The quest to engineer a golf ball that flies long and true dates back to 15th-century Scotland. Artisans there tediously stuffed a wet leather pouch with a hat-full of boiled goose feathers, then stitched it shut. The drying feathers expanded while the leather shrank, to form a ball as hard as a rock. A skilled ball maker could produce only four featheries a day, relegating the game of links to the rich.
Four hundred years later, in the 1840s, the guttie arrived. Craftsmen heated and molded gutta-percha gum (which was, and is, used in dentistry) from the Malaysian Palaquium tree into a solid sphere. Durable and inexpensive, the guttie brought golf to the masses. Golfers noticed, however, that new, smooth gutties did not fly as straight or as far as old, nicked ones. Ball makers began cutting, hammering or impressing various patterns of indentations into each ball's surface, a practice that helped balls fly straighter and longer. Because the science of aerodynamics was still young, no one really knew why.
This article was originally published with the title Flight Control.