This History of The Golf Ball

Golf Balls – How a small, round, dimpled sphere has the power to alter your game. In today’s game, golf balls have become high-tech super-spheres that claim to do everything but hit themselves! One popular golf ball claims ‘long distance and super feel’, another ‘longer distance, more spin and control’ and a third ‘ultimate distance and control’. Confused? Might as well choose a golf ball based on the colour of the box!

But wait! Playing the right golf ball for your game WILL enhance your performance and overall enjoyment of the game. It’s just a matter of cutting through the spin to find that ball.

To help you in your quest for the perfect golf ball, we’ll take you on a journey from the humble beginnings of the golf ball through to today’s technologically advanced balls.

The Early Days
In general, the larger the bag the heavier it will be – despite help from durable lightweight materials. Although the lightest designs now weigh in below 3lb, special lumbar and/or hip padding is available for comfort and can make a real difference

In the earliest days of golf, some 500 years ago, players used primitive equipment to play the game in a rather haphazard and casual manner. The golf ball has undergone many upgrades and enhancements throughout its long life, with several distinct stages:

Wooden – Used from the mid 15th century, the first golf balls were made from hardwoods such as beech. Often used in conjunction with wooden clubs, a round of golf would have been a particularly jarring experience.

Featherie – In 1618 the Featherie golf ball was invented and was used for nearly 250 years. These balls were made by stuffing wet goose feathers into a hand stitched wet leather ball. As it dried the leather shrunk and the feathers expanded creating a hard and compact ball. This time consuming process ensured the price was out of reach of the masses, often selling for more than the price of a club.

Guttie – Rev Dr Robert Adams Paterson created the first golf balls made from Gutta-percha in 1848. The ball was created from the dried sap of the tropical sapodilla tree, which was heated up and formed into ball shapes. The improved performance and cheaper costs of the Guttie contributed greatly to the expansion of the game.

Hand Hammered Guttie – It was also discovered that improperly smoothed balls often had a truer flight than the smoother versions, and the Hand Hammered Guttie Ball, with an even pattern hammered on by hand, was born. By 1890, golf balls were formed in iron moulds, and the Bramble design, with raised spherical bumps resembling a raspberry, became the most popular ball of the Guttie era.

Rubber – The advent of the rubber ball changed the face of golf as we know it. Invented by Coburn Haskell in 1898 it featured a solid rubber core wrapped in rubber thread. Early Gutta-percha covers soon gave way to the Balata cover that was introduced in the early 1900s. Although they looked like Gutties, the average golfer could gain an extra 20 yards off the tee. So the guttie gave way to the aerodynamically superior dimple pattern, first used in 1908 and still being used today.

Today’s Golf Balls – Wonders of Multi-Layer Construction
In recent years, the wound golf ball has largely been replaced by multilayer balls, resulting in a bewildering selection of golf balls. To simplify, modern golf balls can be broken down into three main categories.

Two Piece. This is a tough, durable golf ball usually with a large, solid inner core and a hard Surlyn cover, generally designed to maximise distance through a high launch angle and low levels of spin

Our Recommendation. Two-piece golf balls are what every beginner should play. With less spin you are less likely to hook or slice the ball. At the same time you are likely to hit the ball further. The price of two-piece balls tends to be less, meaning that they won’t take a large bite out of your budget when they end up in the lake or the rough!

Multi-Layer. Typically made of three or four layers in which the core is wrapped in one or two layers, the multi layer golf ball is usually preferred by Tour players for the extra control it offers.

Three-piece. These have a large synthetic core, a thin mantel and a cover. Sometimes, tungsten weights are used in the middle of the synthetic core for optimised weight centering.

Four-piece. These multi-layer golf balls have a smaller inner core, surrounded by an outer core, similar to the three-piece ball. This is then surrounded by a thin mantel and a cover. Multi-layer balls are generally more expensive, and suited to the more experienced golfer. They tend to have much better control and feel around the green, provide more spin, but don’t travel as far and are less forgiving on hooks and slices.

Our Recommendation. Multi-layer golf balls are best for the better player who can appreciate the benefits of extra spin control over and above distance.

Wound. Much less common in today’s game, wound golf balls have a central core that has been wrapped in rubber thread and then usually covered in Balata cover. These balls tend to be less durable and often will not hold up to the average player’s round. They offer fantastic feel and have great spin, though, stopping faster on the green – but the trade-off is a lack in distance. Also, their performance is affected by the temperature, with their distance and overall performance deteriorating in temperatures below 20°C.

Very few people still use the wound balata ball, and it is likely to be replaced altogether by the multi-layer ball. However, some professionals still like the extraordinary feel and spin control required for finesse shots around the green.

Our Recommendation. This ball is only really suitable for the best of the very best golfers.

Play to your strengths
Today’s golf balls use sophisticated construction techniques that have a direct impact on different aspects of the game, including driving distance, approach control, putting roll, balance and cost. You should select your ball according to which one suits the most important aspect of your game – what you need most help with. Here’s our summary:

If you need distance (Ideal for mid to high handicappers)
Too much spin will make the ball fly too high, and too little will reduce carry. If you need distance and forgiveness go for a hard ball. The combined firmness of the cover and core allow the ball to travel longer distances and be very durable, but be aware it won’t stop as well on the green.

If you need spin (Ideal for better players)
A spin ball is constructed with a cover that generates more spin when struck with a lofted club. This ball is better suited to play draw and fade shots around obstacles and will stop well on the green. However, it will also be easier to slice or hook shots.

If you are looking for ultimate control – distance and spin combined (Ideal for very serious players)
A control golf ball has the characteristics of a distance ball with the ability to stop quickly on the green, with allegedly less risk of hooking or slicing the golf ball than a pure spin ball.

Other considerations

Slow Swingers. For golfers with a slower swing speed, it is advisable to use a golf ball that is designed to maximise the driving distance for the slower club head speed.
Ideal for ladies, seniors and less powerful players

Putting Perfection. Different makes and models of golf ball will roll different distances on the putting green, with harder balls tending to roll further. Bear in mind more expensive balls are likely to roll truer as well, due to better balancing.

Play to your budget. It is better to play consistently with a golf ball you can afford rather than a premium ball that you cannot afford to practice with. Also playing with damaged balls will impact on your game, so it is better to play an affordable ball and replace it regularly.

And Finally – Golf Ball Myths

More dimples result in a higher trajectory. This is not true. The optimum number of dimples on a golf ball is between 350 and 450. It is the spinning action of the golf ball, along with the depth of the dimples that determines the trajectory.

Golf balls travel further when they are warm. Partly true, as colder temperatures will decrease a golf ball’s velocity more than warm temperatures. However it is the air temperature that has more impact on the balls distance than the temperature of the ball.


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