Is Your Golf Ball a Powerball?

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How to Choose the Right Golf Ball for you Game

When golf professional Mike Austin teed up his ball on the 4th hole of the 1974 U.S. National Senior Open Championship in Las Vegas, he never dreamed he was about to make history. When his ball finally stopped rolling 165 yards past the green on the 450 yard hole, it measured a staggering 515 yards, a world record distance. That record still holds today.

Several unique factors were in play when Austin hit that drive. He had a hot 35 mph tailwind at his back. The course was dry. The course altitude of 2,200 feet meant less air resistance on the ball. In addition, Austin applied the knowledge of his degree in physics and his doctoral in Kinesiology to create an optimum power swing for himself.

And finally, there was the ball. His modern-era power ball, engineered to fly faster, further and straighter, reacted as designed and flew off the impact of the club face perfectly.

The story of the evolution of that golf ball is a long one.

1300s Dutch Game – Some give credit to the Dutch for inventing a game in the 1300s where the player hit a small leather ball with a stick at a target several hundred yards away. Most golf historians, however, defer to the Scots.

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1400s Scotland- The first game of real golf was probably played by a bored Scottish shepherd using a tree branch to hit a crude ball around a pasture over a course with 18 holes The word “golf” was first mentioned in print in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament.

The “feathery” or “featherie” ball- The ball the Scots used was called a “feathery.” It was a crude hand-sewn round leather pouch stuffed with chicken or goose feathers. Even that far back, rules concerning sizes and weights were in order. The amount of feathers used to fill a ball could not exceed the volume of a gentleman’s top hat. Once the feathers were boiled and softened, they were stuffed into the leather coating. A coat of white paint followed and the ball was ready for play.

As a side note, the golf terms of “birdie” and “eagle” and “albatross” were derived from that original bird-feather ball.

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Gutta-percha golf ball – The next step in the evolution of the golf ball occurred in 1848 when a golf-loving Scottish reverend named Dr. Robert Adams Paterson created the gutta-percha ball. It was made from the dried sap of the Malaysian sapodilla tree. The rubber-like sap could be formed into a spherical shape by heating and then shaping it in a spherical mold.

The first gutta-percha balls had a smooth surface. By accident, players noticed that the more nicked-up the balls became after use, the farther and straighter the balls flew. Players soon began cutting grooves into the new balls to improve their distance and trajectory. Ball manufacturers caught on and began to score their ball covers with textured patterns. Because one of the more popular designs resembled the fruit of a bramble bush, the gutta-percha name was replaced by the name “gutta-brambies.”

Haskell golf ball – In 1898, at the B.F. Goodrich plant in Akron, Ohio, plant superintendent Coburn Haskell playfully wound some rubber thread into a ball and bounced it. To his shock, the ball nearly hit the ceiling. Someone suggested he put a cover over the ball and turn it into a new type of golf ball. He did, and the new ball, named the Haskell ball, quickly replaced the gutta-brambie as the golfers’ choice.

Soon, a new ball innovation occurred with Haskell inverted the ball dimples to be concave instead of protruding from the face of the ball. This step provided more spin and trajectory control of the ball in flight.

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Surlyn cover 1960s – When a new synthetic resin known named “Surlyn” was introduced by the E. I. du Pont Company, golf ball designers quickly discovered it was a perfect product to use for the golf ball covers.

Solid Core golf balls 1967 – When the Spaulding sports company purchased a patent for a solid golf ball core, the standard liquid-center golf balls were suddenly obsolete. Today, most golfers use a 2-piece golf ball with a solid rubber core inside a dimpled synthetic skin.


Engineers have used math and basic physics to prove that dimples nearly double the distance a golf ball can be driven as opposed to smooth skin balls. The inverted dimple holes give lift to the ball and cut down air resistance much the way the wings of an airplane do.

As to the optimum number of dimples on a ball’s surface, there is no one magic figure. The number of dimples on a ball vary by manufacturer with between 300 and 500 dimples being the normal range. For some reason, the number 336 seems to be common.

There are no golfing restricting as to the size and number of dimples a manufacturer can implement on their golf balls. The dimple pattern, however came under scrutiny in 1981 when the Polara golf ball came on the market.

Polara Golf balls – The body that sanctions golf ball designs has always strived to make ball as symmetrical as possible including dimple design. In 1981, Polara introduced a ball that had six rows of normal dimples on its equator but some very shallow dimples elsewhere on the ball. Testing had shown that this asymmetrical design helped the ball self-adjust itself during the flight and greatly reduced hooks and slices. The United Stated Golf Association quickly deemed these balls as unfair, changed their ball-design rules and  banned the Polara balls from tournament play.

Golf ball regulations – Although dimple designs are mostly unregulated, the size and weight of a golf ball are. A regulation golf ball cannot have a weight of more than 1.620 oz. (45.93 grams) and must have a diameter of 1.680 inches (42.67 mm).

British-size golf balls – British golf balls are slightly smaller than US regulated balls with a diameter of 1.62 inches instead of the standard 1.68 American ball. Because the British ball is undersize and does not conform to the USGA minimum size, its use as been banned for all sanctioned tournament play. Even though a smaller ball does theoretically have less air resistance and should therefore go further, most golfers abandoned the use of the British size ball.

Non-regulation golf balls – In recent years, non-reg balls like the Polara have made a comeback and are being sold in major outlets online and in retail golf supply stores. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, golf has taken a hit since Tiger Woods no longer dominates the links. Fewer golf rounds are played each year. Television-audience sizes are down. Many golfers have put their clubs aside in favor of other sports or hobbies.

Secondly, new golfers are finding the frustration of trying to learn the game is just too much. Therefore, anything that makes the game easier to learn and play is causing many in the game to look the other way when it comes to a ball like the Polara that claims it can reduce hooks and slices by 75 per cent.

Choosing the right golf ball for your game – The golf ball is the only piece of golf equipment that you use for each stroke, so choosing the optimum ball that fits you is important.

Price – Everybody loses golf balls. Be it a duck-hook into impenetrable bushes or a slice into the lake, it’s part of the game. Knowing this, price should be a factor when shopping for golf balls.

Cover material- Ball covers are either ionomer or urethane. The Ionomer covers are made from plastics, the urethane is composed of soft, rubber resources. Choosing the brand of ball and its particular cover really depends on your skill level.

If you are just taking up the game or have a high handicap, you’ll probably want a ball with anionomer covers to help reduce hooking and slicing. This cover also helps get the ball to travel higher and further.

For advanced golfers with handicaps in the 70s and low 80s, the urethane cover is optimum. Balls with a urethane cover are long off the tee and will optimize your short game with spin. 

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There is a world of information about differing brands and the pros and cons of each available on line or at pro-shops and retail outlets.

Go out and test some balls at the putting and chipping area at a course. Read what the pros have to say and which balls they endorse and why. Once you like the feel for the way the ball reacts and spins and hold its flight line, price it out looking for bargain sales and quantity discounts.

Most importantly, have fun on the course. Don’t buy into Mark Twain’s old saying that “golf is a good walk wasted.” On the contrary. The game of golf is a good walk enhanced.


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