The Golf Ball Industry In 1898

The Golf Ball Industry In 1898

The Golf Ball Industry In 1898

In light of  the recent (and recurring) kerfuffle over how far the modern golf ball flies, I thought this article from the April 1898 issue of Golf was illuminating. Rather than worrying about how the guttapercha had changed the game, the author celebrated the distance , durability and cost savings it offered over the previous generation of balls (the featherie).

I wonder if they ever worried about courses being made obsolete by the guttapercha.

The Golf Ball Industry

Golf, April 1898
The improvement that has taken place in the last fifty years in the manufacture of golf-balls has practically revolutionized the game of golf, and has been one of the chief factors in bringing about its present enormous popularity. Prior to the introduction of gutta-percha, which occurred around 1848, the golfer had to content himself with a leather ball stuffed with feathers, for which he had to pay half-a-crown.

This ball flew badly, and in wet weather it got so knocked about of shape that the player was commonly allowed to lift it on the putting-green and rolling between his palms, until such time as it attained some semblance of rotundity. Even then, it must have been about as lively to putt with as a half-sucked orange. if it split at the seams, which always happened, sooner or later, the ball would whir through the air like a badly-hit partridge, scattering its feathers as it flew.

But with the advent of guttapercha the feather ball soon became as extinct as the dodo. The new ball was more durable and kept its shape better than its feathered rival; but even had its lasting qualities been less obvious than they were, its greater cheapness would have been sufficient to establish its supremacy. It only cost one shilling and to save three “saxpences” at one full swoop would have been an irresistible argument to the Scotch mind in favor of the new-comer.

The ingenuity of golfers and golf ball makers has been much exercised in devising a marking that will have the greatest effect in assisting the flight of the ball. An experience of twenty years, dating from the days when the old hand-hammered balls to the present day, when new varieties are daily coming into the market, does not enable the writer to pronounce definitely in favor of any one particular pattern of making.

Provided the guttapercha be good and properly seasoned, there seems no reason for the very deep markings which are to be seen on many balls; while it is obvious that the undue multiplications of lines must decrease the size and consequently, the resisting power of the points left exposed to the blow.  Up to now, guttapercha remains unrivaled as the best material for golf-balls. Carious composition balls have appeared from time to time, the best known being the Eclipse; but although they have a certain vogue, they have failed to supplant those made of the raw material. All guttapercha comes from the Straits Settlements, Cochin China, Cambodia, etc. and it arrives here in a very adulterated condition. As it comes from the tree, the gum is of a cream color, but it is largely mixed with resin; while bark, gravel and other impurities are added by the natives to give it weight.

It reaches the manufacturers in a dry state and the first process is to cleanse it of these impurities. By the time the pure gum is arrived at, the guttapercha becomes black, owing to oxidation. According to the thoroughness of this cleansing process is the quality of the guttapercha.  After being mixed well by the use of masticators, it is made into long sticks and the balls are moulded from these. The best balls are made from the pure gum, without an admixture whatever, but less pure qualities are used for cheaper purposes.

A golf-ball is at its best six months after being made and painted and may be said to deteriorate from that point. No paint that has yet been invented will adhere properly to the ball much after that period and will be found to chip off in the course of play.  Of course, the best guttapercha will keep in condition the longest time, but even the best becomes hard and brittle in time from exposure to the air.

The golf-ball making industry is now a most important one and is increasing by leaps and bounds. Although it is impossible to arrive at an absolutely correct estimate, from the figures we have seen it seems probable that something like ten or twelve million balls are made every year in this country. – Answers, London




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