Can Golf Balls Get Waterlogged? The Ultimate Guide

Mark Crossfield
33 Min Read

Golf balls are a critical component of any golfer’s game, but can they get waterlogged? Many golfers are concerned about how water exposure affects their balls, especially after those unfortunate shots that land in water hazards. Yes, golf balls can get waterlogged, which can significantly degrade their performance and alter their flight characteristics.

As you dive into this guide, you’ll uncover how water infiltrates golf balls, the impact on their performance, and effective strategies to prevent and address water damage. We’ll explore common myths, reveal the science behind waterlogging, and provide actionable tips to maintain your golf balls in peak condition. Stay with us to learn everything you need to know about keeping your game on track, no matter what the weather throws at you.

Key Facts:

  1. Golf balls can absorb water and become waterlogged.
  2. Waterlogging can significantly affect a golf ball’s performance.
  3. It takes as little as 6-12 hours for a golf ball to start showing signs of waterlogging.
  4. The protective coating on golf balls helps prevent water absorption but is not impermeable.
  5. Once waterlogged, a golf ball’s performance may never fully recover.

Can Golf Balls Get Waterlogged?

Yes, golf balls can indeed get waterlogged. This phenomenon occurs when water penetrates the protective outer layer of the ball and seeps into its core. While golf balls are designed to withstand various weather conditions, prolonged exposure to water can lead to absorption and eventual waterlogging.

The process of waterlogging is not instantaneous. It depends on several factors, including the quality of the ball, its age, and the duration of water exposure. High-quality, new golf balls with intact protective coatings are more resistant to water absorption. However, even these balls can succumb to waterlogging if left submerged for extended periods.

Understanding the potential for waterlogging is crucial for golfers of all skill levels. It affects not only the ball’s performance but also your game strategy, especially when playing on courses with numerous water hazards.

Material Composition of Golf Balls

The construction of a golf ball plays a significant role in its susceptibility to waterlogging. Modern golf balls typically consist of several layers:

  1. Cover: The outermost layer, usually made of urethane or ionomer.
  2. Mantle: One or more intermediate layers that affect spin and control.
  3. Core: The center of the ball, often made of rubber or synthetic materials.

Each of these components has different properties when it comes to water resistance. The cover is designed to be water-resistant, but it’s not completely waterproof. Over time, especially if the cover is damaged, water can penetrate through to the inner layers.

Water Absorption and Porosity

Golf balls are slightly porous, which means they can absorb water over time. This porosity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows for the compression of the ball upon impact, contributing to its performance. On the other hand, it makes the ball susceptible to water absorption when submerged.

The rate of water absorption depends on various factors:

  • Ball Quality: Higher-quality balls often have better water resistance.
  • Age of the Ball: Older balls with worn covers are more prone to absorption.
  • Water Temperature: Warmer water may accelerate the absorption process.
  • Pressure: Deeper water exerts more pressure, potentially increasing absorption.

Key Takeaway: While golf balls are designed to resist water, they are not impervious to it. Understanding their composition and porosity can help you make informed decisions about ball usage and storage.

Factors Affecting Waterlogging

Several factors contribute to the waterlogging of golf balls:

  1. Exposure Time: The longer a ball is submerged, the more likely it is to become waterlogged. As mentioned earlier, signs of waterlogging can appear in as little as 6-12 hours.
  2. Ball Condition: Balls with scratches, cuts, or worn surfaces are more susceptible to water penetration.
  3. Water Depth: Balls in deeper water are under more pressure, which can force water into the ball more quickly.
  4. Temperature: Extreme temperatures can affect the ball’s materials, potentially making them more porous.
  5. Ball Construction: Multi-layer balls may be more resistant to waterlogging than single-layer balls.

Understanding these factors can help golfers make better decisions about when to retrieve balls from water hazards and when it might be better to consider them lost.

How Golf Balls Become Waterlogged

The process of a golf ball becoming waterlogged is gradual but can have significant impacts on its performance. Let’s delve into the specifics of how this occurs.

Protective Coating and Its Role

The protective coating on golf balls is the first line of defense against water absorption. This coating, typically made of urethane or ionomer, is designed to be water-resistant. It acts as a barrier, preventing water from seeping into the inner layers of the ball.

However, this coating is not impenetrable. Over time and with repeated use, the coating can wear down or develop microscopic cracks. These imperfections create entry points for water to penetrate the ball’s interior.

The effectiveness of the protective coating also depends on the quality of the ball. Premium golf balls often have more durable coatings that can withstand water exposure for longer periods. However, even the best coatings have their limits when subjected to prolonged submersion.

Impact of Cracks and Scrapes

Any damage to a golf ball’s surface significantly increases its vulnerability to waterlogging. Cracks, scrapes, and cuts on the ball’s cover provide direct pathways for water to enter the ball’s core. These imperfections can occur from:

  • Hitting hard surfaces like cart paths or rocks
  • Normal wear and tear from repeated use
  • Improper storage or handling

When a ball with surface damage is submerged in water, the absorption process accelerates. Water can quickly penetrate through these openings, bypassing the protective coating and reaching the more absorbent inner layers.

Tip: Regularly inspect your golf balls for visible damage. Discard or relegate balls with noticeable cracks or cuts to practice use to maintain optimal performance during your rounds.

Timeframe for Water Absorption

The timeframe for a golf ball to become waterlogged can vary, but it can start as quickly as 6 hours after submersion. However, the full effects of waterlogging may not be noticeable until after about 12 hours of continuous water exposure.

Here’s a general timeline of water absorption in golf balls:

  1. 0-6 hours: Minimal to no noticeable effects on performance
  2. 6-12 hours: Initial signs of water absorption may appear
  3. 12-24 hours: Significant water absorption, noticeable performance changes
  4. 24+ hours: Severe waterlogging, potentially irreversible damage

It’s important to note that these timeframes are approximate and can vary based on the factors we discussed earlier, such as ball quality, water temperature, and depth of submersion.

For a visual demonstration of how water affects golf balls over time, check out this informative video:

Golf Ball Water Test: How Long Until Performance Drops?

This video provides real-world testing of golf balls submerged in water, offering valuable insights into the effects of waterlogging on performance.

Effects of Waterlogging on Golf Ball Performance

When a golf ball becomes waterlogged, its performance characteristics change significantly. These changes can have a profound impact on your game, affecting everything from distance to accuracy.

Changes in Distance and Accuracy

Waterlogged golf balls typically experience a noticeable decrease in both distance and accuracy. This reduction in performance is primarily due to the added weight from water absorption and the alteration of the ball’s core properties.

Here’s how waterlogging affects distance and accuracy:

  1. Reduced Distance: The extra weight from absorbed water makes the ball heavier, reducing the initial velocity off the clubface. This leads to shorter drives and approach shots.
  2. Lowered Ball Flight: Waterlogged balls tend to have a lower trajectory due to the increased weight, resulting in less carry distance.
  3. Decreased Accuracy: The uneven distribution of absorbed water can cause the ball to fly erratically, making it harder to control direction.
  4. Inconsistent Performance: As the water moves around inside the ball during flight, it can cause unpredictable changes in direction and spin.

Key Takeaway: Even slightly waterlogged balls can significantly impact your game. A loss of just 5-10 yards on your drives can make a substantial difference in your approach shots and overall scoring.

Erratic Flight Patterns

One of the most frustrating effects of waterlogging is the erratic flight patterns it produces. A waterlogged golf ball may not follow the intended path, even when struck perfectly. This unpredictability can wreak havoc on your game, especially in crucial moments.

Factors contributing to erratic flight patterns include:

  • Uneven Weight Distribution: As water seeps into the ball, it may not distribute evenly, causing the ball to favor one side during flight.
  • Altered Spin Characteristics: Water absorption can change how the ball interacts with the clubface, affecting spin rates and direction.
  • Compromised Core Integrity: If water reaches the core, it can alter its compression properties, leading to inconsistent energy transfer at impact.

These issues can result in hooks, slices, or unexpected drops in trajectory that wouldn’t occur with a dry ball.

Impact on Spin and Trajectory

Waterlogging significantly affects a golf ball’s spin rates and trajectory control. These changes can be particularly noticeable in your short game and approach shots where precise control is crucial.

Here’s how waterlogging impacts spin and trajectory:

  1. Reduced Backspin: Waterlogged balls typically generate less backspin, which can result in less stopping power on the greens.
  2. Inconsistent Sidespin: The uneven distribution of water can cause unpredictable sidespin, making it challenging to shape shots intentionally.
  3. Lower Launch Angle: The added weight often results in a lower launch angle, affecting your ability to clear obstacles or land softly on the green.
  4. Decreased Lift: With altered aerodynamics due to water absorption, the ball may not achieve the same lift during flight, leading to a more pronounced ballistic trajectory.

To illustrate these effects, consider the following comparison table:

Performance AspectDry Golf BallWaterlogged Golf Ball
Distance100% (Baseline)90-95% of baseline
AccuracyHighInconsistent
Spin ControlPredictableUnpredictable
TrajectoryNormalLower, more ballistic
ConsistencyHighLow

This table clearly shows the potential performance degradation caused by waterlogging, emphasizing the importance of using dry, well-maintained golf balls.

Detecting Waterlogged Golf Balls

Identifying waterlogged golf balls is crucial for maintaining your game’s consistency and performance. While the effects of waterlogging can be subtle at first, there are several methods you can use to detect whether your golf balls have absorbed water.

Visual Inspection Techniques

The first step in detecting waterlogged golf balls is a thorough visual inspection. While not all signs of waterlogging are visible to the naked eye, there are some telltale indicators to look out for:

  1. Discoloration: Look for any unusual discoloration or dark spots on the ball’s surface. These can indicate areas where water has penetrated.
  2. Swelling: In severe cases, waterlogged balls may appear slightly larger or feel “puffy” compared to dry balls.
  3. Surface Texture Changes: The dimples on a waterlogged ball might appear less defined or “smoother” than usual.
  4. Visible Damage: Check for cracks, cuts, or abrasions on the ball’s surface. While these don’t necessarily mean the ball is waterlogged, they increase the likelihood of water absorption.

Tip: Compare suspected waterlogged balls with new ones of the same brand and model. This side-by-side comparison can help you spot subtle differences in appearance and feel.

Performance Indicators

Changes in a golf ball’s performance are often the most noticeable signs of waterlogging. If you suspect a ball might be waterlogged, pay attention to these performance indicators:

  1. Reduced Distance: If you’re consistently coming up short on shots where you usually reach the target, it could be a sign of waterlogging.
  2. Unusual Ball Flight: Waterlogged balls may have erratic flight patterns, hooking or slicing more than usual, or dropping out of the air sooner than expected.
  3. Different Sound at Impact: A waterlogged ball might produce a “duller” sound when struck compared to a dry ball.
  4. Inconsistent Spin: You may notice the ball doesn’t stop on the green as quickly as it should or doesn’t respond to spin as expected.
  5. Feel on Impact: Waterlogged balls often feel “heavier” or “dead” when struck, lacking the usual crisp feel of a dry ball.

Testing for Water Absorption

For a more definitive test of water absorption, you can try these methods:

  1. Float Test:
  • Fill a glass with salt water (salt increases the water’s density).
  • Place the suspected waterlogged ball in the water.
  • If the ball floats with most of its surface above water, it’s likely dry.
  • If it sinks or only a small portion remains above water, it may be waterlogged.
  1. Weight Test:
  • Use a precise scale to weigh the suspected ball.
  • Compare its weight to a new ball of the same model.
  • A significant weight difference (more than 1-2 grams) could indicate waterlogging.
  1. Bounce Test:
  • Drop the ball from a consistent height onto a hard surface.
  • Compare the bounce height with a new ball.
  • Waterlogged balls typically bounce lower due to the added weight and altered core properties.
  1. Squeeze Test:
  • Gently squeeze the ball between your thumb and forefinger.
  • A waterlogged ball may feel softer or more pliable than a dry ball.
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Remember, these tests are not foolproof, and slight variations can occur even among dry balls. However, they can provide useful indicators when combined with visual inspection and performance observations.

By regularly checking your golf balls for signs of waterlogging, you can ensure that you’re always playing with equipment that will perform as expected, helping you maintain consistency in your game.

Can Waterlogged Golf Balls Be Repaired?

When faced with waterlogged golf balls, many golfers wonder if there’s a way to salvage them. The answer isn’t straightforward, and it depends on several factors. Let’s explore the possibilities and limitations of repairing waterlogged golf balls.

Manufacturer’s Recommendations

Most golf ball manufacturers do not recommend attempting to repair waterlogged balls. This stance is based on several factors:

  1. Performance Integrity: Once water has penetrated the ball’s core, it’s challenging to restore its original performance characteristics.
  2. Quality Control: Manufacturers can’t guarantee the performance of a ball that has been waterlogged and subsequently dried.
  3. Potential Damage: Attempts to dry or repair waterlogged balls could potentially cause further damage to the ball’s structure.

Leading golf ball manufacturers like Titleist, Callaway, and TaylorMade generally advise against using balls that have been submerged for extended periods. They recommend replacing waterlogged balls to ensure consistent performance.

Drying Techniques and Their Effectiveness

Despite manufacturer recommendations, some golfers attempt to dry out waterlogged balls. Here are some common techniques and their potential effectiveness:

  1. Air Drying:
  • Method: Leave the ball in a dry, warm place for several days.
  • Effectiveness: May remove some moisture but unlikely to fully restore performance.
  1. Rice Method:
  • Method: Bury the ball in uncooked rice for 24-48 hours.
  • Effectiveness: Can absorb some surface moisture but doesn’t address water in the core.
  1. Heat Drying:
  • Method: Use low heat (e.g., from a hairdryer) to dry the ball.
  • Effectiveness: Potentially dangerous as it can damage the ball’s structure and is not recommended.
  1. Desiccant Packets:
  • Method: Store balls with silica gel packets.
  • Effectiveness: May help prevent further moisture absorption but won’t reverse existing damage.

Key Takeaway: While these methods might remove some moisture, they’re unlikely to fully restore a waterlogged ball to its original condition. The internal damage caused by water absorption often remains.

When to Replace a Waterlogged Golf Ball

The safest and most effective approach is to replace waterlogged golf balls. Here are some guidelines on when to make this decision:

  1. Visible Damage: If the ball shows clear signs of water damage or has been submerged for more than 12 hours, it’s best to replace it.
  2. Performance Issues: If you notice consistent problems with distance, accuracy, or flight patterns, it’s time for a new ball.
  3. Important Rounds: For competitive play or important rounds, always use new or known dry balls to ensure optimal performance.
  4. Cost Consideration: While it might seem economical to try and salvage waterlogged balls, consider the potential impact on your game. The cost of a new ball is often worth the performance consistency it provides.
  5. Frequency of Water Contact: If your ball frequently ends up in water hazards, it’s better to replace it after each significant water exposure rather than risking diminished performance.
  6. Age of the Ball: Older balls that have been waterlogged are less likely to recover and should be replaced more readily than newer ones.

Remember, golf is a game of precision, and using compromised equipment can significantly impact your performance. It’s generally better to err on the side of caution and replace a ball if you suspect it’s waterlogged.

Prevention Tips for Waterlogging

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of waterlogging, especially if you frequently play on courses with water hazards, there are several strategies you can employ to minimize the chances of your golf balls becoming waterlogged.

Avoiding Water Hazards

The most obvious way to prevent waterlogging is to avoid water hazards altogether. While this isn’t always possible, here are some tips to reduce the frequency of water landings:

  1. Course Management: Plan your shots to minimize risk. Sometimes laying up short of a water hazard is smarter than trying to clear it.
  2. Know Your Limits: Be realistic about your abilities. Don’t attempt shots over water that are at the edge of your range.
  3. Wind Awareness: Pay attention to wind direction and strength, especially around water hazards. Adjust your club selection and aim accordingly.
  4. Use the Right Ball: In windy conditions or on courses with many water hazards, consider using a ball designed for better control rather than maximum distance.

Proper Storage and Maintenance

How you store and maintain your golf balls can significantly impact their resistance to water absorption:

  1. Dry Storage: Always store your golf balls in a cool, dry place. Avoid leaving them in damp areas like garages or car trunks.
  2. Clean and Dry After Play: If your balls get wet during a round, clean and thoroughly dry them as soon as possible after play.
  3. Rotate Your Stock: Use a first-in, first-out system for your golf balls. This ensures you’re not using older balls that might have degraded over time.
  4. Inspect Regularly: Before each round, inspect your balls for any signs of damage that could make them more susceptible to water absorption.

Tip: Consider using a dehumidifier in your golf equipment storage area to maintain a dry environment for your balls and other gear.

Using Water-Resistant Golf Balls

Some golf ball manufacturers offer models with enhanced water resistance. While no golf ball is completely waterproof, these balls can provide an extra layer of protection:

  1. Urethane Covers: Balls with urethane covers often offer better water resistance compared to ionomer covers.
  2. Multi-Layer Construction: Many high-end, multi-layer balls have better overall durability, which can include improved water resistance.
  3. Specialized Coatings: Some manufacturers apply additional water-resistant coatings to their premium ball models.
  4. Consider the Trade-offs: Water-resistant balls might have different performance characteristics. Test them to ensure they suit your playing style.

Remember, even water-resistant balls can eventually become waterlogged if submerged for extended periods. They simply offer an extra buffer against short-term water exposure.

By implementing these prevention strategies, you can significantly reduce the risk of playing with waterlogged golf balls, ensuring more consistent performance on the course.

Myth vs. Reality

When it comes to waterlogged golf balls, there are numerous myths and misconceptions. Let’s separate fact from fiction to give you a clearer understanding of this issue.

Common Beliefs About Waterlogging

Many golfers hold certain beliefs about waterlogged golf balls that aren’t entirely accurate. Here are some common myths:

  1. Myth: Golf balls can’t get waterlogged.
    Reality: Golf balls can indeed absorb water and become waterlogged, especially when submerged for extended periods.
  2. Myth: A few minutes in water won’t affect a golf ball.
    Reality: While brief water exposure usually doesn’t cause significant damage, repeated or prolonged exposure can lead to waterlogging.
  3. Myth: All golf balls are completely waterproof.
    Reality: While golf balls are designed to resist water, they are not entirely waterproof and can absorb water over time.
  4. Myth: Waterlogged balls will always sink in water.
    Reality: Not all waterlogged balls will sink; the degree of water absorption can vary.
  5. Myth: You can fully restore a waterlogged ball by drying it out.
    Reality: While drying can remove some moisture, it often can’t reverse the internal changes caused by waterlogging.

Scientific Studies and Findings

Several studies have been conducted to understand the effects of water on golf balls. Here are some key findings:

  1. Performance Degradation: A study by Golf Laboratories, Inc. found that waterlogged golf balls can lose up to 5-10 yards in driving distance compared to new balls.
  2. Time Frame for Waterlogging: Research indicates that golf balls can start showing signs of waterlogging after 12 hours of submersion, with significant effects often visible after 24 hours.
  3. Recovery Rate: A study published in the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology found that while some performance aspects of waterlogged balls can improve after drying, they rarely return to their original performance levels.
  4. Impact on Different Ball Types: Research has shown that multi-layer, premium golf balls tend to be more resistant to waterlogging compared to two-piece, budget balls.
  5. Temperature Effects: Studies have indicated that warmer water temperatures can accelerate the waterlogging process.

Debunking Myths with Evidence

Let’s address some specific myths with evidence:

  1. Myth: “Golf balls found in water hazards are just as good as new ones.”
    Evidence: A study by Golfballnut.com tested balls submerged for months and found significant performance decreases, especially in distance and accuracy.
  2. Myth: “You can tell if a ball is waterlogged just by looking at it.”
    Evidence: While visual inspection can help, performance tests and weight measurements provide more reliable indicators of waterlogging.
  3. Myth: “Waterlogging only affects distance, not accuracy.”
    Evidence: Research has shown that waterlogging can affect both distance and accuracy due to changes in the ball’s weight distribution and core properties.
  4. Myth: “Drying a waterlogged ball in rice will fully restore it.”
    Evidence: While rice can absorb surface moisture, it doesn’t address the internal water absorption that affects performance.
  5. Myth: “Premium balls don’t get waterlogged.”
    Evidence: While premium balls may be more resistant, studies show that all types of golf balls can eventually become waterlogged if submerged long enough.

By understanding these scientific findings and debunking common myths, golfers can make more informed decisions about their equipment and how to handle water exposure. Remember, when in doubt, it’s often better to replace a potentially waterlogged ball than to risk inconsistent performance on the course.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

To address some of the most common queries about waterlogged golf balls, let’s dive into these frequently asked questions:

Q: How long can golf balls stay in water before they get damaged?
A: Golf balls can start showing signs of water damage in as little as 12 hours of submersion. However, significant performance degradation typically occurs after 24-48 hours of continuous water exposure. Factors such as water temperature, depth, and ball quality can affect this timeframe.

Q: Do golf balls get ruined if they sit in water?
A: Yes, golf balls can be ruined if they sit in water for extended periods. Prolonged water exposure can lead to water absorption, affecting the ball’s weight, balance, and core integrity. While brief contact with water (like rain or crossing a water hazard) usually doesn’t cause significant damage, extended submersion can permanently alter the ball’s performance characteristics.

Q: How can you tell if a golf ball is waterlogged?
A: There are several ways to detect a waterlogged golf ball:

  1. Visual inspection for discoloration or swelling
  2. Performance changes like reduced distance or erratic flight
  3. Weight comparison with a new ball of the same model
  4. Float test in salt water (waterlogged balls tend to sink more)
  5. Bounce test (waterlogged balls often bounce lower)
  6. Feel test (waterlogged balls may feel heavier or softer)

Q: What happens to golf balls that have been submerged in water?
A: When golf balls are submerged in water for extended periods:

  1. They absorb water through microscopic pores or damaged areas in the cover
  2. The absorbed water adds weight to the ball
  3. The ball’s core may become saturated, altering its compression characteristics
  4. Performance decreases, particularly in distance and accuracy
  5. The ball’s spin rates and flight characteristics can change
  6. In severe cases, the internal structure of the ball may be permanently altered

Q: Are used golf balls that have been in a pond still usable?
A: Used golf balls recovered from ponds can still be usable, but with caveats:

  1. Short-term submersion (a few hours to a day) usually doesn’t cause significant damage
  2. Balls submerged for weeks or months are likely to have performance issues
  3. The usability depends on the individual ball’s condition and the duration of submersion
  4. These balls may be suitable for practice but might not be ideal for competitive play
  5. Inspect recovered balls carefully for signs of damage or waterlogging before use
  6. Consider the potential impact on your game when deciding to use pond balls

Remember, while it might seem economical to use recovered pond balls, the potential inconsistency in performance could outweigh the cost savings, especially during important rounds or competitive play.

Summary

Waterlogging in golf balls is a real phenomenon that can significantly impact your game. As we’ve explored throughout this guide, golf balls can indeed become waterlogged when exposed to water for extended periods. This process begins as quickly as 6-12 hours after submersion and can lead to noticeable performance changes within 24 hours.

The effects of waterlogging on golf balls are far-reaching. From reduced distance and accuracy to erratic flight patterns and altered spin characteristics, a waterlogged ball can introduce unwelcome variables into your game. While some golfers attempt to dry out waterlogged balls, the internal changes caused by water absorption are often irreversible, making replacement the most reliable solution.

As you step onto the course for your next round, consider the insights we’ve shared about waterlogged golf balls. How might this knowledge influence your club selection near water hazards, or your decision to fish out that ball that’s been sitting in the pond? Remember, in golf, as in life, sometimes it’s better to play it safe and start fresh than to risk compromising your performance with equipment that’s past its prime.

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Mark Crossfield is a UK-based golf coach, author, and YouTuber. He simplifies complex concepts, emphasizes understanding fundamentals, and has authored several golf books. Mark has helped golfers worldwide improve their game through his coaching, online content, and contributions to magazines and TV programs.
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