What is a Golf Ball?

By: Peter Cunningham

Many years ago golf was played in Scotland, they obviously did not have all the equipment that we enjoy nowadays and certainly did not play the game in the structured manner that we do. Back then they had to utilise both golf balls and clubs which were both manufactured from wood.

It as back in the 17th century that the feather golf ball was designed and introduced, another word for this type of ball was the featherie. The feather golf ball was made from goose feathers which were compressed into a sphere which was normally cow hide. The feathers were compressed into the cow hide whilst the cow hide was still wet. When all the feathers were in the hide was left to dry and as it dried it shrank creating a hard golf ball.

These balls, however due to the nature of creation and build time were very very expensive and quite often cost much more than the golf club itself. Due to the cost of purchase only the more financially privileged golfers could afford to purchase such a ball.

After the feather ball came the creation of the guttie golf ball. This type of ball was made from the sap of a gutta tree, the gutta tree is predominantly found in the tropics, These balls were created whilst the sap was hot where the ball was shaped, when it dried it formed a hard rubbery golf ball. Due to the ease of manufacture these golf balls were a lot cheaper to both manufacture and purchase.

There was a huge difference between the featherie and the guttie though. The guttie did not fly as far or as true as the featherie. This was identified as being due to the completely smooth surface of the gutterie which limited the golf ball in the air.

Designers of golf balls eventually came up with a solution - the creation of the golf ball dimple - and these are still utilised on golf balls nowadays.

The dimples on a golf ball are created to reduce resistance to air whilst the ball is in flight. When a ball without dimples is in the air a huge pocket of dead air is created behind the ball which creates drag, therefore slowing the ball down. The dimples on a golf ball reduces this dead air behind the ball, therefore reducing drag and allowing the golf ball to travel. It does this by the dimples creating turbulence in the air around the golf ball which in turn ensures that a spiral like trail of air is left behind the ball rather than a huge amount of dead air. This spiral of air allows other air particles to flow around the ball rather than just past it.

The dimples of the golf ball dependant upon the type of center in the ball can allow for an amount of spin to be imparted onto the ball at impact, this can either create backspin upon impact with the ground or allow the golfer to control the ball better in the air - ie to draw a ball.

Dimples have been on golf balls now for many many years, however it is believed that they were created after the introduction of a one piece golf ball with a rubber core. This golf ball had a smooth outer on it and golfers found that they were able to hit a better shot as the ball started to wear - ie the outer edge started to become rough. It was around 1905 when the dimpled golf ball was officially introduced and from this time dimples have been used on all golf balls, in 1921 the golf ball was modified so that all balls were a standard size and they were all the same weight.

Nowadays, there is an absolutely staggering amount of variety when it comes to the selection of a golf ball. There are golf balls which are designed to go a long way, other which are designed to be very soft so that more control can be achieved. Even the dimples vary slightly between balls, there are some balls which have more than others and some balls have slightly different shaped dimples. No matter which golf ball you decide to play you can be sure that you are playing with an item which has evolved through evolution and is at present at or very near its optimum.

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