The Invisible Advancements
A look inside Titleist’s Ball Plant 4
When golfers talk about golf balls, more often than not, the word Titleist comes up, specifically its premium ball, the Pro V1 and V1x. Since 2001, the evolution of each version of the Pro V1 and V1x has seen it become the number one choice golf ball for professionals on tour, elite amateurs and many club golfers. Ball technology has come a long way since the days of the humble gutta percha. But unlike club technology where technological advances are mostly visible to the golfer, the technological advances in a golf ball are not visible. To all golfers, a golf ball still looks round, white and dimpled, belying the technological improvements under the white dimpled cover.
So what does it take for Titleist to make their flagship ball better and better each time? Recently, Golf Asia “braved” a long bus ride about an hour and a half to two hours from Bangkok to a non-descript looking industrial area to find out. We had come to Titleist’s “Area 51”, where upon arrival we were to surrender our cameras and mobile phones before we were led into the heart of one of Titleist’s Pro V1 and V1x ball manufacturing plants. It is inside this over 25,000sqm Ball Plant 4 that also houses a 300+ workforce, where the ubiquitous golf ball is manufactured to Titleist’s highest and strictest quality standards.
We bring you some history, fun facts and a look at how the number 1 golf ball is made. We also have a quick Q& A with the man responsible for the quality and performance of the Pro V ball, Bill Frye, Titleist’s Senior Vice President of Golf Ball Operations.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The Titleist brand started with a vision… and an x-ray. The Titleist success story began one Sunday in 1932, when Phil Young, a dedicated amateur golfer and owner of a precision moulded rubber company, Acushnet Process Company, missed a well-stroked putt in a match with his friend, who was head of the x-ray department at a local hospital. Convinced that the ball itself was at fault, Young and his opponent went to the hospital, x-rayed the golf ball in question and found that its core was, in fact, off-centre.
With his discovery, Phil Young persuaded Fred Bommer, a fellow MIT graduate, rubber specialist and avid golfer, to head up the Acushnet Golf Division. They set out to develop the highest quality and best performing golf ball in the world, one that
would be uniform and consistent in quality, ball after ball.
It took Young and Bommer three painstaking years to perfect the first Titleist golf ball. But when it was ready in 1935, it was introduced to club professionals and golfers as the best ball ever made. Applying a lesson well learned, Young implemented a process check that is still in practice today: every Titleist golf ball is x-rayed.
TITLEIST PRO V1 & PRO V1x GOLF BALL PRODUCTION PROCESS 1. Core Mixing
The core makes up the centre and largest component of every Pro V and V1x golf ball. It is the engine, comprised of a highresiliency rubber composition. The core of each ball model utilizes a specific set of chemical ingredients. Once selected, those ingredients are blended together to produce a block of rubber that is then heated, pressed, and rolled out into sheets. A unique colour is also mixed into the ingredients of each core for easy identification. The dark green core signifies the formulation of the Pro V1. The inner core of the Pro V1x is red, while the outer core is purple.
2. Core Moulding
Portions of the sheet are cut into blanks. The blanks are then compression moulded at high temperatures using Titleist’s innovative ZG Process.
3. Core Grinding
The core emerges from the moulds with a small rubber seam that is then ground, resulting in a perfectly round centre.
4. Casing Layer
A thin, clear ionomeric casing layer is then moulded around the core. This casing layer protects the core from moisture and helps increase speed and control spin. After going through the grinding process once more, the moulded core is ready for Titleist’s patented cast urethane process.
5. Urethane Cover
The soft urethane elastomer cover system on both Pro V1 and Pro V1x is created by a chemical reaction that takes place during the sophisticated casting process. Specific liquid materials, precisely formulated for the Pro V1 and Pro V1x, are combined in the ball plant and react to form the solid cover. This urethane is termed "thermoset," meaning that the cover, once formed, will not re-melt.
Thermoset urethane is very difficult to work with, but provides complete control of the chemical composition, allowing Titleist R&D to dial in desired properties of spin control, softness and durability.
From there, mould cavities are used to form the urethane elastomer cover and dimple pattern on each ball. Tens of thousands of mould cavities are needed to supply the Pro V1 and Pro V1x urethane casting lines. In order to achieve ball-to ball consistency, it is crucial that every
mould cavity produces the same result. To guarantee this level of precision, the Operations team manufactures the cavities and the tooling used to make the cavities (called “hobs”) in-house. An investment in new equipment to make the master hobs for the 2017 models has provided even tighter tolerances.
6. Removing the Casts
Once the curing of the urethane elastomer cover is complete, the golf balls are removed from their moulds with an unfinished, white matte appearance.
The golf balls make their way to a buffing machine via a series of metal channels running along the ceiling of the ball plant. Excess urethane on each ball is buffed out at this stage.
Three small tines hold each golf ball into place as it is spun at high speed. This allows a thin layer of paint to be applied. After two white coats, the balls are now ready to be stamped with the Titleist Script, as well as their ball number and sidestamp. Finally, a clear coat is applied that gives the ball its familiar shine.
9. Hand Checks
The finished product is hand-checked to ensure there are no ball defects, or marks or irregularities in the paint application process.
As the final step, harkening back to the roots of the Acushnet Company, each golf ball is X-rayed and measured by machine. This process checks the uniformity of the product, ensuring that any golf ball that does not pass the Titleist standards are removed from the line. Once passed, the golf balls are then sent to the Acushnet Company’s packaging and distribution facility.
Completed Pro V1 ball
Liquid materials of the urethane elastomer cover being poured into outer casing mould cavities