Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

By Joe Miegoc
Golf balls have evolved from the days of old featheries.
Golf balls have evolved from the days of old featheries.

Dimples on golf balls are key to launching them into the air. Dimples create the aerodynamic ability to hit golf balls for distance. A ball without dimples would not travel very far. The decision to experiment with dimples on golf balls grew out of the discovery that dented or chipped balls actually flew farther and straighter than smooth ones.

Early Golf Balls

Gene Sarazen won his major championships with a ball that flew shorter than today's golf balls.
Gene Sarazen won his major championships with a ball that flew shorter than today's golf balls.

The first golf balls were called featheries; they were sewn balls containing chicken or goose feathers that came undone with repeated contact. In 1848, the Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Patterson, an avid golfer in St. Andrews, Scotland, invented the gutta-percha ball, which contained a rubber-like core of tree sap from the Malaysian sapodilla tree.

The next significant innovation in golf ball design had its genesis 50 years later, in 1898. Cleveland's Coburn Haskell, while waiting at the B.F. Goodrich plant in Akron, Ohio, to play golf with Bertram Work, the tire and rubber company's superintendent, casually wound a thread of rubber into a ball and bounced it very high. Work came up with the idea of putting a cover on the rubber ball. Gutta-covered golf balls with solid or liquid cores wrapped in rubber evolved into balata-covered balls by the 1930s.

Golf Balls Evolve

Today's golf balls have distinctive dimple patterns.
Today's golf balls have distinctive dimple patterns.

The impact of dimples on distance was discovered in the mid-1800s. The cover of the resulting "hand-hammered gutta-ball" was hit by hand with a sharp-edged hammer. William Taylor, an English engineer and manufacturer, is credited with inventing the dimple, a procedure he patented in 1908. Relying on intuition, manufacturers began producing soft- and hard-cover balls, seeking one that was durable and affordable. Dimples are traditionally spherical, but some companies have tested hexagonal dimples in an attempt to optimize trajectory, distance and control.

Why the dimples

Dimples even play a role in the types of balls used on practice ranges.
Dimples even play a role in the types of balls used on practice ranges.

Dick Rugge, senior technical director of the United States Golf Association, explained the simple reason for dimples on golf balls. "Every club in the bag, even the driver, creates backspin," he said, "and backspin holds the ball in the air. It creates lift. Without that, you couldn't have lift or flight. A golf ball without dimples can't have flight." A ball without dimples would fly half as far as a ball with dimples, according to USGA researchers. Today, most golf balls have 336 to 500 dimples, with the ideal range being 380 and 432. According to the USGA, the number of dimples on a ball does not affect distance.

Fitting the rules

Golf balls are tested to conform to the Rules of Golf.
Golf balls are tested to conform to the Rules of Golf.

The United States Golf Association tests up to 1,200 types of golf balls each year to ensure they conform to the Rules of Golf. Balls that conform -- dimple pattern is a part of conforming -- don't have to have the same number of dimples. Additionally, some manufacturers design balls for certain players, depending on whether the golfers are looking for distance or feel. Balls are even designed to fit certain swing speeds. .

About the Author

Joe Miegoc is an experienced professional writer with a background in sports, political writing and public relations. He has worked in media for newspapers and in public relations with the United States Golf Association. His writing experience includes books, newspapers, national magazines and online publications. Miegoc holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from East Stroudsburg University.

Photo Credits

  • Phil Inglis/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
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