The modern game of golf has been played since the early 1400s in Scotland, and the game has evolved greatly since then. Early golf balls would be almost unrecognizable compared to modern Titleist golf balls.
You may have arrived here wondering: “What are golf balls made of?” We’re going to give you the full scoop on how golf balls are made — what manufacturing looked like in the past and what it looks like now.
Golf ball construction has changed drastically over the last few centuries, which speaks volumes about how this game evolved over the years to become a full-fledged sport.
An early Scottish golfer would find it hard to believe that over 50 million people play golf each year. This equates to more than 900 million rounds in more than 25,000 golf courses annually.
Golf Ball Construction Through the Years
Early days – 1600s (The Wooden Ball)
Early golf rounds were played with a wooden ball that was first used on the Eastern coasts of Scotland. These golf balls would likely have been made from hardwoods such as boxwood and beech. A golfer would hit these simple balls in conjunction with wooden golf clubs. As you could imagine, this wasn’t a dimpled ball, it was just a round projectile. Swing speed and other factors we obsess over today weren’t really an issue back then.
This early golf ball was used until the 1600s.
1600-1800s (The Featherie Ball / Leather Ball)
In the 17th century, the first multi layer balls came into existence. These balls were made of small leather sacks filled with goose feathers that had been boiled to sterilize them. This leather golf ball was then tightly sewn together and painted before being used.
These balls were very costly to produce and were not very durable (think $10-$20/each in modern day terms). This meant that the feather ball was seen as a luxury option for the rich to use.
In 1618, this ball evolved further. The leather was stuffed with feathers while both components were wet. As the ball dried out, the leather would shrink and compact the feathers contained within. The feathery golf ball was a step in the right direction. The feathers would expand as the water left the fibers.
This process resulted in a compact and hard feathery ball that was painted and sold. This process was fairly time consuming, so the featherie golf ball was still considered a luxury item.
Early golf equipment wasn’t very durable, and these balls were no exception. If they got wet then they would eventually disintegrate. Golfers were unlikely to get more than two rounds per ball, so there weren’t many upsides to these biodegradable golf balls.
1848 (The Gutta Percha Ball)
In 1848, a new type of ball was invented by the Scottish Reverend Dr. Robert Adams. He used a material known as gutta percha.
This ball used the dried sap of the Sapodilla tree. This material gave the guttie ball a rubbery texture. The material was warmed until malleable, then shaped into a circle. These balls were more durable, easier to play with, and much more affordable.
Golfers also began to notice that a scratched gutty flew better than a smooth ball, so they began to intentionally modify the outer layer. This is where the idea for golf ball dimple patterns originated.
1898 (The Modern Golf Ball)
In 1898, the forerunner to the modern golf ball hit the scene. It was first named the Haskell Ball, since it was developed a man by the name of Coburn Haskell. He “created” these wound golf balls while waiting for his friend Bertram Work, the superintendent of the B.F. Goodrich Company
The wound ball contained a solid rubber core wrapped tightly in a rubber thread with high tensile strength. This core was then encased in a cover made from balata sap.
Many different golf ball cores have been tested since this discovery. Some alternatives include small sacs of liquid, glycerin, steel and lead.
What are two piece golf balls made of?
There are 2 main types of golf balls available today.
A modern two piece ball is often composed of a rubber core (or synthetic rubber core) and a thermoplastic (ionomer resin or Surlyn) outer shell. A golf ball manufacturer can produce durable two piece balls rather quickly. This is why they usually cost less.
These balls are good for beginners and good for distance.
What are three piece or multilayer golf balls made of?
A premium ball is often a three piece or multilayer ball. In fact, some modern balls have up to 5 layers!
Modern multi-layer balls originally consisted of a rubber core wrapped in a rubber band.
However, these wound balls were eventually replaced with better technology — a rubber or polybutadiene core wrapped in a mantle of other materials (usually synthetic rubber or plastic). The casing layer or “shell” is often urethane. A urethane cover gives the golfer higher spin rates on iron and wedge shots. However, these covers aren’t quite as durable as the two-piece Surlyn cover balls.
These golf balls are the preferred choice for skilled golfers, as they allow for more spin and shot control. A soft feel is possible as well.
The process of manufacturing 3-piece golf balls can be very time-consuming. There are more processes involved and inspections required, so these golf balls tend to be more expensive. Think Titleist Pro V1.
A two piece ball is often made through a process called injection molding, whereas a three piece ball is often made through compression molding.
For injection molding, the core will be held in the center of a mold using pins. The thermoplastic is heated until it becomes a liquid and this is then injected into the mold until it is full.
This is done in the presence of heat, causing it to bond to the core and creating the traditional dimpled golf ball. The plastic is allowed to cool, during which time it hardens. The pins are then pulled out and the ball is de-molded.
For compression molding, the outer casing is made into 2 hollow hemispheres using the injection molding method. The core encased in the thread is then inserted into the center of these hemispheres and the whole thing is heated and pressed together.
This fuses the two halves together to the core, and creates the dimple pattern.
The balls are then polished to remove any rough spots and the joint along the seam. They are then placed on top of rotating posts where coats of spray paint are applied. The company logo is then stamped onto the outside and a clear coating is applied.
This process protects the ball against scrapes and will make it shiny.
Finished golf balls are then placed into industrial drying machines before being packaged and shipped out.
So what are golf balls made of? Now you know!
Golf Ball History
We already covered some of the early golf ball options above, but we can step back even further to get an even broader view. The golf ball has come a long way!
The first golf-like sport recorded in history dates back to the Roman empire. Romans enjoyed a game called paganica that involved a feather-filled ball that was hit using a bent stick. The ball they used was much larger than a golf ball, as it measured approximately 7 inches across.
By the Middle Ages, this sport evolved into a game known as bandy ball. This game was played with a 4-inch diameter ball and wooden sticks. Many would consider this to be the precursor to the Scottish golf game.
Eventually, the first-ever golf club was founded in 1744 in Edinburgh. This development led to a standardized group of rules for the game, ensuring that the matches were fair.
Golf ball manufacturers have been hard at work ever since.