Did you know that golf balls used to be made of feathers? We’ll get into that in a moment I’m sure you’ve asked… what are golf balls made of anyway?
This is a good question as the design has changed drastically over the last century. Now, there are more choices than ever from endless brands for all types of players. Whether you’re a professional golfer or a complete beginner, there is a ball for you.
Just like golf clubs, playing the right golf ball for your game is crucial in getting the most out of your swing. Today we’ll review the history of golf balls, what they’re made of, and how to find the best one to improve your golf game.
What Are Golf Balls Made of?
- The golf ball you play has a big impact on distance, spin, and feel from tee to green.
- Two piece balls are cheaper with varying construction materials and more of a distance ball.
- Three piece balls are more expensive and ideal for golfers with faster swing speeds. They also produce more spin than a two piece ball as well.
- There are three components to a golf ball; the outer layers, mantle(s), and core.
Keep reading to learn more about the design of golf balls and how they impact your game.
History of Golf Balls
Before getting into the modern design of golf balls it’s important to understand how far the design has evolved. The history of golf is unlike any other sport in terms of how much the equipment, courses, and play has grown in a few hundred years.
The original golf ball was made from hardwoods such as box and beech wood. Eventually, golf evolved from a “stick and ball game” to one with a new ball that was made of leather and feathers.
That’s right, golf balls used to be a round leather pouch with goose or chicken feathers. They were then painted white to easily identify them on the links. Needless to say, stuffing feathers into leather pouches was a tedious and expensive process.
The next design was the gutta percha ball (known as the “guttie”) golf ball which was invented by Dr. Robert Adams Patterson. It had a rubber-like feel and had much better aerodynamic qualities than the feather ball. They were also much cheaper to produce, better aerodynamic qualities, and became very popular.
The wound golf ball with rubber threads happened at the start of the 20th century which replaced the guttie. The wound rubber ball had a solid core and a balata shell. Unfortunately the balata tree is soft and would sometimes cut easily.
In 1898 the next evolution came when rubber thread was added to the middle and dimples were added in the early 1900s. The dimples helped add more spin to lofted clubs and balata balls were used for decades. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s when urethane and Surlyn covers were introduced.
This made it possible to have two, three-piece balls, and four piece golf balls with even more technology. Now, golf ball companies and the golf ball market is bigger than ever.
Three Component Design
Modern day golf balls – like the Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1X – have come a long way in terms of design. But what’s inside golf balls?
Golf balls are made up of three parts – the cover, mantle, and core. Each manufacturer adapts these parts to produce the ideal result for a certain type of golfer.
For example, some golf balls are cheaper and built more for distance than anything else. Others are more expensive and provide distance plus a good amount of spin.
A golf ball is either a 2-piece, 3-pieced, or four-piece design. Let’s break down each element of a golf ball.
Golf Ball Cover
The cover is the only part of the ball we’re familiar with unless you’ve ever sawed one in half just to see what was inside. The outermost layer is typically made of urethane or Surlyn. The cover serves several purposes including:
- Feel: The cover impacts how you feel when the ball is struck. Some players prefer firmer golf balls while others prefer softer ones.
- Spin control: The cover also impacts how much spin you can generate on all shots. From drives, to approach shots, and shots around the green. A softer cover allows you to generate more spin and more stopping power on the green. While a firmer ball won’t have as much shot shaping capabilities but can increase distance.
- Durability: The final role of the cover is to withstand impact from the club and the terrain. Since your ball is hit at high speeds (100+ mph with a driver), not to mention trees, sand, cart paths, it needs to withstand it all. Some balls are much more durable than others which means you won’t need to replace them as often.
Surlyn covers are often the ideal choice in a finished ball that is a three-piece design which offers more spin. While urethane is an insert material that is very thin and ideal for more distance. Both help provide the cover with more durability to withstand the element when you play golf.
Golf Ball Mantle
The second part of the golf ball is the mantle which is a layer located between the cover and the core. It’s typically made of materials such as ionomer or thermoplastic resin.
The role of the mantle is to influence the spin and feel of the golf ball. It can have a big impact on how the ball reacts off the club face. But not every ball has a mantle and some have multiple mantles for more distance and a high energy core.
Golf Ball Core
The final piece of the ball is the core which is the central part of the design. It is responsible for the compression, distance, and overall energy transfer from the club to the ball. The core of balls are made up of a composite material or rubber.
In general, there are two types of cores; the first is known as a solid core which is a solid piece at the center of the design. This proves more distance, higher ball speeds, and generally has a higher compression rating.
As a reminder, the higher the compression, the firmer the golf ball.
A dual-core has an inner core and an outer core layer. The outer core is firmer while the inner core is softer to improve distance and feel.
A soft inner core reduces the compression to generate more spin. While the outer core can help you add more speed and distance to your long game.
Different golf ball manufacturers tweak these three parts for 100s of types of balls. Each has a different combination of core, mantle, and cover for different spin, distance, feel, and control.
How Golf Companies Make Golf Balls
Before you buy finished balls from the pro shop, lets break down the process that goes into each one.
- A golf ball starts with a solid piece of rubber and molded into a circular shape.
- From there injection mold or compression molding creates the cover. This process requires a lot of heat and takes a day (for a two piece ball) or up to a month for a three-piece golf ball.
- The third step is to smooth out the ball and apply paint – typically white, or other colors like yellow. The ball sits on posts during the paint job so it’s applied evenly.
- Once complete the ball is stamped with the logo and polyurethane seal. It’s then packaged and sent out.
Now you have a little better understanding why golf balls are so expensive. Which is why you don’t want to lose them if possible!
FAQs About Golf Balls
Do you have more questions about golf balls? If so, keep reading to learn more now.
Why are golf balls bumpy?
Golf balls aren’t bumpy but have dimples to make it more aerodynamic and improve the overall performance. Dimples create turbulence in the airflow to reduce drag and maintain speed through the air. They also create lift – sort of like an airplane wing – to keep it airborne for longer distances.
Dimples also help with spin, trajectory, and distance control. The pattern, depth, and arrangement of dimples varies across different balls and manufacturers for different characteristics.
Why do golf balls not biodegrade?
Golf balls aren’t biodegradable as they’re meant to be highly durable to withstand the impact and other factors in golf. Due to the cover and core, golf balls won’t break down over time.
However, there are environmentally friendly golf balls that are made from sustainable materials. These are pretty rare but common to see at driving ranges or courses with a lot of weather.
As noted on Biodegradable Golf Balls,”Through extensive research and testing, our product is made with a special formula that renders it water-soluble and biodegradable when coming into contact in water. Furthermore, our product contains zero toxic materials and is 100% safe for both the marine ecosystem and the environment.”
But they aren’t cheap! A 24-pack cost about $55 while a 144-pack cost about $300.
What are dimples on a golf ball called?
Small depressions that are visible on balls are called dimples. These improve the flight of the ball and make it more aerodynamic. Different golf balls have different dimple patterns, designs, and size based on the characteristics of the ball.
Are all golf balls the same size?
The rules of golf from the United States Golf Association (USGA) state that a ball cannot have a mass more than 1.620 ounces with a diameter less than 1.680 inches. It also has to perform inside a certain limit for distance, velocity, and symmetry. They are tested rigorously by the USGA and R&A to ensure they’re legal before being sold to the public.
Playing the right ball is one of the most underrated parts of golf. Most of us focus on golf clubs and swing tips, but the right ball can make a big difference too.
My biggest piece of advice is to make sure and play the ball that is right for your swing.
Too many golfers get in the habit of playing the ball their friends do (or their favorite PGA Tour pro). But if you don’t have the same swing speed, you’re just making golf harder on yourself.
Instead, use a golf ball selector tool to find the one that matches your swing so it provides optimal distance and spin. As new golf balls come out, don’t be afraid to test them out and see if they’re a better fit too. Make sure to practice at the short game area and play 9 or 18 holes to see how they perform on the golf course.
Final Thoughts on Golf Ball’s Performance
From the first golf ball to the modern ones we play with today is quite amazing. We’ve gone through some changes from feathers, a solid rubber core, and now three-piece golf balls that we’re most common with today.
While you don’t need to be an engineer to know everything about golf ball design, just know they make a huge difference in your game. Don’t just play any old ball you find on a course (or even worse in a pond) and expect them to perform as well as a new ball.
If you’re serious about playing your best golf make sure to test out different makes/models to see how they impact distance and spin. Sometimes you’ll be able to “feel” it pretty quickly and/or see a distance increase if you have a personal launch monitor.