The mere thought of the Titleist Pro V1, conjures up images of highly skilled tour professionals, scientists, shiny gold boxes and trophies held aloft. You visualise Padraig Harrington’s Carnoustie Open winning gap wedge fizz up to the flag, then rip to a stop, as if on a string. Or Rory mashing a monster drive in the desert. Yes, for those of us lucky to own a sleeve, the Pro V1 is a thing of beauty, a prized possession to be carefully dotted with red sharpie at the kitchen table the night before play. Many men I know love their Pro-V’s so much they impose strict usage conditions; never use one in practise, where “out of bounds” flanks a fairway and absolutely never on any hole containing water.

My quest to get deep behind the gleaming exterior of the Pro V1 brought me to the quiet town of Fairhaven about 50 miles from Boston in Massachusetts and home of Titleist. On entering the reception, I thought for a second I was in Willy Wonka’s golf factory, as laid out before me was a treasure trove of the latest gleaming Titleist clubs, bags and balls while the walls were adorned with the latest model Footjoy shoes (also part of the parent brand). I was greeted by Rick Veitch, a highly engaging marketing guru for Titleist who eventually gave in to the SpinDoctor’s Paddy’s Day request (aka begging session) for a tour of the Pro V1 manufacturing process. “My wife is a “Hughes” from Cork”, he proudly exclaimed within 30 seconds of first shaking hands. I think that’s what may have secured my golden ticket.

The Pro V1 plant is located about ten minutes drive from the Titleist administrative building near the Acushnet river which gives the parent company its name. Before heading up there, Rick and I chatted about all matters golf. We talked about recession; Titleist hadn’t escaped its tsunami like force with layoffs in all areas. We talked about the power of the brand and how the kids that fished Pro V1’s from ponds ten years ago are now the grown up single figure handicappers who wouldn’t use any other ball. I ask Rick a somewhat tricky question about "defectors" (my words not Gregs), like Tiger to Nike, Phil to Callaway, Sergio to TaylorMade and Vijay to Srixon to which he philosophically replied “They all started out using the Pro V1”. Where the sales and marketing strategy of the new high end ball companies is to offer huge amounts of cash to marquee players to switch to their ball, Titleist adopt a different tack. “We have a plurality approach to cultivating and supporting our Brand Ambassadors”, Rick tells me. “We want wide representation of top players from every level of play, from the worldwide professional tours, down through the developmental tour, PGA club professional, college and amateur ranks”. In lay mans terms Titleist reps worldwide ensure every budding amateur talent always has a Pro V1 to reach for in their bag, so when the day finally comes that they do turn professional, they might remember on which side their bread is buttered. This is borne out by the stats which show on average five times more wins worldwide with Pro V1’s than with any competitor ball and why players like Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Camilo Villegas are among the host of current greats who represent the brand.

Rick then points to a grey door across the hall. Every few minutes, the door opens and an anxious looking man strides out. He has that preoccupied facial expression, as if mentally working through the final steps of a complex quadratic equation, the solution to which may lead to an earth shattering breakthrough. I recognize him. He’s a scientist. The Research and Development section of Titleist comprises 50 such chemists, physicists and engineers constantly locked in a battle to push the barriers of ball technology to even greater levels.

As I travel in Rick’s car the short distance to the Pro V1 ball plant, so begins the process of myth shattering that is to continue apace throughout the day. Sizing up Rick, I see an ex-professional golfer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Titleist. He is part of an elite team charged with marketing the brand worldwide, a position I always regard as being like a goalkeeper; one fumble and the whole team suffers. Yet he doesn’t wear a tie, his car is not like something from Top Gear and holidaying abroad is not an option right now because of the drop in value of currency. Yet, I think he is enjoying getting out of the office for a few hours. At the door of the Titleist Pro V1 plant, we are kindly greeted by senior director of the facility Dan Gendreau. I notice Dan’s shirt sleeves are rolled up; always the sign of a hard worker. Chuffed, I explain that it’s an honour to meet the director, such a gesture in Ireland is reserved only for auditors and bank managers.

I’m not really sure what I expected in the Pro V1 ball manufacturing facility but images of men in white coats with clipboards standing around nodding in agreement whilst robots carved out balls were floating around in my head somewhere. The reality is altogether different. The process of ball manufacture though heavily reliant on machine is actually also highly labour intensive and about as glamorous as an East German weightlifter. The production floor is a kind of marriage between a bakery and a car factory. Parts of the factory are extremely noisy, others are hot, yet others again very damp. Smells range from the distinctive aroma of hot rubber to the sharp niff of lacquer. One thousand highly organized workers busily weave in and out through countless machines each churning out a vital component in what is a very complex process. Today’s quota is 580,000 Pro V1’s.

Here’s how they do it!
Step 1. Powders are mixed in giant silos and rubbers and chemicals added on conveyors to make a giant dough like mixture. Of course the ingredients are top secret but I’m sure I saw “limestone” on one the silo’s!

Step 2. The rubbery dough is extruded into sheets. Each sheet will become the core of approximately 42,000 balls.

Step 3. The rubbery dough is then cut into strips. Each strip is then further chopped into cork like shapes called “preps”. The left pic is the core of the Pro V1x, the right is the core of the Pro V1

Step 4. These preps go into moulds where they are heated and compressed into circular cores. Pro V1-x’s actually have two cores, which explains the difference in performance characteristics of the finished ball. The cores are given a shave to remove any rough edges.

Step 5. The cores are then placed in a clear casing made from a material called surlyn. More heat and compression moulds the surlyn onto the core. The seam of the surlyn covered core is then smoothed up and its surface heated by a flame to ensure its next coating bonds to its surface.

Step 6. Liquid urethane is poured into a half ball shaped dimpled mould and the surlyn covered core then precisely positioned in the mould. Two moulds flip together seamlessly, are bolted and fused to create the familiar golf ball shape. After smoothing, it is practically impossible for the eye to identify the seam of the ball.

Step 7. The balls are then painted white and screened printed with the iconic Titleist and Pro V1 logos. The final clear coat bonds the print and helps make the ball more durable.

Step 8. Every ball is scrutinized by robots as well as good old fashioned expert human eyes. Balls with even the tiniest imperfection or ink smudge do not make the grade.

Step 9. At the end of the production line, pristine Pro V1’s and Pro V1x’s pop out like everlasting gobstoppers. Balls destined for all regions of the world are stored in giant tote bins, packed and readied for shipping.

Just like with Willy Wonka, there are plenty of people like “Mr Slugworth” seeking to acquire the magic recipe, but that’s a story for another day. Seeing the countless containers at the end of the line brimming with endless Pro V1’s made me want burst into song and dive right in. After two hours touring, I emerged fascinated, educated and full of admiration for the hard working staff in the plant. Though working in a bustling environment there is a huge sense of contentedness and pride among the workers. The fact that the average employee here has at least 15 years experience is testimony to that fact. Our guide David Glynn, senior machine design engineer, has been here three years, which makes him still a rookie! Thanking all for the visit, I leave to find a place to watch the rugby, vowing never again to complain about the price of golf balls and deciding that from now on, my Pro V1’s shall be treated like my children. They’re worth every cent and should be cherished for the short time you have them!

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