A Short History Of Golf Balls - From Wood To Synthetics
First some definitions .... even a short history of golf balls must start with defining a golf ball:
The rules of golf say that a golf ball cannot weigh more than 1.620 oz (45.93 grams), must have a diameter not less than 1.680 in (42.67 mm), and conform to certain specifications regarding velocity, distance, and symmetry.
Like golf clubs, golf balls are subject to testing and approval by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the United States Golf Association, and if they do not conform with regulations they may not be used in competitions.
In the history of golf balls, as indeed in the history of golf , these two organizations have defined the game.
The maximum velocity of the ball may not exceed 250 feet per second (76 m/s) under test conditions.
So much for the boring stuff!
Let's move on to more interesting matters:
Golf balls until the early 17th century were made of wood, when the featherie ball added a new feature to the game. This was a leather pouch stuffed with chicken or goose feathers and coated with paint.
Enough feathers to fill a top hat were boiled and placed in the pouch. As the ball cooled, the feathers would expand and the hide would shrink, making a compact ball.
These balls obviously would fly better than wooden balls, so the featherie remained the standard ball for more than two centuries.
Since they were handmade, one by one, they were expensive, in todays money they'd be around 20 USD per ball.
So you can tell just by looking at the "history of golf balls" that today we are very lucky to be able to buy balls quite cheaply!
The next step was taken in 1848, when the Rev. Dr Robert Adams Paterson invented the gutta-percha ball.
This ball was created from dried sap of a Sapodilla Tree. The sap had a rubber-like feel and could be made round by heating and shaping it while hot.
It was soon discovered that the small nicks and scrapes that the ball aquired during use, provided the ball with a truer flight than a pure sphere.
So makers started creating intentional defects in the surface by hammering the ball to give it an evenly dimpled shape which would give the ball a more consistent ball flight.
Since these balls were both cheaper and better they superseded the featheries within a few years.
This was a giant step in golf ball technology.
In the 20th century, multi-layer balls were developed, first as wound balls consisting of a solid or liquid-filled core wound with a layer of rubber thread and a thin outer shell.
This idea was first discovered by Coburn Haskell of Cleveland, Ohio in 1898. Haskell had driven to nearby Akron to keep a golf date with Bertram Work, then superintendent of B.F. Goodrich.
While he waited for Work at the plant, Haskell idly wound a long rubber thread into a ball. When he bounced the ball, it flew almost to the ceiling.
Work suggested Haskell put a cover on the creation, and that was the birth of 20th Century Golf Ball Technology .
The design allowed manufacturers to fine-tune the length, spin and "feel" characteristics of balls.
In the history of golf balls and golf technology this was another giant step forward.
Modern balls usually consist of several layers of various synthetic materials like surlyn or urethane blends.
They are usually classified as two-piece, three-piece, or four-piece ball according to the number of layers.
They come in a great variety of playing characteristics to suit the needs of golfers of different abilities.
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