The Evolution of Golf Equipment

In the beginnings of the game, players used mostly wooden clubs, hand-made by skilled craftsmen, many of whom also made bows for archers. Before the 17th century, balls were made of wood, boxwood being quite common.  They were then replaced by leather ones stuffed with feathers. Iron clubs, made by blacksmiths, were heavy and cumbersome instruments, and used only to extricate one’s ball from a horrible lie, since they had a tendency to rip a ball to pieces.  Clubs and balls evolved and by the late 1800s golf became affordable to the masses.

Old Tom Morris, one of the most famous names in the history of golf, described the process of making feathery balls: “You had a little pocket composed of bull’s hide, which had previously been cured with alum, and then you stuffed it as full as possible with feathers. You could put about a hatful of feathers into one ball, and the stuffing of them was no easy job, I can tell you.  When that was done, you had just to sew up the opening in the side of the pocket and your ball was made.” The ball then received three coats of paint.


An experienced man could make four balls a day.  They were thus scarce and expensive.  In addition, many were more oblong than round, so putting was an adventure in those days.  A player could hit the ball 160-170 yards with his “Play Club” (equivalent to today’s driver). If a ball lasted one round you had gotten your money’s worth.


The featherie ball was THE ball used from the 1700s unitl the late 1840s, when the gutta perch ball replaced it.  Gutta percha is a solidified form of latex tapped from trees indigenous to Malaya. Using a mold to shape warm chunks of this rubber into a ball, a man could now make a dozen “gutties,” as they were called, to every feather ball, at a price was a quarter that of the old ball.


The guttie was replaced in 1902 by the Haskell rubber core ball, which took the game into the 20th century.  As many players had had griped about the guttie ball changing the game, so did many about the Haskell, which propelled the ball another 20 yards down the fairway, with less effort.  As John Low claimed in his 1906 book Concerning Golf: “The worst feature of the new balls is the distance they travel from a mis-hit.  Not only had the old ball to be hit hard, but it had to be hit accurately, or it would not go at all.”  We hear the same arguments today about the modern ball.


The game continues to evolve, and debate still rages when new equipment is developed.  Better clubs, better balls, and better players make it a different game in some respects; but change is inevitable.


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One Response to “The Evolution of Golf Equipment”

  1. Indurrina Says:

    I am often looking for recent articles in the internet about this subject. Thx!!

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