A History of the Golf Ball

The Golf Ball: A History

The origination of golf features a contentious history of which any number of countries lay claim to inventing. Although most modern golfers consider Scotland as the birthplace of modern golf, the evolution of the golf ball is much less controversial. According to Golf Europe, the first recorded instance of someone playing with a wooden ball was in 1550, but by the early 1600’s, making golf balls would require the skilled hand of a craftsman.

Introduction of the Feathery

The first golf ball in Scotland that took a professional's touch was called a "feathery," because it was filled with feathers. The first golf balls were made of horse or cow hide into which feathers were stuffed to create a filled center. The process occurred while the hide was wet so that the ball would harden and the feathers would expand as the ball dried.

The quality of the ball depended significantly on the artistry of the person making it, and just like many other crafted items, craftsmen would put their personal marks on each ball. Not surprisingly, these hand-crafted balls were too expensive for the average golfer and they often had a price tag that was higher than a golf club. Imagine losing a ball worth more than a golf club in a pesky sand trap!

The Gutty Golf Ball Arrives

Golfers used feathery balls for centuries until a man named Robert Adams introduced a ball made of dried sap. The ball felt rubbery when it was finished and was shaped by holding the ball over heat so that the sap was malleable enough to mold into a ball. Called a "gutty," this golf ball was vital to the spread of golf in the 19th century because it was much more affordable.

The gutty ball went through an interesting transformation when players found that a brand new, perfectly circular ball didn't perform as well as if the ball had a few nicks and scratches in it. This discovery meant the introduction of dimples on the golf ball, which is a feature that still comes on every golf ball made today.

Further Advances to Modernity

Another vital change to the way golf balls were made and would perform was the arrival of a rubber core golf ball at the end of the 19th century. According to Golf Ball Guide, an employee of Goodrich Tyre and Rubber Company, created a superior ball that was made with a tightly-packed rubber core.

Interestingly, this ball didn't gain widespread acceptance immediately after its introduction. It wasn't until a few years later when a player used one of the balls at a course in Liverpool, England to beat two legendary golfers that other players noticed the value of the rubber core ball and decided to use them in competitive play.

The evolution of the golf ball today continues, and various golf associations around the world continue to ban or allow these new developments for competitive play. As late as 1988, changes to the standard size of the ball were made by the professional golfing associations of America and Britain. Despite its use for hundreds of years, its likely future inventions will further the performance of the golf ball.