A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GOLF BALL

Golf is popular with millions of people, young and old, expert and beginners.  And like most popular sports, golf has a history.

Before the present-day, white, dimpled golf ball, they used various and in some cases strange substitutes for golf balls.  Early golf balls were made of cowhide, while later examples were constructed from feathers and sap.  Then along came rubber and golf balls really began to change.  Nowadays, golf balls are made from urethane blends.

In the very beginning, golf balls were made from wood.  These wooden examples date back to the 1400s.  The clubs were made from wood, too.  The balls were handmade as were the clubs.  And since technology wasn’t even really a word then, the balls weren’t very round and the clubs were less than efficient.

It was during the 17th century that the ‘featherie’ ball replaced the man-made wooden golf ball.  Featherie balls were composed of goose or chicken feathers jam-packed into a small leather pouch.  First the feathers were boiled, then they were stuffed into the pouch, which had been soaked in warm water.  As the pouch dried and cooled the feathers would expand.  The result, hopefully, was a hard, compact golf ball.

In reality, the featherie balls weren’t half bad, as witnessed by their longevity – they remained the standard of quality for more than two hundred years.  There were, however, some manufacturing drawbacks to the featherie balls:  they were hand-made and each maker could only produce a few balls per day.  This fact, of course, meant the balls were expensive – the old supply and demand adage.  In today’s money, a featherie would cost about twenty dollars each.  The other problem was that since the featheries were hand-made, they were never perfect spheres.  And this meant that no matter how hard they were hit, maximum force was never achieved, which had to be very frustrating, especially in a game that’s a hotbed of frustration anyway.  Finally, the featheries’ leather pouches were held together by stitches that tended to rot once they got wet. 

In 1848, Dr. Robert Adams Paterson had a great idea:  the guttie golf ball.  The guttie golf ball was made from the sap of the Sapodilla tree.  Since the sap had rubbery-qualities, it could be heated and shaped into a perfect sphere.  Initially, what was thought to be a problem arose:  the guttie manufacturing process left bruises, nicks, dents, and cuts in the surface.  The problem vanished when they realized that the nick and dents actually caused the gutties to travel further when hit.

After the guttie, golf balls were made in two pieces:  a solid or liquid-filled inner core with a layer of rubber on the outside.  Finally, in the 21st century, golf balls began to be made from synthetic materials.  These modern golf balls are composed of from two to four sections, are perfectly spherical, don’t rot in the rain, and fly as straight and true as they are hit.