THE HISTORY OF THE GOLF BALL
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The evolution of the golf ball can be traced over more than 500 years with the first known balls being made of wood, probably Beech or Boxroot in the mid 1400's to the high tech synthetic balls that are used by players today. After using the wooden balls there is no doubt it was a very welcome and exciting time when the 'Featherie' ball was introduced to the game in the early part of the 17th century.

The 'Featherie' used a hand sewn pouch (probably cowhide) which was stuffed with either chicken or goose feathers and then the hide was painted. The feathers were boiled and stuffed into the wet cowhide bag, the bag shrunk as it dried out and the feathers expanded as they dried out forming a hard object. Stitching was used to close the bag and then the object was hammered into a round ball ready for play.The amount of feathers used could fill a gent's top hat. These balls were not only expensive to produce, they were quite fragile and did not last long when being struck with Blacksmith irons and heavy wooden headed clubs preventing the masses taking up the game until the mid 1840's when the Gutta Percha 'Gutty' ball arrived on the scene.

Gutta Percha is the sap (latex) produced by various tropical trees mainly found in Southeast Asia. The word 'gutta-percha' come from the plant's name in Malay, getah perca, which translated means 'percha sap'.

There are many stories as to how and who invented the 'Gutty' ball but many golf historians believe that the Rev. Dr Robert Paterson, a young clergyman in St. Andrews was the first person to produce a Gutty ball made from Gutta Percha which had been used as packaging material for a gift his father had received from the Far East. He was a keen golfer and quickly realized that this substance when heated could be moulded and after a few trials he visited a nearby Links to test the new ball. The result was positive and although many improvements were necessary the old Featherie was under threat from the Gutty ball because it was far more durable and much cheaper to produce. During the same period the production of Hickory shafted clubs with metal heads was expanding with numerous small factories setting up in business within the Fife and Edinburgh districts. These clubs were also far cheaper to produce compared to the wooden clubs so the combination of cheaper clubs and the Gutty ball suddenly made the game of golf accessible to the working man. Although there was fervent resistance to the introduction of the Gutty by certain golf purists at that time, the new ball would eventually replace the Featherie by the early 1880's and remained popular until the end of the century when the 'Rubber' ball was invented and patented in 1898 by Mr Haskell in America, this would again revolutionise the game.

Mr Haskell's first rubber balls were made by winding rubber thread under tension around an inner core and then encapsulating the thread by using Gutta Percha for the outer cover. The initial tests astounded people as to how far this new ball could travel compared to the Gutty and they could not wait until the ball was made available for purchase. However production was initially very slow and it took nearly 2 years before a machine capable of mass production had been invented. The machine's inventor was John R. Gammeter who worked in the tool room at B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio. He finally devised a machine that could wind balls of rubber thread and submitted patent applications by the end of 1899, these were granted in both Britain and America by April the following year. Players in America immediately started to use the new rubber ball but there was opposition from the R & A in Britain because Links courses had been designed and laid out for the Gutta Percha ball. However rulings were over turned and by 1904 the rubber ball also commonly known as 'the Haskell' was being used with a number of British rubber manufacturers and ball makers turning their attention to producing this new style ball which inevitably saw the end of the Gutty.

The first rubber balls looked very much like the Gutty using the mesh and dot pattern but it did not take long for new patterns to materialize such as the 'Bramble' and the 'Dimple', the latter probably being one of the most important inventions in the history of golf. The inventor of this pattern was William Taylor who in 1905 patented his 'Dympl' ball. He sold the rights of the patent to Spalding's who for seven years had a wonderful advantage over their competitors because even though they tried to mimic the dimple using circles and other type patterns, their balls were just not as good in flight as the Dimple.

Like rare old clubs, old golf balls in good condition have become a very desirable item and are fast becoming scarce on the open market with collectors prepared to pay considerable sums of money to own these pieces of golf history, in fact old balls are now considered to be a good investment.

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