Think golf ball. Think white, think dimpled. Right? Well, that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a brief history of the golf ball.
Though it’s often thought that the first golf balls were made of wood, there’s really no surviving evidence to support this. The first balls to be recognised as used on the links were the ‘featheries’ of the 15th century, made of leather and stuffed with an actual ‘top-hat’ full amount of duck and geese feathers.
One of the first references to golf ball manufacture comes from 1554 – “the Cordiners and Gowf Ball Manufacturers of North Leith”. Cordiners were shoemakers and leather workers, so it’s logical to assume that they were also making leather-cased golf balls. The balls needed to be oiled regularly to build better water resistance. Although a good ballmaker could make 50 to 60 balls in a week, it was still an extremely painstaking process.
Ball manufacturers began using a new material in the 1850s – gutta percha, a sap extracted from the Malaysian sapodilla tree, known locally as ‘getah percha’. The first ‘gutties’ were smooth but would later have hammered marks and moulds to generate better flight, the precursor to the modern dimpled ball.
Decades later in 1901, another revolutionary development arrived in the form of the first rubber-cored ball by the Haskell Company from America. These looked just like gutties but gave the average golfer an extra 20 yards from the tee – constructed from a solid rubber core wrapped in rubber thread encased in a gutta percha sphere. These were mass-produced, therefore making them more affordable.
To read more, get a copy of ParGolf March 2017.