August 7, 2022

Evolution of Golf Balls

The game of golf has its origins on the eastern coast of Scotland where it was played in a rather haphazard manner with rudimentary equipment. May sound surprising to some but the earliest golf balls and clubs were fashioned out of wood. The earliest documented reference (AD1550) to golf is one in which John Daly plays with a wooden ball. The feather golf ball or ‘Featherie’ was introduced in 1618. Several pieces of stout leather were tightly stitched, leaving a small opening; the casing was then turned inside out. Boiled and softened feathers were subsequently tediously stuffed into the casing before the final stitches were made. This hard feather ball was hammered into roundness and finally coated with several coats of paints. The quality of course, varied according to the skill of the craftsman. These so called featheries were priced beyond the pockets of the masses (often more costly than clubs), owing to the difficulty and time involved in making them. However, these balls were used for almost four centuries.

The first “Gutta” ball (AD1848) made from gutta-percha packing material is credited to Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Paterson. Gutta-percha is the evaporated milky juice or latex produced from a tree which is most commonly found in Malaysia. It is hard and non-brittle and becomes soft and moldable at a temperature of 100-degree Celsius. Gutta balls were mostly handmade by rolling the softened material on a board. The gutta ball provided a new lease of life to the game of golf in view of its advantages like lower cost, great durability, resistance to water and better run. Albeit being opposed by traditionalists, gutta balls finally came to replace featheries. Later, gutta balls came to be made with even patterns (made by using a pointed hammer) on their surface as this improved their flight. Later, balls formed in iron molds or ball presses that created patterns and markings on the ball were introduced. The later detailed and symmetrical surfaces greatly improved the ball’s flight. The best known balls were the hand-marked private brands of the Scottish club makers like Morris, Robertson, Gourlay, and the Auchterlonies.

The revolutionary rubber ball was invented in 1898 by a Cleveland, Ohio golfer, Coburn Haskell, in association with Bertram Work of the B. F. Goodrich Company. The ball featured rubber thread tightly wound around a solid rubber core. The Balata cover replaced the gutta-percha in the early 1900’s. Gradually, the aerodynamically superior dimple pattern was adopted in 1908. Standardization of golf ball weight and size was established by the United States Golf Association on 1st January, 1932 that followed the 1930 standards set by the British Golf Association. The weight was set at a maximum of 1.620 oz., and diameter not to be less than 1.680 in. Following the development of velocity testing apparatus, a maximum velocity of 250 feet per second was added by the USGA. The development of improved rubber, space age plastics, silicone and technologically advanced production has vastly improved the precision and durability of today’s golf balls.