How Golf Balls are Made

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

When is it a bad time to say that you’ve got a hole in one? Answer: when you’re inspecting your golf balls to make sure they look all right! Jokes aside, today’s golf ball is a marvel of engineering and design, as you’ll learn in this lesson.

Golf is widely considered a favorite sport among CEOs, sales reps, and retirees. Much has been written about the engineering marvels of the golf club and the Dali-esque phantasmagoric genius of the golf pants, but what of the golf ball, the small, dimpled focus of this fantastic game? What mysteries lie within its deceptively humble exterior?

The Sport of Emperors

Golf has an interesting history that begins in Ancient Rome. The earliest recorded golf games were played by emperors, way back when the game was called paganica and the ball was referred to as a feathery (on account of it being stuffed with feathers). Sad to say, no records exist to confirm or disprove whether or not checkered togas were worn at this time.

As the game evolved over millennia, so did the equipment. Golf balls were made of wood, then feather-stuffed leather, then gutta-percha (an early form of rubber). It wasn't until the early twentieth century that design breakthroughs gave us the modern golf ball (and, by extension, the modern golf game).

Starting with the Center

The center (or "core") of the ball is composed of several ingredients (which vary among manufacturers), combined to produce a rubber compound. The core is generally less than 1.5 inches in diameter. The more compressed the core, the farther the ball will travel when hit.

The exterior surface is created through one of two processes: injection molding or compression molding. With injection molding, the core is held in place inside a mold through a series of pins, while ionomer resin (which is a type of plastic material that’s easily shaped above a certain temperature) is poured into the mold, fusing with the rubber core. With compression molding, the ionomer resin is poured into two hemisphere molds, which are then pressed together around the core.

How Many Pieces

Most golf balls contain two pieces (core and surface), but there are also three-piece versions, which have a rubber or liquid core, an ionomer resin surface, and a series of inter-connected rubber threads (called "windings") between the core and the surface. Three-piece golf balls are designed to provide increased spin when hit. Since the molten plastic would damage the rubber threads of the middle layer, only compression molding is used to create the surface of three-piece golf balls.

More on Pieces

In both two-piece and three-piece golf balls, the next step after fusing the surface is to polish any rough spots (as well as the seam in three-piece versions). Two coats of paint are then applied evenly across the surface. While white is the common color (due to the ease with which it can be spotted on a course), other colors are also readily available. After the second layer of paint is applied, the manufacturer's logo is imprinted, followed by a final coating (to provide scuff resistance).

Whether they're two-piece or three-piece, the United States Golf Association (USGA) has set parameters that all golf balls must meet. Specifically, golf balls can be no less than 1.7 inches in diameter and weigh no more than 1.6 ounces. However, these parameters still leave a great deal of room for variation among golf ball manufacturers. It should be noted that while a two-piece golf ball can be finished in less than a day's time, three-piece golf balls require almost twice as many steps to construct and can take as long as thirty days to finish.

What About the Dimples?

Those little pits in the surface of the golf ball ("dimples") reduce the drag when it's airborne, meaning that more dimples result in the ball staying in the air longer. Most golf balls have, on average, between 350 and 450 dimples (although numbers as low as 300 and as high as 500 are also common). A dimpled golf ball can travel as much as twice the distance of a non-dimpled golf ball, depending on its design.

And then There’s the Robot Golfer

Between striving to meet USGA standards and laboring to provide a superior golf ball, manufacturers employ various high-tech methods to both test and refine their products. X-ray machines are frequently employed to study the core construction. Ball launchers test a golf ball's spin, distance, and arc. Wind tunnels are used to simulate various weather conditions. And then there's the True Temper Mechanical Golfer, also known as the Iron Byron (in honor of golf legend Byron Nelson), which can be set up with any style of golf club and programmed with a variety of swing speeds.

For something so small, a lot of engineering and attention to detail goes into creating a golf ball. Golf went from a game played by Roman emperors to a game played by robots. As the clubs, courses, and players themselves evolved, so too did the humble golf ball. So next time you tee up, thank science for helping create this iconic game.