Archive for the ‘Golf Equipment’ Category

The Development of the Golf Ball

February 24, 2012

      The golf ball has quite a history of its own.  Up until around 1500 they were made of wood (boxwood being common), and then gave way to ones made of leather and stuffed with feathers.  These “featherie” balls became the standard for two hundred years, until they were replaced by ones made of hard gutta percha and later a rubber cored ball that survived up to the late 20th century.

      The Feather Ball (“Featherie”) – Tanned leather, usually bull’s hide, was soaked in warm alum water to make it pliable.  It was cut in four, three, or two lobes, and fanned out from the center like the petals of a flower.  The ball was sewn with a curved needle, using linen thread beeswaxed for strength and lubrication.  The stitches were placed close together, but left loose enough for the sack to be turned inside out and stuffed with feathers, then finished.  About a quarter inch slit was left at the top of one flap in which the feathers were stuffed. 

      The feathers were commonly taken from geese, boiled to make them limp and malleable.  A literal hat full of feathers was stuffed into the leather pouch no larger than an egg using an iron rod 16 to 20 inches long, tapered to a blunt tip and set at the top into a wooden crosspiece which the ball maker pressed against his chest.  When no more feathers could be stuffed into the pouch, the ball maker uses a small awl to force in the last few feathers before sewing up the flap.  As the wet leather and feathers dried out the leather shrank and the feathers expanded, leaving a hard ball.

      After nearly two centuries of existence, the Scottish featherie by 1800 had become fairly standardized.  It averaged 1.5 inches in diameter and weighed 26-30 pennyweights (about 1.5 ounces.)  The best ball makers could make no more than 4 or 5 a day, and the repeated pressure of the tamping rod against the chest, along with inhaled feather particles often resulted in lung problems.  The balls were expensive, and a golfer was lucky to get a round of play from one before it burst.

      The Gutta Percha Ball (“Guttie”) – Around 1848, the featherie gave way to balls made of gutta percha, a gum which is tapped from a tree indigenous to Malaya.  The substance is malleable when boiled in water and it becomes hard on cooling. The process involved in manufacturing the guttie was a great deal simpler and its price was about a quarter that of the price of the featherie.  The guttie quickly became the ball of choice, not so much for the greater distance which could be attained but rather because it was less expensive and more resilient. 

      It was in this age when golf in Britain became more of a game for everyone.  For the remainder of the 19th century, the new ball was repeatedly modified to make it more durable. Its outer shell was indented with a hammer after it was observed that the ball flew better when it had been cut or marked than in its smooth pristine state.

      The Haskell Ball (“Haskell”) – As quickly as the gutty came on the scene, it was soon superseded.  In 1901, the rubber-cored ball made its British debut. It was the invention of the fledgling American golf equipment industry. The idea belonged to Coburn Haskell, a customer of the B.F. Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company, and Bertram Work, an employee of the company.  Elastic thread was wound around a rubber core under extreme tension and then encased in a patterned outer cover of gutta percha.

      The Haskell ball patented in 1899 initially had its skeptics, and was scoffed at by traditionalists, who lamented the liveliness of the new ball and the distance it travelled on a poor hit.  In 1902 a tipping point occurred in favor of the ball when Sandy Herd beat Harry Vardon and James Braid by a shot in the British Open.  Herd used the Haskell ball for all 72 holes and was the only man in the field to play with one.

      From that moment, the Haskell ball was improved to such an extent that it spawned a host of rules regulating its use from the R & A and USGA, the dual arbiters of the integrity of the sport.  In 1920, they agreed the ball should weigh no more than 1.62 ounces and have a diameter of not less than 1.62 inches. From January 1931 however, the USGA turned its back on the collective agreement and introduced the “big ball,” a ball having a minimum size of 1.68 inches and a maximum weight of 1.55 ounces. A year later, they raised the weight stipulation to a maximum of 1.62 ounces, and both standards remain in effect today.

      In 1967 James Bartsch received a patent for a one-piece ball he developed by cross-linking thermoplastic polymers.  Spalding improved on this model by encasing it with an outer cover and named it the “Executive.”  That same year DuPont Chemical developed a synthetic thermoplastic resin called Surlyn, which over the next thirty years became the most popular cover, replacing softer balata. 

      In 1971 Spalding introduced the Top-Flite ball, a two-piece ball with Surlyn cover that revolutionized the industry and set the stage for the demise of the three-piece wound rubber core ball.  Today, all golf balls are solid, composed of two to five pieces, with various synthetic covers like Surlyn and urethane blends.


The Shark’s Bid For History

July 23, 2008

Greg Norman came up short in his attempt to win this year’s British Open, but one has to appreciate what he accomplished.  Here is a guy who has not played competitive golf in years, who last lead a major after 3 rounds in 1996, when he suffered his famous meltdown against Nick Faldo in the Masters.  Twelve years later he shows up and found the talent still inside him, as it is in all great champions, to muster one final hurrah.  What makes it remarkable is that he is semi-retired from the game.  It’s kind of like Byron Nelson winning the 1955 French Open, ten years after retiring from the game, but that was against a lesser field in benign conditions.  On top of that Nelson was only 43. 

The oldest man to win a major was Julius Boros, who caputred the 1968 PGA at the age of 48.  The oldest British Open champion was Old Tom Morris, who was 46 when he won the last of his four Opens – in 1867!  Sam Snead was 52 when he won his last tournament.  So for a golfer over 50 to be so close in this day and age to winning a tournament of any kind is remarkable, let alone the oldest championship in golf.   Norman hung in, leading going into the back nine. 

You have to go back to the 1920 U.S. Open to find such an old warrior ahead at that late stage.  Harry Vardon was 50 then, and nature did him in, as a gale blew across the course and his putting betrayed him.  Norman experienced something of the same fate, but he didn’t shrink from the pressure.  He just succumbed to age and history.  I take my hat off to him, and appreciate his guts to even be there, after all the diappointments in his past.  I wish he could have won, for history’s sake, but his four days at Royal Birkdale will live on, and in that sense he did make history.  Thanks for the great ride.

Physical Fitness and Golf

June 21, 2008

On my Good Golf For website I have a section that discusses the important role of physical fitness and golf. Tiger Woods is the poster child for building one’s body into a golfing machine.

Suppose you could spend 20 minutes a couple of days a week and do a simple yet highly effective, very easy to learn workout.

Even Better…Suppose you step on the course a couple weeks from now having the absolute confidence that your drive is longer, your accuracy is amazing and your days of being embarrassed on the golf course may be over.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, Rick Miller, a well-known golf fitness trainer, has a program you might be intersested in. Below is a press release he has been kind enough to share with me.

If you are intersested in contacting Rick, let me know, and I will pass on your name and email address to him. Thanks.


In less than 10 minutes golfers can have all their golf fitness questions answered. Over 85% of golfers lack the physical capability to play any better. They often wish they had a way to measure their body’s ability to perform, since in 2008 testing a golfers fitness level is as important as taking lessons and practicing.

The definitive white paper in golf, The Golf Fitness Handicap Test© has just been released to the public. This breakthrough test is quick, free and lets golfers know exactly how well their bodies can play the game. Golfers have a handicap index now they finally have a way to measure and track their fitness level.

America’s top golf fitness expert, Rick Miller says, playing without knowing this critical information means you are golfing at a distinct disadvantage. Since the body is the most important piece of equipment in golf, understanding it can give any golfer a noticeable edge on the golf course.

If you would like to view this white paper contact me at the information above and I will personally email it to you. This important document has just been released but many golfers have already viewed it and are playing golf like they were years younger. Do not fall behind, get the test and take control how you golf.

The Evolution of Golf Equipment

May 24, 2008

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.