Caveman’s Chronicles: A Brief History Of The Golf Ball From Feathers, Leather & Sap To Surlyn, Synthetics & Beyond!

I’m not sure if you were aware, but golf has been around for a really long time, centuries in fact. There are some who like to dispute and discuss its origin, but this caveman knows the real history of golf. I mean I have been around since the Mesozoic Era, and can remember the first time I caught wind of this brilliant game, well sort of. I was just hanging out in my cave when my mate, Sniff, handed me a bent stick, dropped a few wooden balls on the ground and told me he could make it to the gopher hole with in less hits than I could. I’m not really one to back down from challenges, and I am certainly not one to lose. So when he beat me, It became my goal to make sure he never did again.

We continued to use wooden balls until the 17th century. By this time the game had really caught on! Some clever bloke came up with the feathery golf ball. I am not sure where the idea came from, but they were created using the same basic methods as shrunken heads! A leather ball was stitched up, filled with feathers (hence the name) then boiled down until it shrank. After it dried it was hammered into a more spherical shape and painted. But because of how long they took to make, they were pretty expensive.

Honestly, the feathery could fly. I am pretty sure it was Sammy Messieux who whacked a 361 yarder using one. But these balls started to be replaced by balls that could be made more quickly and for less money. The Gutta-Percha ball started showing up in the around the 1850’s. Basically rolled from tree sap, these balls proved to be waterproof and pretty resilient.

The smooth surface didn’t really prove to have the best flight though. It didn’t take long for folks to discover that purposefully dinging up the balls a bit created a more “true” flight path. The Bramble pattern of raised bumps started showing up on all of the new balls. But that still didn’t stop us golfers from moving on.

One never realized what a stubborn, inert thing a gutty is until the Haskell came on the scene. – Golf Illustrated, 1902

Coburn Haskell invented what is pretty much the modern day golf ball by winding rubber thread over a solid rubber core and then giving it a solid coating, and by 1908 those bumps had been replaced by dimples. When I first started using these balls, their size and weight often varied depending on which manufacturer I got them from.

It wasn’t until 1930 that any standards for golf ball weight and seize were actually established in Britain, and then another 2 years before the USGA would adopt the same standard. They set the maximum weight to be 1.620 ounces and the diameter could not be less than 1.68 inches. Maximum velocity of 250 feet per second was also added later.

Today the golf ball industry is amazing. Technology has advanced well beyond a skin pouch filled with bird hair to include various synthetic materials like plastic, surlyn or urethane blends, and often have multiple layers. There are even biodegradable golf balls made from lobster shells, or the new golf balls which are impossible to slice.

But does the price of a golf ball actually mean it’s a better ball?

Whatever you decide, be sure to check out my golf ball sale this weekend at Rock Bottom Golf!


Bonus: Rangé Golf Balls. The #1 used ball in golf!

3 thoughts on “Caveman’s Chronicles: A Brief History Of The Golf Ball From Feathers, Leather & Sap To Surlyn, Synthetics & Beyond!

  • June 4, 2011 at 1:41 am

    They should charge by the distance. That way I could get mine super cheap:)

  • August 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I see that you write on an interesting topic. Can I use text from Your site to my blog? They are very useful.

    • August 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Of course, just please credit and link to us please.


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