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Golf Balls, a History

A very wooden affair

Back in the mid 16th century, when golf first came into existence, the equipment was all made from wood, including the golf ball itself.

Tickle me silly – the Featherie

A significant improvement for the golf ball was to come in 1618 when some bright spark decided to make a hollow sphere out of horse or cow hide and to then pack this sphere with goose feathers. This was then soaked in water to enable it to be fashioned into the shape of a ball, then left to dry. In drying, the hide would shrink and the feathers expand, thus producing the desired effect of a hardened ball.

The golf balls were then painted, and finally the makers mark applied. Being hand crafted made these balls very expensive to buy, and therefore only affordable to a few.

Anyone for rubber, Vicar ?

One Rev. Adam Paterson of St. Andrews introduced the rubber golf ball to the world of golf, back in 1848. It was made from the sap of the Gutta tree, where it also took its name, the Gutta Percha ball. The tree is found in the tropics of south east Asia and northern Australasia.

Being made from rubber, the ball was easy to mould and easy to repair, as when damaged it could be reheated then remoulded.

The first versions of these balls were smooth, and therefore did not travel as far as the Featherie, but this changed from 1880, when the Guttie started to be produced with patterns on the surface of the balls.

Industrialisation and the end of the crafter

The hand crafting of the golf balls came to an end by the end of the 19th century, when companies such as Dunlop started mass producing golf balls by using moulds of the Gutta Percha balls in mechanised golf ball construction.

The one-piece rubber core

in 1898, Coburn Haskell created a golf ball made up of a Gutta-percha sphere which contained a solid rubber core covered by a layer of rubber thread. Initially the rubber thread had to be constructed by hand, but a thread winding machine was created by one W. Millson, thus allowing the ball to be mass produced.

The golf ball as we know it today

In 1905, William Taylor introduced golf balls with a dimple pattern. This pattern was applied to the Haskell golf ball design. This new design benefits the game by minimising the drag and maximising lift.

The golf ball went BANG – exploding balls

In 1906 a ball was introduced that was based on the Haskel design, but had a compressed air core. The only problem with this ball was that if it got too hot, the air within the core would expand, thus blowing the ball apart.

The standardisation of the golf ball

Up until 1921 there was no standardization of the size and weight of golf balls, then the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew (R&A) in the United Kingdom, and the United States Golf Association (USGA) in the United States of America set down rules to govern the dimensions of the golf balls. These rules differed between the two organisations until after 1990.

Charles Edwards is a keen golfer and sportsman and provider of information on many aspects of the golf. He has created the following website which will contain golfing information, and links to other related sites on many aspects of golfing: http://www.golfclubpros.co.uk

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