing on the line I do not see the problem in playing a ball that would be deemed as being illegal in tournament play.

Sounds to me like I would not get in trouble or have anything to lose if I were to choose this route, but I am just wondering.

By TreeMan — On Feb 16, 2012

@Emilski - Well to answer both your questions, I do know a couple instances in which pros have used a prototype ball that was not yet approved for tournament play and they were disqualified for doing so, despite the ball later being deemed to be legal.

Anymore pros would not even attempt to play with an illegal ball and make sure that they do not even make a mistake of doing so. The penalty for knowingly cheating on the PGA Tour is banishment for life and that is definitely something that a golf pro is not going to risk.

As far as figuring out whether or not a ball is illegal, I know the USGA provides sheets to the players on what balls are illegal and legal and I am sure that somewhere on their website they provide a link to show this for the normal golfer just participating in a local tournament.

By Emilski — On Feb 15, 2012

After reading this article I have wonder exactly how one determines whether or not a golf ball is deemed illegal or not.

I have used golf balls in the past that I did not know were illegal in tournament play until someone saw what ball I was using and noted that point of information to me.

I know that it seems like it would be easy to notice if a ball is illegal due to the distance difference, but when one is playing golf they sometimes assume that if they are hitting the ball a little farther they are simply hitting the ball well that day.

I wonder if there is a website out there that describes what balls are legal or illegal and if there are instances in which even pros have confused what ball they are using and wound up using an illegal ball.

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