If you ended up here, it’s because you’re a curious person. Congrats! The world needs more people like you.
I’ve been asked “How many dimples are on a golf ball?” on more than one occasion, so this write-up offers a quick answer to that question, along with an over-the-top deep-dive explanation.
So for those of you who hate reading, here’s what you need to know: Golf balls today typically have between 300-500 dimples.
But if you’re a truly curious person, keep reading. By the time you’re done, you’ll become the dimpled golf ball expert of your friend group.
For example, did you know the benefits of a dimpled ball were actually discovered by accident? The smooth ball of early golf experiments eventually transformed into the sophisticated, aerodynamic design we use today. More on that later.
Have golf balls always had dimples?
Before we take a look at how many dimples there are on a golf ball and why, let’s talk about where the simple design came from, and how golf balls have developed over time.
Back during the 14th century, golf balls were made out of wood and hand-crafted using materials such as boxwood and beech. As you can imagine, these balls weren’t perfectly symmetrical or spherical. The balls surface was as smooth as possible, but humans weren’t measuring drag force or ball spin, they were just trying to get these round projectiles into a hole.
But the human mind knows no limits, so innovation didn’t stop there.
The ‘featherie’ hit the scene in the 17th century. This new ball was a baby step toward the modern golf ball. It gets bragging rights as the first multi-layered golf ball.
These balls were stuffed with goose feather (hence the name) and hand-stitched out of leather. They were often painted as well (fancy!). The featherie was somewhat costly to produce, so unless you had extra cash on hand, these balls weren’t a practical option for the average golfer.
In 1848, a Scottish reverend created the Gutta Percha Ball, also known as the gutty. This ball was unique. It had a rubbery texture and was the first golf ball to be made in a mold. These balls were more durable than the featherie and more affordable as well. A true win-win!
The gutty was a smooth golf ball at conception, but golfers started to notice that a guttie with scratches and dents sometimes offered a ball flight advantage. This led to tons of home-brewed experiments and the quest for the best golf ball.
Over time, it became clear that a smooth surface wasn’t the best design for a balls trajectory.
In 1898, a man by the name of Coburn Haskell “created” a new golf ball with a solid rubber core. This breakthrough happened while he was waiting for his friend Bertram Work (who also happened to be the superintendent of the B.F. Goodrich Company).
The Haskell ball ushered in the competitive era of golf ball manufacturers and the dimpled ball that we all know and love.
If you’re a history person, check out this great golf ball resource from Scottish Golf History.
These innovations led to modern masterpieces such as the Titleist Pro V1 and the Callaway Chrome Soft.
How many dimples are on a golf ball?
As I mentioned earlier, golf balls today usually have somewhere between 300 and 500 dimples, but there have been balls with over 1000 dimples!
In order to qualify for tournament play, American golf balls have to be approved by the USGA (United States Golf Association). This keeps a golf ball manufacturer from doing anything too crazy.
Golf balls all have a rather symmetrical and circular shape, but dimple patterns can vary widely and still meet USGA guidelines. This flexibility allows golf ball manufacturers to create different dimple designs to suit different player’s needs.
For example, some dimple patterns are designed to prevent the ball from producing side-spin as the result of a miss-hit, thereby correcting a player’s shot. These are forgiving golf balls. Other golf balls are designed to help players with a higher swing speed.
Most golf ball dimples will be perfectly spherical, but dimple depth can vary. Some manufacturers have even tried out other shapes to see how these golf ball aerodynamics affect ball flight. Callaway is famous for their hexagonal dimple design, which is a far cry from the early wooden golf balls.
Why does a golf ball have dimples?
The dimples on a golf ball affect two things: lift and drag.
If golf balls didn’t have dimples and they just had smooth surfaces instead, the air would flow too quickly over the ball creating a turbulent flow. This produces a lot of drag, which forces the ball towards the ground faster.
It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. The dimples on a ball help create lift. In fact, a golf ball with dimples will go almost twice as far as a golf ball without!
Those early golfers were onto something when they noticed their scratched and scuffed balls traveling further than their new balls. They just didn’t have the fancy technology to understand why.
The USGA has a great video on YouTube that helps explain golf ball aerodynamics.
Are golf ball dimples always the same size?
Golf ball dimples are usually measured in terms of their depth rather than their circumference. The average depth of a dimple on a golf ball is 0.010-inches, but golf ball dimples are not always the same size.
Official standards require that the dimples have a symmetrical arrangement as well as a specific depth and range of radius. However, these standards still allow for plenty of innovation (Callaway’s hexagonal dimple pattern being the prime example).
Which golf ball dimple pattern is best?
Unless you’re a scientist, I wouldn’t worry too much about this question. Manufacturers will tell you what their ball is capable of on the golf course. Take their golf ball recommendations to heart.
Generally speaking, some balls are best for distance while others are best for greenside control. Recent innovations promise golf balls that offer both, but you have to be a pretty talented golfer to maximize the value of these premium balls.
There are two main types of construction when it comes golf balls: two-piece golf balls and multi-layer golf balls.
- Two-piece golf balls are better suited to beginner, high-handicappers and players with slow swing speeds. They consist of a large core and a thin cover to maximize energy transfer from club to ball for increased distance. These golf balls tend to be the most affordable.
- Multi-layer golf balls are better suited to intermediate to low handicappers. Different swing speeds will activate the different layers to maximize distance and other performance features. These balls tend to be more expensive. See: Why are Pro V1 balls so expensive?