How Golf Balls are Made Step by Step
Throughout golf’s history, there have been many iterations of the golf ball. Modern golf balls are highly tuned and packed with science and technology. They are automatically pumped out in factories by the millions, combining all sorts of different materials, types of covers, layers and dimple designs.
But this is a far cry from the round wooden balls that were used by the first proponents of the game. As time passed, the golf ball changed. New materials were used, and new designs were trialed. In the mid-1800s, vulcanized rubber was discovered for the first time and golf seized the opportunity to make balls from it. They were mass-produced in this fashion by melting the rubber and pouring it into molds.
It was also around this time that golfers figured out that balls with indentations in them actually flew further than perfectly round balls. This led golf ball manufacturers of the time to hammer indentations into each golf ball by hand, a precursor to the dimples of today.
The dimples are just one small side to golf ball making. There are a number of steps involved in the process of manufacturing a modern ball.
The ball could be considered the most important piece of equipment in the game of golf. It is, after all, the only item you use for every shot!
How a Golf Ball is Manufactured
Golf balls undergo a long and complex manufacturing process that increases with complexity depending on the number of layers present. Thus, manufacturing a three-piece ball is more complex and expensive than manufacturing a two-piece ball. A four-piece golf ball is more complicated than either.
There is also a significant increase in the number of checks and steps required for three-piece golf balls and the more complicated, four-piece and five-piece balls. The steps are outlined below.
Forming the Center
Forming the center is the first step in the manufacturing process. The molded core of a ball is constructed from different materials which combine to give a rubber-like compound. After this compound is heated and pressure is applied, a core of 1.5 inches or 3.75 centimeters is formed. Depending on the design of the ball the core could be much larger for example in a 2-piece golf ball.
Adding Extra Layers
If you are making a multi-layer ball then the additional layers are added using injection molding. You can see this in the video below of the TaylorMade ball Lab.
There is also likely to be some grinding required to smooth off any rough edges left over from the molding process.
Forming the Cover and Dimples
The next step is to form the cover and dimples. This can be done in two ways using a two-piece mold, through injection molding or compression molding. Two-piece golf balls utilize injection molding. Here, the core is centered within a mold cavity by pins before the molding material is injected into the dimpled cavity. As the material cools, the pins are gradually removed.
On the other hand, compression molding might be used in three-piece, four-piece and five-piece golf balls. Here the cover is injected into two hollow hemispheres before being positioned around the core, heated and then pressed together.
Polishing, Painting and Final Coating
After the molds are removed, polishing, painting and final coating of the ball can begin. This starts by applying two layers of paint to each ball and then stamping the logo and other necessary markings onto the ball. Finally, a clear glossy coat is applied to protect the ball and give it a shiny look.
Drying and Packaging
Once the balls have been painted and coated, they are placed in a large dryer. After they have dried out fully, they are ready to be packaged.
It is extremely important for golf ball manufacturers to apply quality control to their products. X-ray is used for three-piece, four-piece and five-piece golf balls to ensure the center of each golf ball is perfectly round. Naturally, even the slightest imperfection could throw off the performance of a golf ball.
History of Golf Ball Manufacturing
Golf has been played for a long time but the type of ball used has altered radically over the centuries. Golf ball companies of today have to conform to the rules laid down by the sports governing bodies the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A). At least if they want to sell many millions of their balls!
Modern balls made of rubber or synthetic compounds have altered the design of golf courses and the way we play golf. The bomb and gouge method employed by many professionals is reliant on the distance that the golf ball travels now. Golf ball engineers are continually experimenting with different materials and designs to push the limits of the rules.
Here is a quick rundown of the evolution of the golf ball.
In the beginning, there was a wooden ball. There is debate as to whether or not they were used by golfers at all, or just for sports similar to golf. If they were used, they would have dated all the way back to the 14th century
From 1486-1618, the Hairy golf ball was imported from the Netherlands. These balls were made from pieces of leather sewn together and filled with hair and in Latin were known as harpastum. It is quite possible that the earliest golfers used some version of the Hairy. They were difficult to make.
The Feathery ball plays a huge role in golf history. While it isn’t clear when they were first adopted by golf, the first mention in Scottish writing comes from 1724.
The Feathery was made by stitching three pieces of leather together and turning them inside out. Next feathers were pushed through a ¼ inch slit in the leather. The feathers and leather were both wet and as they dried, the feathers expanded while the leather shrank, creating a tight ball. They were then painted white for protection and visibility. Goose feathers were usually the preferred choice.
Making such balls was time-consuming and cumbersome and it was reported a ball maker could only make two or three a day. By 1838 this rose to 50 or 60 per week. By 1840, a golf ball maker called Allan Robertson was said to have made 1,021 Feathery golf balls. This rose to 1,392 in 1841 and 2,456 in 1842.
Gutties first started to appear in 1848. Gutta percha was a packaging material that was formed from the dried gum resin of guttiferous trees. It was used to make golf balls by heating the substance and molding it into a round shape. The first Gutties were smooth, but it was soon noticed that the ball performed better once it had picked up a few nicks and indentations. It was from that ball makers began to cut grooves into gutties which eventually paved the way for dimples.
In 1898 a wound core ball known as a Haskell was invented. The ball had a solid rubber core wrapped tightly with rubber threads and then covered with gutta-percha. Within a few years, the Haskell ballwas outperforming the Gutty. It was not until 1967 that Spalding recreated the cover with Surlyn, a material still used today in balls such as the Titleist Velocity and TaylorMade Distance+.
How Much Does It Cost to Make a Golf Ball
Given the varying amount of technology and R&D that goes into different golf balls, there is no one set amount for how much it costs to make a ball. The overall base cost of manufacturing a ball, though, is much, much less than the cost that appears on shelves.
Most mainstream golf balls cost between $4-$8 per dozen to produce. More premium balls, such as the Titleist Pro V1, will sit at the higher end of this scale at $8. Less complicated and easier-to-produce balls such as those with a two-piece construction will be cheaper to manufacture and sit closer to the $4 mark.
While the difference between manufacturing cost and selling price is stark, it must be remembered that there are many other costs such as advertising, retailer margin and so on to factor in.
How Golf Balls are Made Step by Step: Conclusion
So now you have a better idea of how the different types of ball both old and new are made. If you want to get a better understanding of golf balls read my golf ball guide.
Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]
How Long Does It Take to Make a Golf Ball?
2-piece balls can be made in one day, but the increased complexity and quality control required when manufacturing golf balls with more layers can mean it takes up to 30 days to make a golf ball.
Is There a Metal Ball Inside a Golf Ball?
It would be inaccurate to say there is a metal ball inside a golf ball however some of the cores do contain certain heavy metals.
Many years ago all sorts of materials were tried but modern balls all use rubbers or synthetic rubber compounds.
What are Golf Balls Made From?
Golf balls are made from different compounds. The core features synthetic rubbers infused with polymers while the mantle layers are made from rubbers of varying densities and hardness. Finally, the cover is created from Surlyn or urethane.
Surlyn is a tradename for an ionomer created by DuPont.