Evolution of Golf Balls
The golf ball. Such a tiny object, yet such an essential part of the game of golf. This little ball hasn’t always looked the way it does today. The story of the golf ball is quite interesting whether you’re an avid amateur golfer with a regular tee time or someone who occasionally plays when there’s an invitation.
Early Wooden Balls
Many experts on golf say the first balls were wooden. They claim that the game was first introduced in the 14th century with balls made of wood. Other refute that story, saying that they were part of other games that looked like golf.
Balls of Hair
From the late 1400s to the early 1600s, the Scottish who were reputed to have introduced the game of golf used golf balls made of hair from cows or straw. These golf balls came from the Netherlands and were hand-sewn with leather. They would come to be known as common balls after other types of balls were introduced because they were less expensive. The hairy golf balls were used in golf until the early 1800s.
The Featherie Golf Ball of 1618
This next golf ball was introduced in 1618 and replaced the hair with feathers from geese or chickens. The ball was able to be filled more, making it harder and able to fly a further distance when hit. To make this type of ball, the leather and feathers would be wet and assembled. Once the leather dried, it shrank and the feathers expanded, making the ball harder.
The person making the ball would paint it and add a personal mark. The featherie ball was more expensive because of the time it took to make one. However, there were a few drawbacks to playing with this ball. If the ball got wet, it wouldn’t travel as far and it was seldom perfectly round. When hit, the ball would sometimes split.
The first professional golfer, Allan Robertson, was one of the makers of the golf ball and club. He partnered with Tom Morris who was known as the Grandfather of Golf. When the guttie ball was introduced, Morris saw it as the future of the sport while Robertson felt it was a threat.
After dissolving their partnership, Morris opened a separate shop in Prestwick and sold guttie balls. This was the location of the first Open Championship.
Sap and Rubber Balls
The guttie used sap form a Malaysian Sapodilla tree that had been dried. When heated, this rubber-like substance could be turned into the shape of a ball. The guttie became popular with players because it could easily be reformed if it got damaged and was cheaper to make in the first place. The guttie ball had better distance when hit as well.
It was at this time that dents were intentionally put into the ball because it was discovered they added to the distance of the ball when hit.
The rubber ball was introduced at the end of the 19th century. It was made with a round core that was either solid or filled with liquid and a layer of rubber thread wrapped around the core. An outer cover was made of balata sap.
With the rubber ball, the indentations were changed to what we see on golf balls today for improved performance. As the golf ball has matured and changed, it has added style and excitement to the game. Now, you have an interesting story to tell your friends at the country club the next time they challenge you to a game.