We focus a lot on golf clubs because that’s what we do — but have you ever really sat down and pondered your golf balls? They might not look like much, but they represent some of the most impressive work in physics and aerodynamics that you’re likely to encounter unless you work for NASA.
We often talk about how one ball is softer than another, but we never really have the space to explain what that really means. So, today we’re pulling back the curtain on golf balls. Hold on tight, there might be some science ahead!
Getting to the Core of the Matter
Inside every golf ball is — something. In pre-19th century Scotland, that something was chicken feathers, later players used balls filled with dried sap, then rubber was invented. In fact, the precursor to modern balls was invented on accident as Coburn Haskell waited for his friend Bertram Work (the superintendent of the B. F. Goodrich Company) to get finished with work. He wound some stray rubber threads into a ball and discovered just how bouncy that material can be. Later, the two put a cover on that bouncy ball and bam, modern golf balls were born.
Today’s balls are typically made of synthetic resins instead of rubber, but the principal is the same. Balls like the Titleist NXT are made of multiple layers of different types of resins to get specific effects. This particular ball has two layers and is designed to increase spin on long shots. Other balls, like the Titleist Pro V1 are made with a solid core that is meant to increase softness — the core material the manufacturer chooses can affect the properties of the ball significantly.
What’s Covering it Up?
The other important factor in ball function is the dimple design on the cover. Believe it or not, the Rules of Golf are very particular about regulating the radius and depth of these dimples, as well as their distribution on the ball’s cover.
Every time you launch a ball from the tee box, you’re participating in an amazing feat of physics. Long ago, golfers noticed that scuffed up balls tended to play better, but they didn’t know why. Back then, all the balls had smooth faces, but as scientists like Newton and Magnus explored the science of aerodynamics it all started coming together.
Professor Guthrie Tait of Edinburgh University was ultimately the one to solve the bigger puzzle. Using the work of men before him, he realized that those dimples were actually a vital part of ball travel. The rough surface, he discovered, combined with the backspin put on the ball by the player created additional lift that wasn’t happening to non-dimpled balls in the same scenarios.
In fact, a modern dimpled ball struck with a driver covers about 265 yards in flight, then rolls to total around 290 yards of travel. A similar, non-dimpled ball will only cover about 140 yards. The dimpled ball is, in essence, creating its own lift just like a wing on an airplane!
When it comes to how many dimples you need on your ball, how you swing your club makes a difference. Generally, the more dimples you’ve got, the higher the ball will fly, so it’s a good idea to test out several balls to find one that will give you lots of height without losing overall yardage. If you’re playing seaside or somewhere windy, obviously you’d be better off with less height and better ability to cut through those stiff breezes.
Of course, this is a very simplified explanation of how balls work, but for the average player it should answer most of your burning questions about these tiny miracles of modern science and help you pick the ball that’s perfect for your game. If you’re looking for a great price on golf balls from top manufacturers like Titleist, Callaway and Taylormade, check out our inventory at 3balls.com. We’ve got the best prices from your favorite manufacturers every day.
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