Evolution of Golf Balls throughout History

In response to bvb5364’s comment on my previous post, this week I am going to share the history of golf balls over time with all of you. This post is the second episode of my “Evolution of Golf” series. Coincidentally, we are now discussing paradigm shifts in the class, so I guess the series will also be a good exercise for me to write a research paper (Haha!). Without further ado, let’s get started!

In my opinion, the evolution of golf balls is an amazing record of the advancement in material sciences over time. In the earliest day of golf, when players casually enjoyed the game on the eastern coast of Scotland, all the equipment was made from wood. For example, “One documented reference is that of a John Daly playing with a wooden ball in 1550” (“History of Golf Ball”).

A replica of wooden golf ball

However, it was soon realized wood was not the choice for balls, because wooden balls could not soar in the air. Accordingly, in 1618, the feather golf ball, or “featherie,” was invented.

Example of a Featherie

Featherie was “a handcrafted ball made with goose feathers tightly packed into a horse or cow hid sphere.” Due to its handcrafted nature, the process of making a featherie was laborious. It required wetting, shrinking, drying, painting, and marking. Consequently, sometimes a featherie was more expensive than a club. Despite the exorbitant price, the feather ball completely drove the wooden ball out of the market because of its superior performance in the air. It had a much higher trajectory and easier to control. Some of the notable ball-makers of the 1600s were Andrew Dickson, Leith and Henry Mills, St Andrews.

Antique Featherie

In 1848, Rev Adam Paterson of St Andrews revolutionized the golf balls by introducing the new Gutta Percha ball, or “Guttie.” This was the first time that rubber was used to produce a golf ball. Aerodynamically, Guttie gave more “lift,” as well as minimized “drag,” thereby producing higher trajectory and longer distance than featherie did. Moreover, Guttie allowed the players to shape their shots because of its sidespin. Later, the one-piece rubber-core method, invented by Coburn Haskell in 1898, further improved the performance of rubber golf balls.

Cute Gutties~

Throughout this period, there were a lot of experimentations with the patterns of the golf balls. After trials and errors, William Taylor (now commonly known as Taylormade, or Adidas in golf) applied dimples to Haskell golf balls. As a result, this gave birth to the modern golf balls.

An overview of the evolution of golf balls

Today, there is a rich variety of golf balls available on the market. They are specially designed for different purposes. Some offer control (usually for skilled players who want to be able to pinpoint their shots); some offer distance (for high-handicapped golfers who want to increase their distance off the tee). There are also hard-core and soft core golf balls as well. Lastly, some are for practice only (known as range balls).

Modern 3-piece golf balls


Range balls



Works Cited

“A History of the Golf Ball.” Golf Europe. Web. Oct 20. 2015.

4 thoughts on “Evolution of Golf Balls throughout History

  1. Thank you for your suggestions! I attempted to split a golf ball before but failed. However, one time I whacked the ball straight into a huge tree trunk and the ball just broke apart! By the way, I want to play for the Penn State, too, but unfortunately I am good enough.

  2. Great post this week! I would have probably expected the first golf balls to be wooden if someone had asked me before I read your post, but all the others like for example the featherie are very interesting and I would have never guessed golf balls went through such an evolutionary process. It is very interesting to see how technical and based in physics many sports have become. Even the design of soccer balls and cleats nowadays is extremely advanced and complicated. I wonder what the future has planned in terms of sport gear technology evolution…

  3. Golf balls are weird to me! They’re insanely expensive.. actually everything in golf is expensive haha. Maybe next week you can discuss why golf and equipment is such an expensive sport and how it came to be that way. Have you ever split a golf ball? My dad told me while he played golf (for Penn State!) a kid on his team would always split them when it became cold.

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