Watch any professional golf tournament and you’ll notice one thing – the players are almost always using plain white golf balls.
But with colored golf balls claiming better visibility and other performance benefits, why do pros stick to the classic white? Are pros even allowed to use golf balls of different colors?
Let’s examine the rules, history, and equipment considerations around colored balls in professional golf to understand if and when PGA Tour players can incorporate something more vibrant.
Rules on Colored Balls in Professional Tours
The major tours and governing bodies currently prohibit the use of golf balls with colors other than white during official competition rounds. Some key rules include:
- USGA Rule 4-3 states balls must be white and basically spherical to be legal for play.
- PGA Tour regulations mandate players use balls on the approved conforming list, which are all white models.
- Only white balls meeting exact weight, size, spherical, and initial velocity standards can be used in tournaments.
- The approved competition balls all feature identifiable manufacturer logos as well.
These restrictions are in place to protect the traditions of the game, enable spectator viewing, and prevent potential equipment advantages from colored balls.
However, pros are free to use colored golf balls during unofficial pro-ams, practice rounds, exhibitions, and other events outside of tournaments. Manufacturers like Volvik and Chromax who make fluorescent yellow, orange, green, and other bold shades target this niche demand.
But unless the conservative governing bodies change policies, white will remain the rule for tour competition.
History of Colored Golf Balls
While considered unorthodox today, colored golf balls actually have a long history before white became standard:
- In the early 1800s, featherie golf balls came in multiple colors before giving way to the gutta-percha ball.
- Later in that century, gutties came in red, blue, yellow, and black options but white was the most common.
- From 1900-1920, the Haskell rubber winding process allowed a wide rainbow of colors.
- Spalding launched the first mass-produced two-tone golf ball with the Kro-Flite in the 1920s.
- However, by 1931 USGA rules were changed to mandate a uniform white color.
- White has remained the required color ever since, with limited special exemptions occasionally granted for events using colored balls.
So while white has been entrenched for nearly a century, colored balls enjoyed long periods of acceptance earlier in golf’s history.
Pros of Using Colored Balls
Some advantages do exist for tour players being allowed to use balls with colors other than white:
- More visible for both players and fans against various backdrops like dirt, grass, trees, and water hazards. Easier to spot off the tee and follow in flight.
- Provides alignment assistance similar to how a football quarterback prefers a particular lacings pattern on the ball.
- Allows players to select a ball matching their gear colors and sponsor logos for marketing and branding reasons.
- Increases visibility on monochrome TV broadcasts compared to white which can blend into fairways and greens on black and white screens.
- Could theoretically improve sales, revenue, and fan interest from golf balls becoming more personalized and less commoditized.
- Enables new technologies using pigments and coatings uniquely suited for colored exteriors.
There are certainly arguments favoring opening up the rules for some professional events or tours to take advantage of colored ball benefits.
Cons of Allowing Colored Balls
However, traditionalists and purists argue against colored balls at the professional level for these reasons:
- White has been the accepted standard for nearly a century across all levels from pro tours to amateur play.
- Could make it harder for amateur players to relate to the professional game if different equipment rules exist.
- Provides potential for competitive advantages between players using different colors optimized for certain conditions.
- Colored coatings may alter performance in terms of spin, durability, and visibility as they deteriorate.
- Changes the look of the game on TV and photos that viewers are accustomed to.
- Allows equipment companies to pursue color-related engineering and patents that favor gimmicks over performance merits.
The conservative view prefers maintaining white golf balls as a tradition that keeps the professional focus on skill rather than equipment variation.
Conditions Influencing Colored Ball Benefits
It’s worth noting the tournaments and course conditions where colored balls could offer the greatest visibility and competitive benefits:
- Lower light dusk and night tournaments – brighter colors illuminate in dim conditions.
- Overcast, foggy, or rainy weather – colors stand out through gray shadows and precipitation.
- Lush green fairways or British Open links layouts – white disappears against some backdrops.
- Colder climates with snow galleries – colored balls pierce through snowy backgrounds.
- Difficult to follow tee shots into brush and woods – alternate colors remain visible longer in flight.
- Senior tournaments with older fans trying to track shots – brighter balls aid viewing.
- Television broadcasts depend on contrast and graphics – certain colors transmit better on camera.
While white works well in sunny ideal conditions, colored balls solve some visibility issues on certain courses and tournaments with less ideal conditions.
Potential Future for Colored Balls on Pro Tours
It seems likely that golf’s organizers will remain conservative for a professional competition, but small changes may still take place:
- Allowing colored balls during practice rounds to provide pros the alignment and branding benefits.
- Permitting colored balls for skills competitions adjacent to tournaments, like long drive contests.
- Adding pro-am events alongside tournaments that use colored balls at the amateur’s discretion to boost sponsor interest.
- Letting individual tours or events apply limited rules allowing colored balls under specified conditions, like night tournaments.
- Enabling players to petition for exemptions to use colored balls based on medical conditions like color blindness that cause visibility issues.
- Using specially marked colored balls just for shot tracing on TV coverage while players still use white balls.
- Launching specialty teams or exhibition events allowing colored balls to attract new fans.
Small incremental changes would allow the professional game to test colored ball impacts while limiting disruption to traditional norms and competitive balance.
The golf establishment remains staunchly conservative about restricting professionals to only using white balls during tournaments, as colored balls have been prohibited for nearly a century.
But colored models provide potential benefits around marketing, visibility, and fan engagement that could lead to specialized use in the future.
While white balls are entrenched at the highest levels, colored ball technology and acceptance continue evolving across the wider golf industry. Don’t be surprised if the rainbow returns to professional golf someday soon in limited ways.