Golf as we know it was first played with a leather-covered ball stuffed with goose or chicken feathers. Several pieces of substantial leather were tightly stitched, leaving a small opening. The casing was then turned inside out, and feathers - a "gentleman's top hat full" by measure - were boiled and softened, then tediously stuffed into the casing before the final stitches were made.
The resulting surprisingly hard feather ball was hammered into roundness and finally coated with several layers of paint. Because of the difficulty and time involved in making Featheries, they were relatively expensive. This fragile missile was used for almost four centuries
The first "Gutta" ball is believed to have been made in 1848 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Patterson from gutta-percha packing material. Gutta-percha is the evaporated milky latex produced from a tree most commonly found in Malaysia. It is hard and non-brittle, and becomes soft and impressible at the temperature of boiling water.
Gutta balls were handmade by rolling the softened material on a board. The new durability of the Gutta, together with its much lower cost, resistance to water, and improved run, rejuvenated the game of golf. Not without some resistance from traditionalists, the Gutta gradually replaced the Feathery.
The Hand Hammered Gutta
The gutta-percha ball enormously enhanced the game of golf, but required that golfers smooth the balls after play by boiling and rolling them on a "smoothing board." Golfers who failed to re-smooth the gutta ball soon noted that a many-nicked ball had truer flight than the smooth version.
Thus, the hand-hammered gutta was created by hammering the softened ball with a sharp edged hammer, giving the ball an even pattern that greatly improved its play. Introduced soon after were balls formed in iron molds or ball presses that created distinct patterns or markings. A wide variety of surface patterns were introduced onto golf balls, and into the game of golf.
Surface textures and impressed onto gutta-percha balls evolved from early imitations of feathery ball stitching to highly detailed and symmetrical patterns that greatly improved the ball's flight. The best known balls were the hand-marked private brands of the Scottisn club makers, such as Morris, Robertson, Gourlay, and Auchterlonies.
Many brands with a variety of patent names used the bramble pattern - a surface similar to that of a berry. This became the most popular pattern of the gutta era, and was used on some early rubber balls as well.
The Rubber Ball
Few changes in any sport compare with the changes in golf brought about by the rubber ball. It was invented in 1898 by a Cleveland, Ohio golfer, Coburn Haskell, in association with Bertram Work of B. F. Goodrich Company. The ball featured rubber thread wound around a solid rubber core. The initial gutta-percha casing gave way to the Balata cover developed in the early 1900s.
The popular bramble, mesh, reverse mesh, and many other patterns eventually gave way to the aerodynamically superior dimple pattern first used in 1908. Because of a lack of governing standards, there were many deviations in ball size and weight.
The Modern Ball
On January 1 1932, The United States Golf Association established standardization for golf ball weight and size, following 1930 standards set by the British Golf Association for a slightly smaller ball. The weight was set at a maximum of 1.620 ounces, with diameter not to exceed 1.680 inches. Later, after the development of testing apparatus to measure velocity, a maximum velocity of 250 feet per second was added by the USGA.
The durability and precision of today's ball reflects not only the technological advancement of their manufacture, but also the development of cutting-edge plastics, silicone, and rubber compounds.