Factoid - The Golf Ball
by Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
, Associate Director, NYS Science & Technology Law Center
A search of the United States Patent Office online database shows that since 1976 there have been 2,411 U.S. patents issued with the term “golf ball” appearing in the title. The last of these, U.S. Patent No. 6,890,992, titled “Golf ball cores with improved durability”, was patented yesterday, May 10, 2005. By the time you are reading this, don’t be surprised if there are even more U.S. patents that relate to a golf ball.
The earliest golf balls were thin leather bags stuffed with either goose or chicken feathers. These feather balls were hammered into a round shape and coated with several layers of paint. Because of the difficulty and time involved in making these golf balls (“Featheries” as they were known at the time), they were relatively expensive. As you can probably imagine these early versions of golf balls did not travel very far, but they were used for almost 400 years.
In 1848 a major breakthrough in golf ball technology was achieved. The gutta-percha ball was invented in that year, and could be hit a maximum distance of 225 yards.
In 1899, the first rubber balls were introduced and when hit by professionals of the day were able to reach distances approaching 430 yards. This rubber golf ball was invented in 1898 by a Cleveland, Ohio, golfer, Coburn Haskell, in association with Bertram Work of the B. F. Goodrich Company. The ball featured rubber thread wound around a solid rubber core. It is hard to underestimate the importance of the emergence of these rubber golf balls. According to some sources, few changes in any sport compare with the changes in the game of golf brought about by the rubber ball.
Ultimately, in 1930 the British Golf Association set standards for golf balls, followed by the United States golf association adopting similar, but slightly different standards in 1932.
The durability and precision of today’s ball reflect not only the tremendous technological advancement of their manufacture but also the development of plastics, silicone, and improved rubber.