Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

By Jessica Mousseau

 
The insides of golf balls have changed drastically over the years, but the outsides have remained dimpled since the early 1900s. Dimples on golf balls have important aerodynamic effects on the trajectory and distance a golf ball can travel, and offer both positive and negative consequences.

Benefits

Dimpled golf balls travel faster and go farther because of the dimples. Golf balls are slowed down, and thrown slightly off course, because of the drag of air against the ball. This friction is minimized when dimples are added to the ball.

History

Early golf balls consisted of leather balls filled with boiled goose feathers. This method was used for hundreds of years. It was not until 1845 that golf balls were made from the gum of a Malaysian sapodilla tree. These "gutta-percha" balls were completely smooth that could travel much farther distances than the leather pouch golf ball. However, golfers quickly realized that the ball handled better and traveled even farther after it had been used, and thus dented and scuffed, a few times. 

During the 1930s, the use of dimpled golf balls became standard and the outside of golf balls has changed very little since then.

Invention of Dimples

In 1897, a patent was issued for a golf ball with indentations, providing the first proof of early experimentation. Dimpled balls would continue to gain traction throughout the first two decades of the 20th century. David Stanley Froy was an early pioneer of the dimpled ball, using one at the 1900 British Open. By 1921, dimpled golf balls had achieved a standard weight and size and had become required equipment in major tournaments.

Identification

The dimples on a golf ball are not random. They are set an equal distance apart in rows. On American golf balls, there are usually 336 dimples, although some brands and some special types of balls can have as many as 500 dimples. There are 330 on a British ball.

Risk Factors

The distance a golf ball can travel because of its dimples is not without some risks. Property has been damaged and people injured because of golfers who lost control of golf balls that traveled long distances. Thus, a movement has developed to reduce the distance a golf ball can travel. So far, most changes have dealt with the center of the golf ball rather than to the dimples, because players do not want to give up the added control the dimples afford.

 

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