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The Complete History of the Golf Ball

The Complete History of the Golf Ball

While the white-dimpled sphere we see used in professional golf today has been the standard golf ball for the last 60 years, the history of the golf ball is more complex than you might think.

Most historians will note that the first official written record of golf came from James II’s ban on the game in 1457. Unofficially, golf–as we know the game–was played in Scotland as far back as the 14th century.

During the first 400 years of golf, there were only four types of golf balls: the Hairy, the Feathery, the Gutty, and the Haskell. The modern golf ball used today is a result of synthetic improvements on the Haskell and dimple design.

Types of Golf Balls

Throughout the life of the golf ball, technology has helped improve it so much that players are hitting the ball further and straighter than ever before. 

A type of golf ball that needs to be addressed, but is not on the official list of golf balls used in the game is the wooden golf ball. Historians assume that the earliest form of golf was played with a wooden golf ball, but there is no evidence of this being the case. 

Wooden balls were used in ancient sports such as Colf, Crosse, and Mail. These are thought to be precursors to the game of golf, so some historians assume there would have been some overlapping as the game transitioned, where wooden balls could have been used.

The Hairy Ball

The Hairy ball is considered to be the first official type of golf ball to be used in golf as we know it. This Hairy ball was close in design to the small, leather-stitched ball that the Romans used to use in some of their sports called the harpastum. 

The Hairy ball was said to be imported to Scotland from the 15th to the 17th century when it became the standard golf ball of golf at the time.

During its time on the links, the hairy could be hit a distance of around 150 yards, but could easily become waterlogged. 

Often referred to as a “common ball”, the hairy would be used for a couple of hundred years, up until the early 1700s.

The Feathery

The Feathery is the most famous golf ball of all time, despite most historians being unable to narrow down the exact lifespan it had in golf. 

References in literature to a ball made with feathers and leather pop up from the early 17th century on, but it is unclear when it became the standard ball in golf.

It took feathery ball makers an entire bucket of goose feathers to produce one ball, and they could only make a handful of golf balls a day.

A feathery golf ball would have been made by stuffing feathers into a few pieces of leather stitched together. The feathery ball would then be wet, and as the ball dried, the feathers expanded while the leather shrank, producing equalized pressure inside and outside the ball. 

This created a golf ball that could only be matched by modern golf balls in its tightness. The main reason feathery golf balls took over for hairy golf balls is the number of feathers one could stuff into a feathery ball. 

Because the feathery could be packed more densely, it allowed the golf ball to be hit further. 

The Feathery golf ball could be hit an average distance of 193 yards by a driver, which was a significant improvement over the hairy golf ball.

The Gutty Ball

Beginning in 1848, golf balls were being made out of an entirely new substance: gutta-percha gum. Commonly known as “gutties” these golf balls came from the gum harvested from a gutta-percha tree.

There is a dispute about where the original idea for making a golf ball out of gutta-percha came from. Regardless, the new golf ball was first adopted by Admiral Dougall in 1848.

The first gutty ball was smooth all around. Interestingly, golfers found that gutty balls with scratches or indentions flew better than the smooth gutty. 

Even though the gutty ball wasn’t well received, by 1860, it had become the official ball of golf, as it was much cheaper and more durable than any previous golf ball.

The Haskell Ball

A man by the name of Coburn Haskell, an American, developed the wound core golf ball in 1898. The Haskell was a ball that consisted of a solid rubber round core, wrapped with rubber threads, and then covered with a layer of gutta-percha gum.

The outer layer of the Haskell ball was patterned in bramble. Think of it as how a berry looks on the outside. 

In no time, the Haskell became one of the most significant technological advances in golf and would be the standard golf ball from 1900-1967.

The Surlyn Ball

In 1967, Spalding would redesign the Haskell ball and replace it with a synthetic cover called Surlyn. This new cover allowed the golf ball to spin slower, which led to less slice and ended in the adoption of basically every golfer in the game. 

Since the introduction of the Surlyn golf ball, modern golf balls are simply tweaks on the Surlyn cover. 

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