That one number is most likely to be a 1, 2, 3 or 4 (although it can also be anything from a zero to a 9). What do these numbers mean?
Nothing, really. These single-digit numbers are simply there for identification purposes. Say you and your buddy both play the same golf ball - a Titleist Pro V1, for example. You want to make sure you can tell them apart during the round, and using balls with different numbers can help you do that. Player A might choose a ball with a "1" while Player B uses a ball with a "3." These types of golf ball numbers usually appear just below the branding of the ball's name, near the equator. If you purchase golf balls by the sleeve, all the balls within a single sleeve will have the same single-digit number.
A golf ball might also have a three-digit number on it, usually something in the 300s or 400s. If you notice such a number on a ball, this number is letting you know how many dimples are on the ball.
Another number that might appear on golf balls is the ball's compression rating, although compression is no longer a major selling point for most golf ball manufacturers. Until solid-core balls drove the wound ball out of the market - beginning in the late 1990s - compression rating was a big deal to golfers. A compression rating of 70 or 80 for a wound ball was regarded as an indicator that ball was a "ladies ball." A compression rating of 110 meant you had to swing very hard to make that ball work right (the he-man ball).
Compressions these days can be way down in the 30s or 40s (ranging up to 100 or so). When these low-compression balls first started appearing on the market, manufacturers felt there was still a stigma attached to low compression - i.e., that a low-compression ball would be viewed as a "ladies ball" and male golfers wouldn't buy it. And so numbers representing compression were dropped from most golf balls.
You'll still find them on some brands, however, and they are almost certain - these days - to be two digits.
So, to recap: A single-digit number on a golf ball is there for identification; a double-digit number, if one appears, most likely represents compression; a triple-digit number most likely represents the number of dimples.
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