Golf has become one of the most popular sports across the world. There are several pieces of equipment needed to play golf, and one of the most important is the golf ball. Golf balls have transformed over the years, as the game dates back as far as 80 BC! The early Roman emperors played a game in which they used bent sticks to drive a soft ball stuffed with feathers.
Obviously, the golf ball is not made of feathers anymore. So how are they made? Well, there is a large history here, and we can’t give you some details without giving you the others. So this article will take a look at the evolution of golf balls - where they came from and what they are now. We will look at a bit of the history of golf and take a look at how golf balls are currently made.
Golf has a long and fascinating history and the way golf balls are made is no different. So let’s take a look at the history of golf balls and how they are made.
The Earliest Golf Balls
As was mentioned earlier, golf dates back to the early Romans. They used soft balls made of feathers that could be as big as up to 7 inches in diameter. However, Scotland is credited with being the birthplace of the game as we know it today. We are not able to pinpoint the exact year in which golf was born, but according to Golf Week it was banned from Scotland in 1457 which suggests that by this point it was already rather widespread.
By this point, there were several types of balls being tried and tested including metal, wood, ivory, and linen. Balls carved out of wood were used during the 1400s when golf became incredibly popular all over the world. People from all classes (peasants to nobility) played the game. Yet the “featherie” ball remained the ball of choice for a long time. Around five- or six-hundred years ago, the first ball similar in size to the ones used now came about. Feathers stuffed into a leather pouch measuring around 1.5 inches creating a type of ball that lasted around 450 years.
The Featherie Golf Ball
Again, used in the very early days of golf, the featherie was one of the most popular golf balls for several hundred years. Made of a leather sack that was sewn together and stuffed with wet goose feathers, the feathers, when dry, expanded which gave the balls their shape. After the feathers had dried and the balls expanded, they were then painted. The whole process could take up to 8 hours to make one ball!
Of course, because of the materials used, the balls did not last as long as wooden balls. However, because they were so light and airy, they flew much further than wooden balls.
The Rubber Golf Ball
The first rubber golf balls were not made until the 1800s. Because the featheries were so expensive to make, the game had become one for only the rich. However, with the newly discovered rubber material, the balls became much less expensive and difficult to make, bringing the game back to the common man.
“Gutties” - short for gutta percha ball - could be mass produced by heating the rubber and pouring them into ball shaped molds. Still to this day, natural and synthetic rubber are the main material used in making golf balls.
How Modern Golf Balls Are Made
Modern golf balls still require rubber for their construction, but they also use plastic. These two raw materials are what create the golf balls we know today. The core is made of strong rubber and the hard outside shell is made of a thermoplastic which is also known as ionomer resin cover.
There are also three-piece golf balls on the market today as well. These consist of a smaller rubber, but that is just as strong. Sometimes they have a liquid-filled center surrounded by a rubber thread and then covered with a balata rubber or an ionomer resin cover.
The Manufacturing Process
The modern two-piece ball is created by surrounding a spherical core made of rubber or synthetic rubber with a hard covering. The core is placed into a mold where hot plastic is injected to surround the rubber center and hardens, forming a dimpled coating. Once the plastic hardens, the ball is then removed from the mold, painted, and stamped with a logo, and given a glossy coating. Once it dries, there you have your standard two-piece golf ball.
The three-piece golf ball is a bit more tedious to make. They still have a core - either hard or liquid-filled - which is surrounded by rubber and a hard outer coating. This process is much more complex, as the added inner layer makes it a much longer process. They can require up to 80 different manufacturing steps, which can take up to 30 days per ball.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each step:
Forming the core: In the two-piece ball, the center is a molded core made up of several different ingredients which make a rubber-like compound. Both heat and pressure are applied, creating the perfect 1.5 inch core.
The cover and dimples: An injection mold or compression mold is used to form the outer layer of the golf ball. In injection molding, the core is centered and hot thermoplast is injected into the molding surrounding the core. The hot mixture is held in place as it dries, and the mold contains the dimple shapes, giving it the dimples. In compression molding, the cover is injected into two halves of hollow hemispheres and then positioned around the core, heated, and pressed together. The mold creates the dimples and fuses the cover to the core. Compression molding is always used in three-piece balls so as not to distort or break the rubber threads of the core.
Painting and final coating: Any rough spots on the seam of the golf ball are removed and two layers of paint are applied to the balls. The balls are set onto posts, allowing the ball to spin so that the paint is applied evenly and uniformly. Then, the ball is stamped with a logo and a clear coat is applied to give it a sheen.
Drying and packaging: Once the balls have been painted and covered, they are loaded into a dryer and, once they are dry, they are ready to be packaged.
The golf ball has changed a lot over the years, but one thing has remained the same: the popularity of the game. For more information about golf, check out Back 2 Basics. We have great information, tips, and tricks you need to know about the game of golf and how to level up your game with our training aids!