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How the Dimples on Golf Balls Make Your Shots Go Farther

Among all the different shapes and sizes of balls used in many different sports, golf balls are unique in their use of dimples. And most golfers know why the dimples are there. They give the ball lift which helps the ball travel farther.

But that’s not the full story of how dimples help your shots go as far as they do.

The Story of How Golf Balls Got Their Dimples

In the mid-1800s golf balls were made of a leather cover stuffed with chicken or goose feathers and coated with paint. Known as a ‘featherie’, they were difficult to make consistently round, which made their flight irregular. They also became heavier when wet, which reduced distance. To top it all off, they were very time consuming to make. That made them very expensive, each costing between two and five shillings, or about $10 to $20 dollars today.

In 1848, Dr. Robert Adams Paterson invented the gutta-percha ball, which became known as a ‘guttie’. Made from the sap of a sapodilla tree, gutties were easier to shape consistently, they were not affected by water and they were cheaper to make.

And then golfers made perhaps the greatest discovery in golf. They noticed that their shots travelled further when they used older gutties that were dented and nicked. It didn’t take long for ball makers to catch on and they began producing golf balls with textured surfaces.

While other major breakthroughs happened in golf ball design over the years, including improvement to the core of the ball, those initial textures were refined over time into the dimples we know today.

The Combination of Lift and Aerodynamic Drag in a Golf Ball

The dimple pattern on golf balls today is there because of the two major influences the dimples have on a ball’s flight.

The previously-mentioned lift is the result of backspin on the ball. Backspin makes the air pressure higher underneath the ball and lower over the ball to create upward force on the ball. Dimples help to optimize the effect.

But the greatest contribution dimples make to the distance of your shots comes from their reduction of aerodynamic drag.

If golf balls were smooth, air would flow around them relatively unimpeded during flight. Air flow contacts the front, leading surface of the ball and detaches from the surface as soon as it passes the farthest outside edges of the ball. That leaves a relatively large pocket of air behind the ball. A pocket of air that the ball must drag with it as it travels. That’s aerodynamic drag.

Each dimple on a golf ball creates a tiny pocket of turbulence in the air that travels around it. Instead of slowing the ball down, the turbulence pockets keep the air flow running along the surface of the ball further around the back of the ball. The result is a smaller pocket of air behind the ball and less aerodynamic drag.

How much further will your shot go using a dimpled ball versus a smooth ball? According to Steve Quintavalla, an equipment standards engineer with the USGA, a dimpled ball will travel almost twice as far as a smooth ball. So now that you know your shots are traveling twice as far, why not put them to work by booking a tee time here at Royal Ashburn!

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