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Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples On Them?

Golf is a very accurate sport. A crooked elbow during your swing can mean the difference between a beautiful drive and a crooked one. That precision is what fuels the majority of sports equipment. Every club, pair of shorts, or golf shirt is designed with optimum efficiency in mind. Another piece of equipment designed for a specific purpose is a golf ball. Golf balls are of a unique design. They’re also important to every player to the point where pro players bring their own to every tournament. No matter what kind of designs adorn their custom balls, one thing is for sure: each one is full of multiple dimples. Why do golf balls have dimples on them? Have you ever wondered why?

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples On Them?

why do golf balls have dimples on them

Those dimples serve an aerodynamic purpose. The reason why golf balls have dimples is a natural selection story. Originally, the golf balls were smooth; but the golfers noticed that the older balls, which had been beaten with nicks, bumps, and slices in the cover, seemed to fly further. Golfers, being golfers, naturally gravitate towards anything that gives them an advantage on the golf course, so old, beat-up balls became a standard issue.

At some point, the aerodynamicist must have looked at this problem and realized that the nicks and cuts were acting as “turbulators”—inducing turbulence in the layer of air next to the ball (the “boundary layer”). In some situations, a turbulent boundary layer reduces drag, making the golf ball go even further.

If you want to get deeper into aerodynamics, there are two kinds of flow around the object: laminar and turbulent. Laminar flow has less drag but is also prone to a phenomenon called “separation.” Once the laminar boundary layer is separated, drag increases dramatically due to the eddies that form in the gap. Initially, the turbulent flow has more drag and better adhesion and is, therefore, less prone to separation.

Therefore if the shape of the object is such that the separation occurs easily, it is better to turbulate the boundary layer (at a slight increase in drag cost) to increase adhesion and reduce eddies (which means a significant reduction in drag). Dimples on golf balls are turbulating the boundary layer.

A Tiny Info

The golf ball’s dimples are simply a formal, symmetrical way to create the same turbulence in the boundary layer that nicks and cuts do.

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples On Them: Presentation Of The History Of Golf Balls

why do golf balls have dimples on them

A golf ball is central to the golf game. Golf is all about balls. Well, let’s get it into the hole in the ground. All the turmoil surrounding the correct posture, swinging technique, proper grip, etc., is all about hitting the ball at the right angle, sending it the right distance, and last but not least, controlling its direction, speed, and rotation.

And while most golfers are aware of the influence of golf clubs on their performance, only a few understand how the ball selection affects the game or the history of golf balls in general. And even fewer golfers know that the ball was responsible for several golf revolutions.

According to John F. Hotchkiss (1997), the author of one of the most acclaimed books on golf ball’s history, the latter has revolutionized the game at least four times.

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples On Them: The Golf Ball Evolution

why do golf balls have dimples on them

Almost everything on the surface of the earth has evolved from its origins to its present form. The golf ball is no exception. Even though there is little information about the history of golf balls, the information available can give us some understanding. So what’s the first golf ball, according to the available sources? Well, the answer is just below.

The Featherie Golf Ball

History records that the first golf ball sold dates back to 1452. However, Featherie was the first feather ball to be introduced in the early 17th century. A golf ball maker named James Melvill of St. Andrews made these feather balls in 1618. The Featheries have also gained a lot of popularity in Scotland.

It continued as a standard golf ball until the 19th century. In most cases, the material used to make this ball was a cow with horsehide and goose feathers. One of the breakthroughs in this golf ball was its flight characteristics. The ball would go as far as 175 yards. However, the longest record distance was 361 yards. When it was wet, the ball was less effective and therefore not suitable under rainy conditions. Enough of Featherie, let’s move on to the next stage of the golf ball’s evolution.

The Golf Ball Of Gutta Percha

Golf as a sport was gaining momentum in the mid-19th century. The Scottish student of divinity, Robert Adam Paterson, is attributed to the Gutta Percha Ball’s invention or the Guttie Ball. Many historical sources suggest that his inspiration began with Vishnu’s statue, protected by the shavings of Gutta Percha, which had been sent as a present to his father.

The enthusiastic young man then formed the Gutta Percha ball, which proved unsuccessful in the initial stages. However, he has not yet given up; he has continued to make changes to it, which have yielded fruit. The ball was picked up by golfers in the 1960s and replaced the Featherie.

The Ball Of Rubber-wound Golf

The inventor named Coburn Haskell received a joint patent for this new rubber ball from the US Patent Office in 1899. It was made of a solid rubber-wound core covered by Gutta Percha. The new ball was a game-changer with an impressive feel and control. Unlike the early golf balls, the rubber-wound ball flew more than 20 yards. The incorporation of the dimple pattern made it possible to achieve even higher distances.

The Haskell Golf Ball Company was launched in 1901 to facilitate the production of these balls. There was still a lot of improvement, however.

The Ball Of Modern Golf

The American engineer, James R. Bartsch, joined the golf ball industry in the 1960s. It aimed to reduce the total labor and material costs involved in the process. Bartsch’s resilience pushed him to experiment with different synthetic materials.

In the end, his efforts bore fruit. He was able to invent a ball that was considerably cheaper to produce. It also saw the re-introduction of the solid-molded ball concept.

The year 1963 saw the coming of various inventions of golf balls. For example, Spalding came up with a one-piece ball known as the Unicore, which was later launched by the Executive. It was superior to Bartsch’s.

Some of the modern golf ball facts include greater durability and longer distances. In 2000, the ProV1 three-piece multi-layer ball was launched by Titleist, who won many hearts. It continued to dominate the golf market, even as thousands of other golf balls continue to emerge.

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples On Them: Dimple And Fluid Dynamics

Golf ball dimples and their impact on the ball that travels through the air can be described using fluid dynamics. There are two types of dynamic flow: laminar and turbulent. In general, many real-life applications are turbulent. This can generally be obtained from a factor called the number of Reynolds. In the current scenario, when the ball is smooth, there is something close to the laminar flow. In this case, the flow of fluid downstream is detached from the ball’s surface in the form of a vortex. This phenomenon is called the separation of the flow, which gives rise to a vicious wake behind a ball that slows it down.

What Do Golf Balls Do?

Dimples act as artificial turbulators, creating turbulence next to the ball’s surface and creating two layers of air around the ball. The top layer is faster than the bottom layer, i.e., the air clings to the ball’s surface, which creates turbulence. This reduces drag and helps the ball travel farther than a smooth one. This is another new term, drag. Drag is a force component that arises from the difference in velocity of a solid and fluid body and opposes solid motion through the air—in this case, a golf ball. A dimpled golf ball probably has only about half the drag of a smooth one. Now back to our story, the drag reduction allows the golf ball to fly faster due to the reduced resistance.

Similar to drag, there’s another component called “lift.” Lift occurs when the fluid is turned into a solid that creates an opposing force. If the ball spins in a way that pushes the air down, the ball will experience an upward-lifting force. One important thing to note is that this factor only comes into play when the ball is spinning. Why? The spinning action makes the air pressure on the bottom of the ball higher than the air pressure on the top of the ball, and this imbalance creates an upward force on the ball. Ball spin contributes to half the lifting of a golf ball. The other half of the lift is provided by a golf ball dimple, enabling the lifting force to be optimized.

More Information

Typically, the number of dimples on the golf ball is between 330 and 500. Golf balls are usually covered with dimples in a highly symmetrical manner. The ball will oscillate if it is not symmetrical, or its flight will depend on which part of the ball faces forward or sideways as the ball spins.

Suppose there are dimples on only one side of the ball. The ball tends to bend towards the side with the dimples, as the wake is generated towards the smooth side. For example, if the ball shown in the figure below is hit along the same viewing direction, it will travel to the left.

Final Words

If you’re playing golf, then you know that being able to hit the ball further away can help you win the game. But no matter how hard you hit a golf ball, the air friction will slow down. It’s also called air drag or air resistance. It is caused by friction between the ball and the air molecules. It slows down the ball and reduces the distance that it travels.