The construction and design of golf balls has changed drastically since the beginning of the sport. Some of the very first golf balls consisted of a leather pouch that was packed full of goose feathers. The feathers were wet when being inserted into the pouch, and the ball dried to become very hard and solid. A good drive with one of these balls was thought to be in the 150-175 yard range. These types of balls were given the nickname “featheries” and were the most common ball used up until 1848 when the Gutta-percha ball was developed. These balls were made of the dried gum of Malaysian sapodilla trees. These balls were very smooth initially and were found to not fly as well as the “featheries.” However, with use, these balls became scuffed up, their exteriors becoming rough, and they then flew much better. After this discovery, the gutta-percha balls started being manufactured with rough exteriors. This construction is equivalent to, and the basis of, modern day dimpled golf balls. The affect of the presence of dimples and their different configurations are discussed in the aerodynamics section of this webpage.
In 1898, the Haskell ball was invented. All of today’s wound balls are a direct descendent of the Haskell ball. In 1966, the first solid one piece golf ball was produced. This later led to the development of other solid balls, such as two-piece balls and multi-layer balls. For quite some time golfer’s strongly preferred wound balls because they seemed to provide better spin control over the newer solid balls. However, wound balls are not as durable and tend to not travel as far as some solid golf balls. At first, golfers did not like the hard feel of solid balls and the fact that their spin was harder to control. With the development of two-piece and multi-layer balls, these problems began to fade away. Having an exterior layer helps “soften” the feel at impact. However, the high-restitution core allows for more of the energy from the golf club to be transferred to the golf ball at impact. This means that a two-piece ball deforms less during the impact from the club than a one piece solid ball and therefore conserves more of the energy from the club head. The coefficient of restitution is discussed in more detail in the club-ball interaction section.
With technology advancing so quickly, multi-layer ball designs combine many layers of different state-of-the-art materials which allow for better overall performance. In fact, one new design claims that the ball can actually compensate somewhat if it is incorrectly hit by the golf club.
With the rapid advancement of technology, there must be a limit to how technologically advanced one can make a golf ball. The USGA has set several guidelines regulating the construction and design of golf balls. To be recognized and approved by the USGA, a golf ball must meet the following:
1. Weight: The weight of the ball shall not be greater than 1.620 ounces avoirdupois (45.93 gm).
2. Size: The diameter of the ball shall not be less than 1.680 inches (42.67 mm).
3. Spherical Symmetry: The ball must not be designed, manufactured or intentionally modified to have properties which differ from those of a spherically symmetric ball.
4. Initial Velocity: The initial velocity of the ball shall not exceed the limit specified (test on file with USGA), when measured on apparatus approved by USGA.
5. Overall Distance Standard: The combined carry and roll of the ball, when tested on apparatus approved by USGA, shall not exceed the distance specified under conditions set forth in the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls on file with USGA.
(Specifications taken from: http://www.bs-sports.co.jp/english/science_of_golf_ball/science_of_ball_1.html)