Golf balls have evolved from a feather-filled leather pouch to the aerodynamically designed sphere of today. Golfers used the feather ball from at least the 16th century until the 1850s. In the late 1840s, the gutta percha ball, molded from a material similar to rubber, began to replace the expensive and less durable feathery. In the mid-1800s, golfers discovered that balls flew farther when nicked, eventually leading to the development of dimples. The dimples help the ball stay in the air longer. In 1899, Coburn Haskell and Bertram Work received a patent for a rubber-core ball, paving the way for the golf balls in use today.
Manufacturers inundate golfers with claims of superior golf ball technology--offering more distance and better performance than the competition--but standards established by the governing bodies of golf render most premium balls similar in performance. The United States Golf Association stipulates that a golf ball weigh no more than 1.62 ounces and must be at least 1.68 inches in diameter. The USGA also regulates the "spherical symmetry," initial velocity and overall distance (carry-roll ratio) of golf balls (see Reference 2 and Resource 1).
Golf balls today fall into two main categories: distance for the average amateur and premium with feel and control for the skilled amateur and professional. The lines are blurred, however, as manufacturers develop premium balls with added distance and make distance balls with a softer feel. Generally speaking, premium balls are the costliest, ranging up to $50 per dozen.
Multilayer premium balls are firmer than they were 10 years ago, delivering distance as well as feel with control. All golf balls now contain solid cores, which rebound when golfers hit them. Premium balls have 3 or more layers to provide more control for skilled golfers. Inner mantle layers affect velocity and spin, and outer covers--most are Surlyn or urethane blends--affect spin and control. The configuration of the dimples affects the golf ball's trajectory.