The Structure of a Golf Ball
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
The Evolution of The Golf Ball
The structure and construction of the Golf Ball have certainly evolved over the years. Early versions of the golf ball were soft and mostly filled with feathers, but over the years, advances in materials, technology, and aerodynamics have created golf balls that not only fly farther but create more accuracy. In addition, golf ball manufacturers are now making custom-fit golf balls to fit a player's particular game, for weather conditions, and even for specific course conditions.
Critical points on Golf Ball Construction
The arrangement and amount of the dimples on a golf ball directly affect the overall performance of the ball.
All golf balls must possess a diameter no less than 1.7 inches and weigh no more than 1.6 oz.
Golf balls are constructed in a few options. For example, today, you can find 2-piece, 3-piece, 4-piece, and even 5-piece balls.
How is a golf ball constructed?
Golf ball construction, as simple as it may seem, is somewhat complex. Currently, there are a few versions of golf balls in production. However, with the advances in golf ball technology, golf ball manufacturers are creating golf balls that are incredibly aerodynamic and provide optimal performance.
But, "what's the difference," you may be asking yourself? Do I care whether the golf ball is made from 2-pieces or even 5-pieces?
The answer. Finding the golf ball that is right for you is all about personal feel and what type of game you play. Let's say you are having trouble correcting your hook or slice? Then take a look at a low-spin golf ball. Maybe your game is a tad more advanced, and you are looking to shave a few strokes off your short game? Then test a hybrid golf ball with the control and feel that a soft urethane cover delivers.
Still a little confused?
Ok, no problem! Let's dive a little deeper. Two-piece golf balls tend to have a larger core which generally results in greater distance. Sounds amazing, right? Yes, the extra distance is excellent, but with greater distance comes less spin and control, which can cost you much-needed accuracy when playing close to the greens.
On the other hand, three-piece golf balls build on the best parts of two-piece golf balls (the distance) while making adjustments that allow for a softer feel with more control through the additional layer.
2-Piece Golf Balls
2-Pice Golf Balls are dubbed "The Distance Balls" because they offer maximum distance off the tee and excellent short game spin control. 2-Piece golf balls consist of a solid rubber core and a firm outer layer. These balls are designed to maintain a straighter flight and spin less than multi-layer balls. Economically, standard 2-piece balls also tend to be more affordable, based on their simple production and durability, perfect for golfers new to the sport.
3-Piece Golf Balls
A 3-piece golf ball offers the same distance benefits as a 2-piece golf ball but has an altogether higher spin rate off the tee. Considered the "middle ground" of golf balls, the 3-piece golf ball features a lower caliber construction than a four or 5-piece golf ball. As a result, these balls are ideal for above-average players with a moderate swing speed and looking for distance, controllability, and consistency.
Multi-Layered Golf Balls
Production on a multi-layer ball, like a 4- or a 5-piece item, features a thin outer layer typically made of urethane. The soft urethane material provides amazing short-game spin by allowing the clubface to "grab" the ball, while the other layer(s) between the core and exterior allows more spin and control on well-struck iron shots.
Golf Ball Materials
A golf ball comprises three main elements. The cover, the mantle, and the solid rubber core. These three areas combine to allow golf balls to offer spin rate, compression, and initial velocity.
Golf Ball Cover Material and Surface
The two most common cover materials are urethane and ionomer/Surlyn. Don't worry; we will explain the difference.
Urethane is the softer material compared to ionomer, and it brings a lot to the table regarding spin rates and feels. While manufacturing these covers, it is possible to control the hardness and toughness of the material through how much heat is applied.
The competitor to urethane covers is ionomer covers which are also known as Surlyn covers. Ionomer golf ball covers bring something different to the table than urethane. It is the preferred material for distance balls because spin rates are lower and durability is higher.
Usually, manufacturing costs are lower than urethane, so ionomer golf balls are cheaper and geared more towards beginner golfers.
The core of a Golf Ball
The core of the golf ball is made from synthetic rubbers. This is where most of the energy sits when the ball is struck. Therefore, the construction of the core is the most significant factor that will affect the performance of a golf ball.
Golf Ball Mantle
The golf ball mantle is made from different materials within its layers. For example, a robust and rigid thermoplastic is found on the outer layer of the mantle, but a thermoplastic polymer would be found in the middle section, and rubber is used in the mantles inside layer, which is much softer.
So, that's the guts of the ball, the part we generally don't see, unless, of course, you rip the cover off the golf ball on one of your mammoth drives.
Speaking of covers, let's talk about the unique pattern of every golf ball.
Colors may vary; you can have the traditional white or even fluorescent hot pink; it doesn't matter because the color does not affect the flight of the ball… but you know what does?
The dimpled pattern on the golf ball creates an aerodynamic lift, which allows the ball to remain in the air longer. So, generally, the more dimples on a ball, the farther that ball will travel.
Seems crazy, right? In the air, the dimples on the golf ball create a tiny wake of air behind it, which gives it less aerodynamic drag. If you compared that to a smooth ball, you would see that a dimpled golf ball has about half of the drag of a smooth golf ball, which means a dimpled golf ball will travel twice as far as a smooth golf ball.
Amount of Dimples
As a general rule, the more dimples a ball has, the better it flies, provided those dimples are about 0.15 in (0.38 cm) in diameter.
The size and depth of the dimples also affect the flight of the golf ball. Shallow dimples generate more spin on a golf ball than deep dimples. This increases the lift and causes the ball to rise and stay in the air longer. Conversely, deep dimples have the exact opposite effect on the ball; you will generate less spin, which decreases lift and causes the ball to stay on a low trajectory.
For instance, the number of dimples varies from 300 to 500 dimples, with most golf balls ranging between 350 and 450 dimples. Thus, manufacturers can optimize the resulting trajectory for distance and control by experimenting with dimple characteristics and the construction of particular golf balls.
Arrangement of Dimples
The dimpled design has changed significantly over the years, from random patterns to ordered rows, to more complicated interstitial designs, with different depths, shapes, sizes, distribution patterns, and numbers of dimples. You name it, and the golf ball manufacturers have probably tried it, but the most common dimple patterns are the icosahedral, the dodecahedral, and the octahedral. The icosahedral pattern is based on a polyhedral with 20 identical triangular faces, similar to a 20-sided die. The dodecahedral pattern is based on a polyhedral with 12 identical faces in the shape of pentagons, and the octahedral pattern is based on an eight-sided polyhedral with triangular faces.
Golf ball manufacturers will continue to play with dimple patterns to find that perfect pattern or introduce dimple patterns that will be specifically based on your level of play.
Size and diameter
As technology advances, so does the need to govern golf ball manufacturers who will continue to push improvements to allow golf balls to travel even further. The United States Golf Association (USGA) has set standards on both size and weight to maintain a level playing field. All golf balls must possess a diameter not less than 1.7 ins and weigh no more than 1.6 oz.
It will be interesting to see how far technology can advance the improvements on today's golf ball in the next 20 years. Golf ball manufacturers will continue to create more consistent golf balls that will be more durable and will continue to develop new patterns of dimples that could create even more categories. Soon, you may be buying balls specific to your swing speed or even launch angle to help beginner golfers become more consistent.