Golfers spend a lot of time hitting, watching, and even talking to golf balls, but how often do you think about the engineering behind them?
For example, why do golf balls have dimples? How many dimples on a golf ball? What is golf ball compression?
All great questions, but today we want to focus on how many dimples on a golf ball and why.
There must be a reason we don’t play with smooth balls like ping pong or bowling. Or fuzzy balls like tennis.
Below we discuss the history of dimples, why golf balls have dimples, and how many dimples on a golf ball.
No reason to delay – let’s get started!
A Quick History Of Golf Balls (And Their Dimples)
The first golf balls used were not balls at all. They were rocks or pebbles being smacked with sticks in Scotland.
The first balls made specifically to play golf were made from wood. These first golf balls behaved nothing like the balls we use today.
The next step in golf ball evolution was the “feathery”. The feathery was a leather sack filled with boiled goose feathers, then stitched and painted.
Feathery golf balls were hard and expensive to make. They also didn’t last very long. Only the wealthy could use them.
If you are wondering how many dimples on a golf ball at this time, the answer is zero, but we are getting there.
The next golf ball was invented by Dr. Robert Adams in 1850. It was known as the “gutty” and it was a game changer.
It was more playable, affordable, and durable than the feathery, allowing golf to grow in popularity.
It was during this time that the concept of “dimples” was discovered by accident. Players noticed that balls with imperfections flew straighter than balls with smooth surfaces.
Golfers started using hammers to make a consistent pattern on their golf balls. Soon after “dimples” were incorporated into the presses that made the balls.
While they continue to improve, the modern golf ball was created in 1900. It is a rubber core ball.
How Many Dimples On A Golf Ball?
Now that we have finished our history lesson, let’s get back to the original question. How many dimples on a golf ball?
There is no specific number. It actually varies based on the brand and model of the golf ball.
For example, the Titleist Pro V1 has 388 dimples, but a Slazenger Raw Distance Feel has 402. The vast majority of golf balls have between 300 and 500 dimples.
The obvious next question – why would golf manufacturers make balls with different sizes, designs, and number of dimples?
They all want to be unique. You can sell more golf balls if it looks, feels, and/or performs better than your competitors.
The number of dimples and the design of the dimples is something that golf engineers can tweak to try and make a better ball.
Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?
We have talked about how many dimples on a golf ball, but we should explore the ‘why’ a bit more.
We will do our best to keep this simple, but golf ball physics can be surprisingly complicated.
As we mentioned above, the concept of dimples was discovered by accident. Golfers noticed that old balls with nicks & scratches flew straighter and farther.
The dimples on golf balls create turbulence (that means mixed airflow) which reduces drag and makes it go farther.
There are two types of flow around an object in motion. Laminar flow and Turbulent flow.
Laminar flow is prone to a phenomenon called “separation.” Once separation of a laminar boundary layer occurs, drag rises dramatically because of eddies that form in the gap.
Turbulent flow has more drag initially but also better adhesion, and therefore is less prone to separation.
Less separation means more distance. The dimples on your golf ball turbulate the boundary layer and help your golf ball fly straighter and farther.
The dimples are a symmetric and consistent way to create the same physics that golfers figured out in the 1800s by playing old, beat-up balls.
Will Golf Balls Continue To Evolve?
This is an interesting question. Every year the golf ball companies claim to create “new & improved” golf balls, but are they really different?
There have been some significant changes in the golf ball over the last several decades. The durability of the cover is the big one.
Does anyone remember playing balata golf balls? There were soft and you could hold the green, but it was hard to finish 9 holes without cutting or damaging it.
The Titleist Pro V1 was a huge step forward. It behaved like a balata but was tough. It wasn’t ruined the first time you hit a tree or a cart path.
Other golf ball companies have followed and created similar high-performance golf balls.
With that being said, what can you expect going forward? Will how many dimples on a golf ball change? Will new technology appear in the “golf ball game”?
This may seem strange to say, but we think we reached the apex of golf ball performance.
Yes, golf manufacturers will continue to produce “new” golf balls, but we don’t think they will be drastically different.
The primary reason is regulations from the USGA (United States Golf Association) – similar to clubs, the USGA has defined requirements for a legal golf ball.
- Weight – golf balls cannot weigh more than 1.62 oz. – most modern balls are this weight
- Size – the diameter of a golf ball cannot be smaller than 1.68 inches – more modern balls are this size
- Shape – golf balls must be a spherically symmetrical ball
- Speed & Distance – golf balls must not exceed speed & distance guidelines – all balls are tested by the USGA before they are approved
You may have noticed that how many dimples on a golf ball is not regulated. This is one area golf engineers will continue to tweak.
The challenge is that they have already exhausted the most reasonable designs, sizes, and the number of dimples.
We assume innovation will continue to occur in the golf ball world, but we don’t see any game changers on the horizon.
Be happy that you play golf now and you aren’t trying to hit a piece of leather filled with goose feathers!