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Golf Balls –- The Science Behind The Dimples
By Susan Chiang
The dynamics behind the flight of the ball offers a fascinating insight into the physical interworkings of air pressure, turbulence, and aerodynamics.
When was first played in Scotland, most players played using clumsy apparatus, with the first clubs and balls made of wood.
In 1618 the “Featherie” was introduced. It was a ball made of feather. This feather ball was handcrafted from goose feathers tightly pressed into a horse or cowhide sphere while still wet. After drying, the leather shrank and the feathers expanded, creating a hardened ball.
As this type of ball was specially handcrafted, it was usually more expensive than clubs, so that only a few privileged people could afford to play back then.
After the Featherie ball came the Guttie ball. This type of ball was made from the
rubber-like sap of the Gutta tree found in the tropics, and was shaped into a sphere when hot and eventually into a ball. As it was made of rubber, the Guttie ball could be cheaply produced and easily repaired by reheating and reshaping.
Comparing the two types of balls, the Featherie ball was said to travel farther than the Guttie ball because the Guttie ball’s smooth surface prevented it from covering more distance.
With this discovery, the developers of balls came up with the “dimpled” balls that are so predominant in modern nowadays.
The dimples on the balls help reduce the aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag normally affects smooth balls and slows them down, because when they sail through the air, they leave a pocket of low-pressure air in its stir thus creating a drag.
By applying dimples to the ball surface, the pressure differential goes down and the drag force is reduced. These dimples create turbulence in the air surrounding the ball, which, in turn, forces the air to clasp the ball more closely. By doing so, the air trails the warp created by the ball towards the back instead of flowing past it. This results in a smaller wake and lesser drag.
Dimples were first added onto ball surfaces back during the gutta percha phase. Coburn Haskell introduced the one-piece rubber cored ball encased in a gutta percha sphere. Then in 1905 William Taylor applied the dimple pattern to a Haskell ball, thus giving rise to the modern ball as we know it today.
After its beginning, dimpled balls were officially used in every tournament. In 1921, the ball took its current form with standard size and weight. Nowadays there is a wide range of balls to fit every style, game and condition, with some balls offering control, and other balls offering distance.
Though a common sight nowadays, the dimpled ball is not just a mere element of the sports arena; it is a showcase of physics at work.
For a more comprehensive look at golf and golf equipment, drop by Susan's site on Golf Balls. Other informative sports related articles are available at Shopping Palace and Niche Weblog