Technology Tuesday: Golf Ball Advancement over the Centuries

The first edition of Technology Tuesday will be the start of a 3 part series. This series will go over the history, future, and physics of the golf ball. Let’s get started.

PART 1 OF 3 HISTORY OF THE GOLF BALL

THE ORIGINAL

Golf is often portrayed as never evolving. This could not be farther from the truth. When golf first started, sometime around 1400’s or earlier, things have changed substantially. The subject of the day is no different, as the first ball was a wooden ball. That’s right the original ball was made out local hardwoods, such as beech.

the-wooden-golf-ball-transparentBecause the original date of golf, itself is debated the original ball is debated as well. Especially in Scotland where there is little evidence of the wooden golf ball. Around the same time frame links golfers in Scotland were using what is known as the “hairy” ball. Closely related to the later made feathery, a “hairy” was made from leather and densely packed feathers along with other materials including raw hair and straw.

“FEATHERY” approx. 1618

This well known version of the golf ball advanced the technology of the hairy. Feathers were utilized as the core ingredient that was then wrapped with leather. While this may sound like it would be weak, note:

  • feathers are made of keratin, a type of hydrocarbon plastic
  • beginning of manufacturing the leather and feathers are wet
  • once wrapped they are dried out: causing the leather to shrink while the feathers would expand

This process was more precise then the “hairy” and would also fly farther and consistent.

featherieGUTTY

While the gutty was not nominally better then the feathery it won out because it was cheaper and stronger. Instead of leather, these golf balls were made with a natural plastic source called gutta-percha gum. Gutta-percha gum was packed and molded into a form.

gutty golf ballWOUND BALL 1898

B.F. Goodrich introduces the first ball utilizing rubber thread that was wound around a solid rubber core and then covered with gutta. Up until 1908 the bramble pattern was used on the wound ball.

bfgoodrichrubbercoregutty1908 the dimple pattern we know today was designed. This was a massive advancement in technology. There is a reason that modern companies continue to work on mastering the dimple pattern. More on this in part 3.

Gutta-percha was short lived as the cover and the more well known Belatta cover started to become the norm in 1920’s.

MODERN GOLF BALL

With over 1.2 billion golf balls manufactured each year and approximately 80 different types it is obvious why golfers might feel overloaded. The wound golf ball was eliminated by the modern golf ball in the 90’s as the chemical companies advanced the engineering of rubber. Todays golf balls generically have a rubber core with a cover or have multiple layers of different rubber compounds. Chemical companies continue to advance the physical attributes of the golf ball.

pentatp_layer5

Next week in Part 2 we will spend some more time talking about the modern golf ball.

Have a great Tuesday and stay warm!

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