Why the golf ball got its dimples

Ken Dymock
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Emi Yañez, Wikimedia Commons

First, the history:

The first golf balls were actually leather pouches filled with goose feathers. A long shot was about 165 to 190 yards (150-175 metres), or about the distance a professional golfer hits a pitching wedge today. In 1848, the dried gum of the Malaysian gutta-percha tree was used to fill the core of “new technology” balls. Golfers soon learned that the new balls with their smooth surfaces didn’t fly as well as the used, scuffed ones. They scuffed up the new ball’s surface and

Sphere flow diagram

credit: aerospaceweb.org

the first“dimples” were created. Since then, wound balls appeared in 1898 and finally, solid balls in 1966. Both innovations allowed progressively more energy to be transferred to the ball on impact and, along with the development of dimple and cover technology, the distance a golf ball could be driven was improved.

Did You Know?
A golf ball’s weight and diameter must be less than 45.93 grams and greater than or equal to 46.67 milimetres Now the modern science:

When a golf ball is struck with a club, the air hits the front of the ball, creating drag (meaning it slows the ball down). The air then separates around the ball creating a space or wake behind the ball where the air cannot come back together; this is called “flow separation”. This creates an area of low pressure, which also produces drag on the ball.

Did You Know?
The ball must be designed to have spherical symmetry.

In order to decrease the drag on the ball, the wake needs to be smaller behind the ball. This is where the dimples come in. The dimples actually interact with the boundary layer (the thin layer of air around the ball), creating turbulence. The turbulence speeds up the airflow and helps to resist the flow separation, creating a smaller wake. In turn, this reduces the drag behind the ball, allowing it to move forward.

Fast Fact: If the air runs smoothly around the ball, it’s considered “laminant” but if the air is being mixed up, it’s “turbulent”.

Scientists are still coming up with the “best” golf ball, and typically look at the design of the dimples since it’s such a crucial part of the success of the game!

Learn More!

http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/11/23/the.physics.golf.balls

http://www.oobgolf.com/content/columns/know+the+game/1-1675-Why_Does_A_Golf_Ball_Have_Dimples.html

Try the simulation out: http://www.probablegolfinstruction.com/science_golf_ball_flight.htm

Article first published on September 14, 2010.

Photo credit:vivekchugh from stock.xchng

Ken Dymock

I have an Honours B.Sc. in Chemistry and Mathematics from the University of Waterloo and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Florida. I have done research and development work in the chemical, petroleum and mining industries and hold a number of patents.  My research interests have ranged from coordination chemistry and x-ray crystallography to metal purification, synthetic fuels, chemical and petroleum processing and fuels, chemical and lubricant product development.  In my spare time I like to garden and attempt to understand the physics of hitting a golf ball.


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