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The History of the Golf Ball

Golf Balls

Playing the right golf ball for your game is extremely important. There is so much choice that selecting the golf balls most suited to your game can seem daunting. Our professionals at best4balls can help you choose the correct golf ball for your game. Have a look at our golf ball chooser or view our golf ball fitting guide

Here's a brief insight to how today’s technically advanced ball has evolved from its humble past.

The history of the golf ball

In the earliest days of golf over 500 years ago, players used primitive equipment to play the game in a rather haphazard and casual manner. Golf balls have undergone many changes and enhancements throughout its long life, with several distinct stages:

Wooden Golf Balls

Used from the mid 15th century, the first golf balls were made from hardwoods such as beech.

Featherie Golf Balls

The feather ball period was the longest period of stability in the history of the golf ball. The feathery ball period latest from as early as the 14th Century or as late as the 16th Century and was produced until the early 1850’s. In its beginnings the leather golf balls were likely to have been filled with wool or hair. These balls quickly lost their resilience and ultimately it was discovered that the use of feathers produced a livelier and longer lasting ball
The method of manufacturing feathery golf balls was fairly uniform, although some variations did exist. Come the middle of the 19th Century there were hundreds of craftsmen and their apprentices toiling to produce such balls. Large numbers of which were to be reduced to destitution with the advent of the gutta percha.

Rubber Golf Balls

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 15 metres off the tee. So the Guttie gave way to the aerodynamically superior dimple pattern, first used in 1908 and still in use today.
The cost effectiveness of the gutty material was soon recognized and a skilled worker could roll a gutty in a matter of minutes. Soon these balls were being produced at a quarter of the cost of featheries and slowly the game of golf became affordable to the masses. Perhaps one of the finest qualities of the gutty was its ability to be remolded when it had become heavily scarred. Several manufacturers offered a trade in service where the old guttys were taken in part exchange against new. The old gutty’s were then remolded and resold. Alternatively golfers could remold the balls themselves. With the golfing public switching to the gutty, golf club manufacturers had to rethink the design of golf clubs. The featherie golf ball used to be lifted of the ground with an ash club. It soon became apparent a stronger club would be required for the gutty ball and the hickory shafted clubs were introduced.

Dimpled Golf Balls

The Dimple Period actually began way back in the early 1900's with the introduction of inverted Dimple balls. These early dimple balls were manufactured at the same time as the bramble period and represent the closest link to todays golf balls. The Dimple Pattern was found to help with the control of ball trajectories with aerodynamic spin, it allowed players to put backspin on a shot, nearly stopping the ball dead on the green.
These early dimple balls are scarce even more so than brambles due to the fact at the time the raised dimples on the brambles was the professionals choice. And as today, whatever the professionals played with the golfing public wanted the same ball, hence less of these balls are recovered than brambles
Producing a feathery was a time consuming process that required considerable expertise. The craftsmen themselves vied with each other for the contracts from the richest patrons of the game and were often scathing about the results their competitors achieved. To produce a feathery, a piece of leather had to be cut in three pieces, softened with alum and water, and then sewn together leaving a small hole into which feathers were pressed until the ball was hard.

Mesh Golf Balls

During the latter part of the first decade in the twentieth century, golf ball manufacturers were springing up all over the country, and each company was experimenting with rubber core mesh balls. It was at the beginning of this period that the modern day golf ball as we know it know came about. Early dimple balls created during the early 1900’s were proving to offer players greater spin and feel and an Englishman called William Taylor patented the dimple method in 1905.
Spalding USA immediately purchased the rights for this patent and began to manufacturer dimple balls as early as 1909. Until the patent expired in the 1920’s every company attempted to obtain an advantage over their competitors by designing unique mesh type patterns on golf balls. There was the Rifled Ball - a ball designed like the barrel of a gun – which according to adverts would fly like a bullet. It did, but only if you hit it 100% straight – otherwise it was off – spinning here there and everywhere. Shortly after this products launch, these balls were withdrawn from the market making it a highly sought after ball with a value in excess of £10,000.

Wound Rubber Golf Balls

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.

Today’s Golf Balls and Technology

In recent years, the wound golf ball has largely been replaced by multilayer balls, resulting in various golf ball options.

With the rapid advancement of technology, limits have been introduced to regulate the construction and design of golf balls. The USGA has set a number of guidelines. To be recognized and approved by the USGA, a golf ball must meet the following:
  • Weight: The weight of the ball shall not be greater than 1.620 ounces (45.93 gm).
  • Size: The diameter of the ball shall not be less than 1.680 inches (42.67 mm).
  • Spherical Symmetry: The ball must not be designed, manufactured or intentionally modified to have properties which differ from those of a spherically symmetric ball.
  • Initial Velocity: The initial velocity of the ball shall not exceed the limit specified, when measured on apparatus approved by USGA.
  • Overall Distance Standard: The combined carry and roll of the ball, when tested on apparatus approved by USGA, shall not exceed the distance specified under conditions set forth in the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls on file with USGA.

What are the main categories of modern golf balls?

Modern golf balls can be broken down into four main categories based on construction:
  • 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. Two-piece golf balls are greatly suited to the less frequent or beginner golfer. As a result of the reduced spin, the ball will be less likely to hook or slice when struck. The cover is more durable and tends to last longer than the subsequent types of ball. Two-piece balls are generally less expensive than three piece and four piece.
  • Three-piece: These have a large synthetic core, a thin mantel and a cover. Sometimes heavier weights are used in the middle of the synthetic core for optimised weight centering.
  • Four-piece: 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 a more experienced golfer. They tend to have much better control and feel around the green, provide more spin, yet don’t tend to travel as far and are less forgiving on hooks and slices
  • Five-piece: New 5-piece golf balls have just been introduced into the market for 2010. Taylormade Penta Golf Balls are the first of this kind and offer excellent feel, spin, control, launch and distance.

Select a golf ball that best suits 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.

Golf Ball Fitting

Our ball fitting process will tailor a Golf Ball to suit you and your personal swing. Going bespoke you guarantee you're not been hampered by incorrect components. Our in house ball fitting ensures that your golf balls complement your game.
The following information is crucial for our ball fitting process:
  • Swing speed
  • Ball speed
  • Spin
  • Trajectory
  • Durability
Fitting process:
1. A few minutes consultation, asking the needs of the player, current ball used and aims for the future.
2. Radar testing using their current prefered ball, noting the important statistics.
3. Testing other golf balls to achieve the perfect spin rate, ball speed, trajectory and distance.

Most golfers will benefit from custom ball fitting. A few crucial extra yards can often be gained by changing and using bespoke golf balls. Some of our customers have increased their distance by over 20 yards, giving them extra confidence and a better tempo, which is extremely important for a consistant golf game.

Is the ball that you are playing good for your game?
We believe that many golfers play the wrong ball for their game. Mid-high handicap golfers with slower swing speeds often play balls that perform well on higher swing speeds, which results in a loss of distance.
Low handicap golfers will also improve their game and confidence, using our golf ball fitting studio.
Premium golf balls often have a 4 piece construction, with hard inner core. Players with swing speeds of 90+mph will only benefit from using these balls, by compressing the ball to the inner core. Golfers with swing speed less than 90+mph will often lose distance and feel by using a premium ball. Their game would be more suited to a mid-range ball that suits their needs.

Distance Golf Balls

If you are seeking distance and forgiveness choose a two piece ball. The combined firmness of the cover and core allow the ball to travel longer distances and be very durable – the downside is the difficulty to stop the ball on the green. These are generally mid-priced golf balls offering excellent spin and feel. Usually constructed using 2 or 3-piece technology with a fairly soft outer cover and core. These also offer superb durability.

Premium Golf Balls

For low-handicap golfers with high swing speeds (90+ mph), Choose a 4 or 5-piece golf ball to maximise distance and control. These golf balls have the softest outer cover for extra spin. The downside is that the durability is not as good as a 2 or 3-piece golf ball.

For golfers with slower swing speeds (usually seniors and ladies), it is important to use a golf ball that is designed to maximise the distance through a reduced compression in the construction of the ball.