Golf Ball Evolution

June 29, 2017

The golf ball is so simple, yet complex; just like the game of golf itself. As we all know, golf balls range from a few dollars for a bag or box of X-Outs to over $50 for a dozen brand-name quality balls. But did you know that the dimples on a golf ball will range in number from 330 to 500, depending on which company makes the ball and how far they advertise it will travel?

Over 100 years ago, golfers realized that a scuffed golf ball would travel farther than a smooth ball. So the idea of dimples was born to give the ball more lift and distance. Today, golf companies will even make golf balls to the specs of tour players' needs and they can pick the number of dimples they want on their golf balls.

Many historians believe that the Scots, who started the game of golf, played with wooden golf balls and spent hours carving them out of beech trees or other hard wood found locally around the pastures. Now, can you imagine doing that today - not really - but these guys were hooked on the new sport they invented and necessity was the mother of invention. They played this way for over two hundred years, roughly from the 15th century to the 17th century. They finally got tired of carving each ball for their daily round and someone suggested that a small stitched leather ball filled with boiled goose feathers would be better and faster to make.

This was a high-tech moment in golf. The old wooden ball could travel approximately 100 yards on a good day, but now the new "featherie" ball, as it was called, could be hit around 200 yards and was hard as a rock. The trick to making a featherie was to use wet leather and stuff it with wet goose feathers, then stitch it as tight as possible and wait for the leather to shrink and the goose feathers to expand. After it dried, three coats of paint made it almost indestructible.

A round of golf took on a new dimension for distance, but it was good news/bad news situation. The process for making them was time-consuming and very expensive, so the status of the game remained basically for the wealthy players. The game changed again in 1848 when Robert Paterson made the first golf ball out of resin of the Isonandra Gutta tree from Malaysia and called it the "Gutty."

Finally, the beginning of today's golf ball took shape when this resin could be heated and shaped into a true sphere that would roll straight and true.

They were cheap to make, were durable, water resistant and flew better and straighter than the featherie, and guess what - they could be repaired by reheating them.

This led to a second high-tech moment when golfers noticed that scuffed-up guttys flew farther than new ones, so this revelation led to the first textured golf ball called the bramble design.

The gutty was popular until the Haskell came along about 50 years later, in 1898, when Coburn Haskell invented a solid rubber core wrapped with rubber thread and layered with gutta-percha.

In 1905, the modern golf ball was born when William Taylor added the dimple pattern. That led to many attempts to make the ball go farther and straighter in the last 107 years.

Some of the ideas that were tried and failed over the years (for the inner core of the ball) were steel, glass, silicone, water, iodine, mercury, dry ice and even tapioca. One company even tried compressed air, but when the balls overheated, they would sometimes explode. Now that gives new meaning to the phrase, "explode off the tee."

So next time you need a dozen, look for my favorite brand that advertises extra-long with extreme feel and spin control coupled with non-slice technology, floats on water and beeps when it is lost in the high grass or woods (they are made out of wood).

19th Hole Trivia

Golf ball wisdom from Thomas Mulligan, as told by Henry Beard. 1. Never wash your balls on the tee of a water hole. 2. Hazards attract, fairways repel. 3. For most golfers, the only difference between a one-dollar ball and a four dollar ball is three dollars. 4. The only time your ball ever spins back is when it lands twenty feet short of the pin.

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