Early golf balls, dating to the 16th century, had smooth surfaces. When the rubberlike gutta-percha ball replaced the feather ball in the 1840s, golfers noticed that the balls flew better after the smooth surface had been nicked from use.
Patterned golf ball molds replaced smooth molds in the 1870s. The molds included a gridlike mesh, a spider web design and a bramble pattern. In 1905, Englishman William Taylor patented the dimple method of golf ball marking. By 1930, the dimple pattern was the industry standard.
Dimples improve the flight of a golf ball: They reduce the drag caused by friction in the air and help the ball fly farther. Dimpled golf balls experience about half the drag of those with no dimples.
How Dimples Work
Just like an airplane, a golf ball in flight is affected by both air flow and gravity. Gravity pulls the ball toward the ground, while the aerodynamic force in the direction of motion, known as drag force, dictates the distance it travels.
The United States Golf Association regulates the design of golf balls, setting standards for size and weight, but does not regulate the dimple pattern. Although round dimples are the standard, golf ball manufacturers have used a variety of other shapes, including squares, rectangles and hexagons.