Golf Balls have been through quite a change since they were first made out of wood back in the 14th century. If you’re asking yourself “what is a golf ball made of?” or “is a golf ball hollow?” then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll shine some light on this interesting topic. We’ll uncover what really is inside of a golf ball, starting from the outer layer going inwards.
Let’s dive right into it!
Golf Ball Cover Material and Surface
If you haven’t investigated how golf balls are made before, you will be interested to know that there are a few different kinds of cover materials. The two most common ones are urethane and ionomer/Surlyn.
Being the softer material when compared to ionomer, urethane brings a lot to the table in regards to spin rates and feel.
While not going too deep into the chemical composition of urethane, let’s just mention that it’s a type of polymer which is a string of molecules bonded together in long chains, engineered specifically for the job in mind.
When manufacturing urethane covers it is possible to control the hardness and toughness of the material through how much heat is applied.
Many higher-level golfers prefer urethane covers on their golf balls, because of the above-mentioned softness and ability to spin. The downside to urethane can be lower durability and in some cases less distance.
Ionomer / Surlyn
The competitor to urethane covers is ionomer covers which are also known as Surlyn covers. Surlyn is a specific type of ionomer resin, developed by the American company DuPont in the 1960s.
Ionomer golf ball covers bring something different to the table than urethane. It is the preferred material for distance balls because spin rates are lower and durability is higher.
Usually, manufacturing costs are lower than urethane, so ionomer golf balls are cheaper and segmented more towards beginner golfers.
Many pros and low handicap golfers stay away from ionomer golf balls, since spin rates and feel are that much lower. It’s simply harder to shape the ball and the lack of feel is a downside when greenside.
It might seem counterproductive to put dimples on the surface of a golf ball. Doesn’t it just add resistance while the ball flies through the air?
On the contrary! The dimples add an aerodynamic optimization in that they reduce drag from airflow around the ball.
Simply put, the air stays in the dimples and makes it so that the air that flows around the ball doesn’t cause friction against the golf ball cover, but “glides” against the air pockets. You can read the scientific explanation here.
Check out this cool video about the aerodynamic phenomenon.
The last thing on the surface of the golf ball is the writing. It usually consists of the brand name and model, along with a number.
You will be able to identify your ball from the numbering, and that is mostly what that is used for. There are a few secondary meanings to golf ball numbering, which you can read more about in our article on the topic.
Inside Of A Golf Ball – Mantle Layers
Moving a layer deeper into the golf ball we will sometimes encounter a so-called mantle-layer. It is something that has come with modern golf balls and it’s quite unique in what it does. Mantle layers are found in 3, 4 and 5-piece balls.
The mantle layer will have the possibility to increase spin and greenside control on approach shots, or it can reduce side spin on longer shots. It really depends on how the manufacturer thought out the ball. Shortly put the mantle layer simply adds another possibility to put helpful traits into the ball.
A few examples on mantle golf balls are Callaway Chrome Soft and Taylormade TP5x. Check out our Ultimate Golf Ball Guide to learn more about these balls.
Inside Of A Golf Ball – The Core
Moving further inside the golf ball we’ll find the core. The performance of golf balls are very much dependent on the core construction.
Cores are usually made of some kind of rubber, but some might have liquid, hollow or metal cores. Some even have a combination like these. (this is an affiliate link, and I will earn a commission if you buy through it – at no extra cost to you!)
The most defining characteristic of the golf ball core is the compression rating. It says something about how much the ball compresses when hit by the club.
The general rule is low compression for low swing speeds and high compressions for high swing speeds.
What materials are used has a lot to say about the compression rating, and a lot of R&D goes into this.
How Is A Golf Ball Made?
The process of making a modern golf ball is very fascinating and complex – not something you can do at home 🙂
Usually a modern ball consists of quite a few layers with different traits. The ball is manufactured from the core out, which makes it possible to add more and more layers during the process.
The video shows an excellent walkthrough of how TaylorMade makes their golf balls. TaylorMade was the first company to produce 5-layered golf balls, and now many PGA Tour pros have them in their bags.
Back in the earlier days when balls were made of wood, leather and early rubber compounds, the golf balls were finished with a layer of point. That is not the case anymore, since golf ball manufacturing is a molding process these days.
Golf Ball History
A lot has happened with golf balls since the early days of golf. The development of the golf ball through the years are quite fascinating.
The first balls were made of wood, and as you might imagine weren’t comparable with modern-day golf balls.
Then something happened in the 17th century. The first golf balls of leather were made with a bird feather stuffing. They were known as “featheries”. Surely they were burly and not very consistently made. Since they were made from leather they absorbed moisture during play and changed characteristics throughout the round.
They were stitched together like baseballs, which also lead to some irregularities during play.
Next up came the very first of the rubber golf balls, remotely connected to the modern golf balls. The American Robert Adams Paterson invented the so-called “guttie” golf ball in 1848.
He took some rubber material called gutta-percha, which was extracted from a special kind of Malaysian rubber tree. Nowadays this rubber compound is used widely in dentistry and for insulation on electrical cables.
But back in 1848 Robert Paterson molded the first “real” golf ball. It would be known as the “guttie” from now on.
A funny yet crucial discovery was made with the guttie golf ball. The first balls were smooth and had a very consistent ball flight. But players would experience more consistent ball flight when the balls were getting roughed up from play.
From this point the experimenting began and manufacturers started etching different patterns into the surface of the balls.
In the 1870ies methods for mass-producing the gutties were developed which really helped bring golf balls to the masses. Also for an affordable price, since it was quite labor-extensive to make the outdated featheries.
With the beginning of the 20th century came another extensive revelation in the history of golf balls.
A businessman named Coburn Haskell in Ohio stuck his head together with Bertram Work who was employed at the B. F. Goodrich rubber company. Together they invented a type of golf ball with tightly wound rubber bands as the core and a gutta-percha cover. They found that this new kind of golf ball would travel quite a lot further than what was previously known.
Haskell founded a company and started manufacturing these newly invented balls. They revolutionized the game and increased the popularity of the game greatly.
At some point a few years later, Haskell discovered that the sap from the Balata tree was even more ideal as the outer layer, which in turn rendered the gutta-percha material obsolete.
Another peculiar evolution of the golf ball was in regards to the dimples. From the invention of the guttie and onwards the dimple “design” was always protruding from the ball. But around the 1910-1920 mark some began experimenting with dimples indented in the surface.
This discovery led to even more consistent ball flights and even enabled the very best players to put backspin on the ball and stop it easier.
The next major discovery is mostly how we see the golf balls today. Around 1960 urethane and Surlyn covers were introduced and brought their own set of distinctive benefits (and downsides) as explained earlier.
Summing It All Up
Now you know a hell of a lot more about golf balls and what they are made of. I hope this will help you further in your understanding of this great game of ours.
Another key takeaway from this, is that it is quite important to play the right golf ball, so you should take your time investigating and experimenting until you find one that fits your game.
We’ll finish off with some frequently asked questions to help you further understand the world of golf balls.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Best Golf Balls?
This is a very subjective matter and not a question that is easily answered. One thing that we do know though, is that it is very important to find a golf ball that fits your with regards to swing speed (compression rating of the ball) and also have the traits you look for.
We’ve put together a quite extensive guide, to show you which are the best golf balls and to help you pick the right one.
What Were Golf Balls Originally Made Of?
We’ve touched upon this in the article but will summarize it here.
- The first golf ball was most likely a rock.
- Then came wooden balls which were very inconsistent, but probably matched the level of the game back in the 16th century.
- Revolutionizing the game did the “featherie” ball which was a leather ball stuffed with goose feathers introduced in the 17th century.
- Around the 1850ies came the “guttie” which was made from the sap of a gutta-percha rubber tree.
- After the guttie the Haskell golf ball was invented. Tightly wound rubber bands as a core with a layer of gutta-percha on the outside.
- In the 1960ies came the urethane and Surlyn covers we know today.
What Do The Number On Golf Balls Mean?
They don’t mean a lot. Actually they’re there for identification purposes. Back in the early days of the modern ball they could have different meanings though. Single digits were always just for identification, but double digits could tell you something about the compression rating and triple digits something about the dimple pattern.
How Far Would A Golf Ball Go Without Dimples?
The simple answer is: Not as far as a ball with dimples. As you might have read in the history section earlier in this post the golf balls of old were without dimples and a major discovery was done when scuffed balls traveled further and straighter than new ones.
If you don’t believe the impact of dimples, you should check out this video from Titleist showing a golf ball with only dimples on one side.