Golf is a sport which, due to the presence of specialized equipment, has been greatly affected by advances in technology over the course of its history. The following five innovations, in one way or another, have left a lasting impact on the game as we know it today.
Number Five: The Haskell Ball
Prior to the mid-1800s, golf balls were made with leather pouches stuffed with goose feathers, which were expensive, of inconsistent quality, and prone to bursting. “Featheries” were eventually replaced by pressed spheres of a rubber-like sap known as gutta-percha. While the concept of dimples was first realized with the gutta-percha ball, its heyday would be cut short by the invention of one Coburn Haskell, a turn-of-the-20th-century golfer from Ohio.
One of Haskell’s golfing partners was an executive at the B.F. Goodrich rubber company. While meeting his friend at his office before a round, Haskell wound a stray piece of rubber thread into a ball. He was impressed with his improvised ball’s bouncing quality, especially compared to the gutta-percha’s performance on the ground. After adding a cover to it, Haskell had come up with the wound golf ball, which remained the standard in premium ball construction throughout the 1900s, until multi-layer synthetic balls like the Titleist Pro V1 was introduced.
Number Four: Steel Shafts
Golf clubs were originally made with hickory shafts, which were highly flexible. Expert reflexes and skill were required just to overcome the club’s torque to make contact with the ball. By the 1930s, though, hickory had been fully replaced by steel, for one main reason: consistency. Players could expect steel shafts to react the same to every swing made with every club, which simply was not possible with hickory. Hickory was lighter, an advantage seen in modern graphite shafts, but steel shafts have proven reliable enough to be found on most iron sets to this day.
Number Three: Motorized Lawnmowers
In the old days, grazing sheep maintained the grounds of golf courses; the links in the northern Scottish town of Brora is famous for the herd it maintains to this day. But with upwards of 30,000 golf courses in the world today, most of them on land that is less suitable for gathering livestock than British linksland, the idea that animals could be a feasible means of groundskeeping is laughable. Human and horse-powered mowers have been around since the early 1800s (try cutting greens to a 10 on the stimp with those), but the first steam-powered mower was not introduced until 1893-perhaps not coincidentally, about the same time as golf began to capture a popular audiences.
Also worth mentioning: the rules of golf treat animal droppings as loose impediments. If your ball were to land in a sheep patty, rules dictate that you must play the ball as it lies.
Number Two: Cavity-Back Irons
When the new groove rules came into effect earlier this year, a controversy erupted over the legality of the Ping Eye 2 irons and wedges, which were originally exempted to the regulations in the US thanks to a two-decade old court ruling. It wasn’t just that players were dusting off Eye 2s after twenty years just to exploit a loophole; some players preferred the Eye 2’s design enough to keep them in their bags all along.
The Eye 2 was the first significant cavity-back iron. Every iron introduced since then has followed its lead in distributing weight about the clubhead to lower its center of gravity and make shots hit with it more forgiving. Of course, there are players who still swear by old-fashioned blades, but cavity-backs have made golf more enjoyable to hackers everywhere.
Number One: Oversized Titanium Drivers
Let’s be clear: the best professionals were hitting 300-yard drives long before the Callaway Big Bertha first hit the market in the early 1990s. What the big-headed drivers did do was give better players the confidence to rip it every time, while providing high-handicappers a much better chance of finding the fairway off the tee than with persimmon woods.