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Golf Balls

In science, a great deal of research into turbulence, air pressure, aerodynamics and surface structures went into the development of the golf ball. Through history, the golf ball has gone through an astounding evolution. Today, the golf ball we drive, chip and putt with is the culmination of all of this research.


Early History of the Golf Ball

When golf began in Scotland the first types of equipment that were used to play the game was fairly rough and informal. Most of the equipment of this early time was made from wood, including the golf balls.


In 1618, a golf ball called the featherie was invented. It was a ball that was made of compressed goose feathers that were wrapped in a spherical shape made from cowhide. The feathers were pressed into the cowhide while the hide was wet. When the leather began to dry, it shrank and the feathers grew closer together. This created the hardened ball that was used for golf.


In those days the cost of the golf balls was higher than the clubs used to play with. Only the upper class could afford to play the game at that time.


The Guttie Golf Ball

The next incarnation of the golf ball was called a guttie golf ball. It was made from rubber sap that came from the Gutta tree. This tree was generally found in tropical climates. The balls were shaped when the sap was hot and could easily be made into the correct shape and size for golf balls. Guttie golf balls were very easy to produce, so the cost of the golf ball came down significantly. The guttie balls were also easy to repair when they became damaged. You could just reheat the ball and shape it back to its original form whenever the ball became damaged.


Of the two types of balls, however, the feather golf ball traveled a greater distance than the rubber ball. The surface of the rubber ball was the cause of its limited ability to travel.


Evolution of the Golf Ball: Dimples

Because it was discovered that it was the smooth surface that limited the balls distance, makers of golf balls began putting dimples on the balls. We still see this in today's golf balls.


The dimples are used in golf balls to minimize the aerodynamic drag that is present on a smooth ball. When a smooth ball is flying through the air, it creates a pocket of low air pressure that causes the drag. This drag causes the smooth ball to fly slower than the dimpled ball.


The dimples in the ball eliminate this problem. When a dimpled ball is flying through the air it creates turbulence. The turbulence causes the air to grab the ball. This causes the air to stay behind the ball instead of flowing beyond it. This makes less drag.


The dimples also help players by giving them the opportunity to create a backspin on the ball when they hit it.


The dimples on golf balls go all the way back to the phase of golf balls known as the gutta percha phase. The one-pieced rubber ball was invented by Coburn Haskell, who enclosed a rubber ball in a gutta percha ball. The players began to notice that their shots could be predicted depending on the wear on the ball.


Golf balls took on their current form when William Taylor added the dimples to a Haskell ball. This occurred in 1905.


From that point on, dimpled balls were the standard balls used in every golf tournament. Eventually, golf balls began to be made to a standard weight and size. This happened in 1921.


The Modern Golf Ball

When you look at the modern golf ball you can find a ball to suit any condition you are playing in. There are balls that offer a greater degree of control and others that will provide the golfer with greater distance. As golf balls continue to evolve into better and better instruments of the game, they will continue to be more than just a sporting instrument. They are an example of the power of science.