Why do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

Malcolm Tatum

Many people are surprised to learn that the reason golf balls have dimples is not simply for looks. While it is true that originally the golf ball was a perfectly smooth object, a series of circumstances and observations led to the creation of a new type of golf ball. Here is the scoop on why just about all golf balls have dimples today.

A single golf ball typically has up to 400 dimples.
A single golf ball typically has up to 400 dimples.

The story of why golf balls have dimples begins in the early years of the 20th century. As golfing became increasingly popular, experienced golfers played with smooth golf balls. Over time, these smooth balls would become worn from repeated use. The smooth surface would be replaced by an uneven texture characterized by a series of bumps, slices and nicks. Rather than discarding these used devices, avid golfers began to notice that these older balls performed better than newer balls that had not yet been seasoned with use.

A single golf ball typically has up to 400 dimples.
A single golf ball typically has up to 400 dimples.

As experts began to look into this phenomenon with the nicked golf balls, it was determined that all those nicks and cuts into the surface were functioning as turbulators. Essentially, a turbulator is a factor that increases the rate of turbulence involved with an object. In the case of the golf ball, this meant that the uneven surface was introducing turbulence into the layer of air around the ball as it sailed toward a target. The presence of the turbulence reduces the drag on the ball, which allows it to go a greater distance.

Sports manufacturers quickly learned that golf balls with dimples would sell very well. By the middle of the 20th century, very few companies were still making smooth golf balls. Dimpled golf balls have remained the golf ball of choice for many professional and amateur golfers.

Typical golf balls have dimples that run in the range of three hundred to four hundred dimples per ball. Based on the average distance that is projected for the golf balls projected today, golf balls with dimples are capable of traveling up to four times the amount of distance that is achieved with smooth golf balls. Part of the higher rate of performance is that along with the fact that golf balls have dimples today, they are also sealed with a laminate. The combination helps to create the maximum amount of drag reduction qualities, making it easier to control both the distance and the direction of the ball.

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Discussion Comments


Because penetration is still more effective than turbulation. Turbulation works only for round objects gyrating. A boat or a car do not offer a revolving surface. Cheers, Frank


If the turbulence is effective at reducing drag on golf balls, why isn’t a dimpled finish or a textured paint used on aircraft, racing cars or on the hulls of boats?

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