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Game Changers in Golf: The Evolution of Golf Ball Technology

Most people will agree that the game of golf has changed significantly since its origins in 15th century Scotland. From clubs to balls, tees, bags, and everything related to golf, the game has evolved over the years to how we play today. Many of the changes have been highly innovative and were not always readily accepted when they were first introduced. 

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take a look at some of the major game changers in golf. We hope you enjoy learning about the innovations that have forever changed the game of golf and improved your enjoyment of the game. Today we’re going to look at the evolution of golf ball technology.

Golf ball composition has undergone many changes and innovations throughout history. Wooden golf balls were used up until the 17th century until the Featherie ball was invented. Known as the first "real" golf ball, the Featherie was created by filling a small leather sack with boiled goose feathers, stitching it up and painting it white. These balls were handmade while the leather and feathers were still wet, and as the leather shrunk while drying, the feathers expanded to create a hardened, compact ball. 

Despite the high cost to produce and the lack of durability, the Featherie was the standard from the early 1600’s until 1848 when Rev. Dr. Robert Adams invented the Gutta Percha "Guttie" ball. The guttie was made by using dried sap from the Malaysian Sapodilla tree. The sap had a rubber-like feel and could be formed into ball shapes when heated. The guttie revolutionized the game of golf due to its affordability, playability and durability. 

In 1898, the modern rubber core golf ball was invented by Coburn Haskell in association with the BF Goodrich Company. This new and unique golf ball construction and design featured a solid rubber core, high tension rubber thread wrapped around the core, and a Gutta Percha cover. 

Despite the fact that this new rubber core golf ball was longer off the tee and brought control and feel to a whole new level, it did not meet with immediate success. Golfers complained that it was too lively on and around the greens. It finally started to take off after Walter Travis won the U.S. amateur golf championship while playing with one.

The rubber core golf balls became the first to feature the dimples we know today. This ball was the most popular ball for much of the 20th century. In 1967 it was modified slightly by replacing the outside cover with surlyn, a new resin material. Around the same time, the technology was developed to eliminate the need for a layered rubber core. This led to the common and inexpensive 2-piece ball that many people play today.

Today, golf balls are categorized as 2-piece, 3-piece, 4-piece, etc. These designations refer to the varying layers of rubber materials that make up the cores of the ball. The cover of a golf ball is typically made of either urethane or surlyn. Golf ball technology has reached new levels of design and has become closely guarded by top golf ball manufacturers competing within the multi-million dollar per year industry.

All the innovations in golf ball design throughout history have worked to provide more control, achieve greater distances, increase durability and optimal spin, etc. and ultimately, make the game more enjoyable.

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