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The History of the Golf Ball

  Golf was first played with a leather-covered ball stuffed with goose or chicken feathers. Several pieces of stout leather were tightly stitched, leaving a small opening. The casing was turned inside out. Feathers - a "gentleman’s top hat full" by measure - that had been boiled and softened, were tediously stuffed into the casing before the final stitches were made. The surprisingly hard feather ball was hammered into roundness and finally coated with several layers of "paint". Because of the difficulty and time involved in making Featheries, they were relatively expensive. This fragile missile was used for almost four centuries.

     The first "Gutta" ball was made in 1848 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Paterson.  Dr. Paterson made them from gutta-percha packing material. Gutta-percha is the evaporated milky juice or latex produced from a tree most commonly found in Malaysia. It is hard and non-brittle and becomes soft and impressible at the temperature of boiling water. Gutta balls, were handmade by rolling the softened material on a board. The new durability of the Gutta, together with its much lower cost, resistance to water, and
improved run, provided rejuvenation to the game of golf. Not without some resistance from traditionalists, the Gutta gradually replaced the Feathery.                                                                                                      

   The gutta-percha ball enormously enhanced the game of golf, however it was soon discovered by golfers who failed to smooth their balls by boiling and rolling them on a "smoothing board" after play, that a ball with many "nicked" had truer flight than the smooth gutta. Thus the hand hammered gutta was created by hammering the softened ball with a sharp edged hammer ... giving the ball an even pattern that greatly improved its play.  Later introduced, were balls formed in iron molds or ball presses that created patterns or markings on the ball.

   Surface textures and patterns impressed into the gutta-percha balls evolved from early imitations of feathery ball stitching to the highly detailed and symmetrical that greatly improved the ball’s flight.  Many brands with a variety of patent names used the bramble pattern, which had a surface similar to a berry. This became the most popular pattern of the gutta era and was also used on some of the early rubber balls.

Few changes in any sport compare with the changes in the game of golf brought about by the rubber ball. It was invented in 1898 by a Cleveland, Ohio, golfer, Coburn Haskell, in association with Bertram Work of the B. F. Goodrich Company.  The ball featured rubber thread wound around a solid rubber core. Early gutta-percha gave way to the Balata cover that was developed in the early 1900’s. The popular bramble, mesh, reverse mesh, and a great many other patterns gradually gave way to the aerodynamically       superior dimple pattern first used in 1908. Because of the lack of standards, there were many deviations in ball size and weight.

        On January 1, 1932, standardization of golf ball weight and size was established by the United States Golf Association.  The weight was set at a maximum of 1.620 oz., and diameter not to be less than 1.680 in. Later, a maximum velocity of 250 feet per second was added by the USGA. The durability and precision of today’s ball reflect not only the tremendous technological advancement of their manufacture but also the development of space age plastics, silicone, and improved rubber.

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