The History Of The Golf Ball: From Wooden Balls to Pro V1

The golf we play today barely resembles the game played by Scots in the 13th and 14th centuries. The same can be said of the golf balls we use as well.

The history of the golf ball is an interesting journey – innovation over hundreds of years has taken us from a wooden ball to the Titleist Pro V1.

Let’s take a trip through history and talk about the inventors that advanced the game we all love to play.

Will the ball continue to improve? Will golfers hundreds of years from now look at the Callaway Chrome Soft the same way we look at the “feathery” today?

It is time to explore the history of the golf ball!

History Of The Golf Ball

The History Of The Golf Ball – From Wooden to Today

The history of the golf ball can be described in many different ways, but most golf historians agree that this piece of golf equipment has gone through 4 major changes.

There was probably a 5th stage – hitting a rock with a stick, but we going to ignore that and start with wooden golf balls.

Wooden Golf Balls

The first man-made golf balls were constructed with wood. They were likely made of hardwoods and were wildly inconsistent.

We can only imagine how these balls curved – they did not travel very far and would produce wild duck hooks or snap slices.

It was a different game in Scotland in the 1400s – wooden clubs hitting wooden golf balls.

History Of The Golf Ball

The “Feathery” Golf Balls

In the 1600s, the concept of feathery golf balls was introduced. They were made with a leather exterior that was stuffed with goose feathers.

The construction of these golf balls was quite brilliant. They were made with wet leather and goose feathers.

As the components dried, the leather would shrink and the feathers would expand and this created a hard ball. Once dry, the feathery golf ball could be painted and sold.

The “feathery” golf ball performed much better than wooden ones – A player with a wooden ball could not compete with a golfer using a “feathery”.

There was an issue with the feathery – it was complex to make. They were made by hand and you could only make 3-4 per day.

Even worse, you would be lucky to get 2 rounds out of this type of golf ball and if it got wet, it would fall apart.

The “feathery” golf ball was very expensive and only the most wealthy were able to afford them.

One “feathery” golf ball would cost more than a golf club. And you thought Pro V1s were expensive!

History Of The Golf Ball

The “Gutty”

The history of the golf ball spans hundreds of years, but the most impactful to the game might be the “Gutty”, which only lasted 50 years.

It was invented in 1848 by Dr. Robert Adams by using the dried sap from the Malaysian Sapodilla tree.

The sap had a rubber-like quality to it and upon heating could be formed into a sphere. It revolutionized the game because of its playability, durability, and affordability.

Suddenly, everyone could afford to play golf and the game grew like wildfire.

The “Gutty” is also credited with discovering the value of dimples, even if it was by accident.

A truly cool part of the history of the golf ball, the “Gutty” balls were smooth. Players noticed the new balls curved, but as they got “beat up” a little, they flew straighter.

Golfers started “knicking” the balls with a hammer before they played and this ultimately led to the modern-day concept of dimples.

The history of the golf ball spans 600+ years, but a version that only lasted 50 had the most impact on the game.

History Of The Golf Ball

Rubber Core Golf Balls

Rubber Core golf balls were introduced in 1899 and this model of the golf ball has been used ever since.

This style of golf ball proved to be longer and more consistent. Golf ball manufacturers have played around with different cores, but for the most part, this is now the standard.

Golf ball innovation continues to this day, but golf companies now focus on changing the dimple patterns, type of cover, and/or colors.

The History Of The Golf Ball – We Need Some Rules!

History Of The Golf Ball

In 1922 the USGA (United States Golf Association) released the first rules that governed the construction of golf balls.

They realized that to keep the game of golf fair, all players had to use golf balls that were designed in a consistent manner (weight, size, etc.)

The USGA releases a list of conforming golf balls – you can find it here. They consider the following factors when assessing a new product:

  • Shape: all golf balls must be spherically symmetrical
  • Weight: max size is 1.620 oz. or 45.93 g
  • Initial Velocity: USGA has defined a maximum velocity a golf ball can have off the clubface
  • Size: golf balls cannot be smaller than 1.68 inches in diameter

Do you need to be worried about the legality of your golf ball? Probably not – if you are playing a brand name ball, we are pretty sure it is legal.

History Of The Golf Ball

The History Of The Golf Ball – Modern Premium Balls

Golfers today should feel spoiled! We now have the ability to play golf balls that travel a mile when you hit the driver and feel soft in your short game.

In the last 30 years, there have been great advances in the history of the golf ball. Let’s take a look at the premium Titleist golf balls.

  • Titleist Tour Balata – released in the early 1990s, this ball had distance and spin – scratch golfers and professionals loved it, but the cover would easily cut open
  • Titleist Professional – In the mid-90s, the Professional was released – it played like a Balata, but the cover was tougher
  • Titleist Pro V1 – Released in the late 90s, this ball is long and soft with a cover that doesn’t cut – it has been their flagship ball ever since

Over the last 20+ years, other golf ball manufacturers have released premium balls to rival the Pro V1.

Callaway has the Chrome Soft line and TaylorMade has the TP5. The idea is the same. Long off the tee and soft with your wedges and putter. The best of both worlds.

History Of The Golf Ball

The History Of The Golf Ball – What Do The Pros Play Today?

Wouldn’t it be crazy to see Tiger try to play with a wooden golf ball? We would love to see Rory play with a “Gutty”. It is fun to think about, but it will never happen.

Let’s take a break from the history of the golf ball and review what the professionals use today. A recent survey showed:

  • 35% use the Titleist Pro V1
  • 33% use the Titleist Pro V1x
  • 9% use the Callaway Chrome Softx
  • 5% use the TaylorMade TP5x
  • 5% use the Bridgestone Tour BX
  • The other 13% use a mix of other products

These are all golf balls that are designed to handle high swing speeds and allow you to spin the ball when it lands on the green.

History Of The Golf Ball

The History Of The Golf Ball – What Is The Best Ball For You

Yes, the history of the golf ball is an interesting read, but it isn’t going to help you break 80 the next time you play.

The natural question. What ball should you play with?

There are two key factors for you to consider. Your golf budget and your playing ability (golf handicap).

Golf Budget

Do you have an unlimited budget for your golf game? If so, buy whatever you like. Most of us need to manage our golf investment.

Not all golf balls cost the same and if you can save some money on your golf balls, you can use it to buy a new putter or pay slightly higher greens fees.

For example, a dozen premium golf balls can cost $60+, but discount balls can be less than $12 per dozen.

Golf Ability

You want your golf ability to match your golf ball. If you are a beginner, you don’t need to spend $60 for 12 golf balls.

First, you won’t be able to take advantage of the technology in the golf ball and second, you probably won’t have it very long.

When you are first starting in golf, you want quantity, not quality. As your golf game improves, you may want to start investing in better golf balls.

It’s not like you are choosing between a “feathery” and a “gutty”!

Deep Dive On The Right Golf Ball For You

Photo of author
Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.