Sports

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

The sport of golf is very precise. A crooked elbow during your swing can mean the difference between a beautiful drive and hooking one into the rough. That precision is what fuels the majority of the equipment in the sport. Every club, pair of shorts, or golf shirt is designed with optimal efficiency in mind. 

Another piece of equipment designed with a specific purpose is the golf ball. Golf balls have a unique design. They’re also important to every player to the point where pro players bring their own to each tournament. No matter what kind of designs adorn their customized balls they bring, one thing is for sure: Each one is full of multiple dimples. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The history of the golf ball

Tiger Woods US holds his golf ball
Tiger Woods US holds his golf ball | TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

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Like most sporting equipment, golf balls have come a long way since their inception. According to GolfWeek, the first golf balls in Scotland in 1550 were made of wood. There have been numerous iterations throughout the years before getting to the current version in use today, including: 

  • The next innovation was in 1618 with the “featherie” ball, a ball made of horse and cowhide. A step up from wood to be sure, but still a long way off from the Titleist. 
  • It took 200 years for the next step forward in golf ball technology with the development of the “guttie,” a ball made from tropical tree sap. 
  • Next up was the “Haskell.” In 1898, a man named Coburn Haskell created a ball with a solid rubber core and a thread of rubber around it. All those materials were surrounded by a material called gutta-percha.
  • The United States Golf Association started issuing standardization guidelines in the 1920s to ensure uniformity of the balls competitors were using. 
  • Finally, the year 1972 saw Spalding develop the “two-piece” ball. 

The design of a golf ball’s dimples

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Golf ball manufacturers insert dimples into every ball. According to research discussed in Scientific American, they’ve done this after extensively studying the optimal “launch conditions” for a club and a ball. A club’s impact is lightning quick — it only lasts roughly 1/2000 of a second. That impact is crucial to how far the ball travels as well as its launch angle.

Once the ball is struck, its course is set. The dimples have an impact on the flight of the ball, which is why they’re included as a part of the design. Each ball has between 300 and 500 dimples with each having an average depth of 0.10 inch.

A dimple’s depth is so critical to the ball’s trajectory that a depth change as small as 0.001 inch can dramatically change the flight path. Some golf balls are designed with spherical dimples while others use hexagonal ones. 

Why do golf balls have dimples? 

Simscale had a piece on how dimples on a golf ball can affect its flight. According to their blog, golf balls have dimples “because the reduction of drag allows the flight of the golf ball to be faster due to the decreased resistance.” Adding dimples to a golf ball reduces the amount of drag by half. The dimples also add to the ball’s lift, allowing for higher, longer drives. 

So there’s your answer: dimples increase the golf ball’s drag and its lift. They make the ball more aerodynamic, and therefore more likely to travel farther and faster. In a game where the players are always looking for an advantage, dimples on a golf ball give everyone the ability to hit the ball farther than it would go if it was smooth.