When the game of golf was invented sometime in the 14th century, it is believed that the earliest golf balls were made of wood, probably from the hardwoods of box trees or beech. This remained the primary mode of golf ball from the 14th to the 17th century.
Golf balls made of leather coverings, filled with hair or feathers or down, predominated from the era as well and they were called featheries or hairies. They handled better than wooden balls, yet they had their disadvantages. They were hard to make into round and spherical “balls” thus they did not fly very far or straight. They could become wet and difficult to hit very far. Nonetheless, they were the prime type of ball that was used well into the 19th century.
A Reverend Robert Adams invented a more solid ball in 1848 made of gutta-percha, which was then called the “gutty” or “guttie.”
In 1898 a man named Coburn Haskell used rubber thread wound into a ball and found that it bounced to the ceiling. He then perfected it with a liquid filled core surrounded with solid rubber and wound rubber, topped off with an outer shell of balata sap.
The dimpling of the golf ball was initiated in the early 1900’s which gave more control to the path of the flight of the ball. A patent was awarded in 1897 for this process.
Different types of outer covers were experimented with over the years to provide a hard, yet lightweight outer cover that would stand the test of time for golf balls as they were struck by the clubs. The early covers were not too hard and if the edge of an iron hit the ball in the middle, the cut on the ball would render it useless for any further play.
As time went on, stronger covers were made from different types of urethane and similar substances, hardening the surface, yet being light enough in weight to not hinder the flight of the ball.
Today, golf balls are all of the same size and weight, as determined by the standards of the USGA. When a ball is hit by the club, it experiences two forces, those of lift and drag. The dimpled ball will travel farther than golf balls that are not dimpled due to these two effects.
The modern golf ball is able to hit with backspin, sidespin and can be hit farther than any other ball in sports.