I blame the media. It's almost impossible to watch golf these days and not hear how the ball travels so much further than before. Some old-timers are even crying that the new balls are ruining the game.
One bitter old fart who's been harping on this topic is the former PGA Tour commissioner, Deane Beman. In a recent interview, Beman said, "I have a great deal of respect for the players today and what they can do. But many of them are being cheated out of really learning how to perfect their craft because of the technology they're playing with. If you put the old ball in front of them to play, it would be a massacre."
It sounds to me like he's yearning for the "good old days." People like this can't accept that today's golfers, and athletes in general, are much better as a whole than those in yesteryear.
I'm not saying that technology isn't a factor. I do think that the golf ball is eons better than before. However, I think that some of the things that the media is saying is misleading for the amateur golfer.
When the media says that the ball is longer than before, they mean specifically the ball that the pros use. As Paul Azinger acknowledged in a recent ABC telecast, the ball isn't necessarily traveling any farther now than before. For example, a Pinnacle distance ball from 5 years ago goes just as far, if not farther, as the latest Pro V1. The real difference is that the pros would never use a Pinnacle because it lacked spin.
There used to be a major tradeoff in ball performance between spin and distance. Since spin control is much more important to a pro than distance, high-spin wound balata balls were the norm on tour back in the day. While these balls felt like you were hitting a marshmallow, it went about as far as one too. If you wanted distance, you had to sacrifice spin and play with a two-piece solid core "rock."
However, with today's multilayer technology, ball manufacturers are able to produce balls that feel and spin like a wound balata, but travel the distance of a solid core ball. Therefore, the pros are able to achieve more distance without compromising spin control. On the other hand, most amateurs are accustomed to solid core distance balls. So when amateurs transition to the modern multilayer ball, they aren't gaining more distance. Rather, they're getting more spin control.
Unfortunately, it takes too much effort for me to explain all of this to every 20-handicapper who tells me that his ball is giving him "10 more yards." And who the heck am I to rain on anyone's parade?
P.S. Peter Kostis wrote an article on this very topic, "Stop Blaming the Ball!"