Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples? A Detailed Explanation

Up close view of the dimples on a white golf ball.

When holding a golf ball in your hand, one of the first things you notice is that it is covered in dimples. Dimples are a specific design feature meant to help the golf ball fly farther with more accuracy.

But exactly how many dimples are on a golf ball?

There are approximately 300-500 dimples on a golf ball and they are the biggest factor in determining a golf ball’s carry distance, control, and accuracy. Golf ball manufacturers vary the number, shape, and size of dimples to provide distinguishing characteristics for their specific golf balls.

To learn more on why golf balls have dimples, why they are so important to carry distance, control, accuracy, and why some brands have more dimples than others, we encourage you to read on.

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

There are anywhere from 300-500 dimples on a golf ball. The first golf ball to have dimples was the Haskell ball, developed by Coburn Haskell, in the early 20th century, which was one of the first smooth golf balls.

The Haskell originally had a smooth surface but golfers noticed that as wear and tear added potch marks and scuffs to their balls, the ball flew further.

The original dimple was not a dimple but a raised convex bump. It wasn’t until golf ball manufacturers experimented with concave dimples that the revolutionary discovery was made and the modern golf ball was developed.

The discovery that a uniform pattern of dimples affected a golf ball’s ability to fly farther led to more investment in golf ball research and development into how dimples affect the aerodynamic principles of drag and lift.

These two factors directly affect a golf ball’s ability to fly farther and land softer with more accuracy.

  • Drag: Drag is the aerodynamic force that opposes an object’s motion through the air. It is generated by the interaction and contact of a solid body with liquid or gas, i.e. a golf ball flying through the air. A dimples on a golf ball create a thin layer of air that clings to the ball’s surface of the ball which allows the opposing frictional force to smoothly flow across the ball’s surface.
  • Lift: Lift is the force that directly opposes the weight of an object in a perpendicular direction and holds it in the air during flight. It is generated by the difference in velocity of the object in motion and the movement of the particles in the air (air pressure). According to Scientific American, ball spin contributes about half of a golf ball’s lift.

For example, as a golf ball flies through the air, it pushes air particles away creating a counterclockwise rotation that helps to lift the ball.

This, combined with dimples and backspin, allow the dimpled ball to warp the airflow of particles so that the air pressure pushing up on the ball is greater than the air pressure pushing down on the ball.

Hitting a golf ball without dimples will fly about half as far as hitting a dimpled golf ball (using the same force), making this discovery one of the greatest factors affecting the modern game of golf.

How Deep Are Dimples On Golf Balls?

Zoomed in photo of a white golf ball in a patch of grass.

The average depth of a golf ball dimple is 1/100th of an inch but fluctuations of 1/1000th of an inch in depth can greatly affect the characteristics of a golf ball’s flight (i.e. drag and lift).

The United States Golf Association (USGA) does not regulate the depth of golf ball dimples but does strictly regulate other aspects of balls including the following:

  • Weight: The weight of the golf ball must not be greater than 1.620oz.
  • Size: The diameter of the ball must not be less than 1.680”.
  • Spherical Symmetry: The ball must not be designed, manufactured, or intentionally modified to have properties that differ from those of a spherically symmetrical ball.
  • Initial Velocity: The initial velocity of the ball must not exceed 250 feet per second as it is propelled off the face of the golf club when hit.

How Many Dimples Are on an Average Golf Ball?

Most golf balls have between 300-500 dimples per ball. The most dimples ever put on a golf ball are 1,070 dimples.

To achieve this number, the golf ball manufacturer put dimples inside of dimples.

How Many Dimples Should a Golf Ball Have?

The answer to how many dimples should be on your golf ball depends on what you’re attempting to accomplish with the golf ball. If a golfer struggles to get the ball in the air, a ball with more dimples may help them get more lift and carry on their shots.

Conversely, a golfer who naturally hits the ball too high may opt for a ball with fewer dimples to decrease the golf ball’s lift.

Do the Dimples Have to be the Same Shape and Size?

No, each type of ball within a brand is different. The depth of dimples on a golf ball is not regulated but they must however be symmetrical.

In fact, Callaway introduced golf balls in the early 2000s with crisscrossing hexagons and pentagons that covered 100 percent of the golf ball’s surface.

Does the Number of Dimples Depend on the Brand?

The answer is yes but it is much more precise than that. The number of dimples on a golf ball is determined by the type of ball each brand produces.

Each golf ball manufacturer produces different types of golf balls with differing characteristics designed to accommodate the many different types of golf swings.

Manufacturers vary dimple diameters, shape, depth, total coverage (meaning the area of the golf ball covered in dimples), and edge angles all in an attempt to optimize ball flight and the two characteristics that affect it most: the golf ball’s lift and drag.

Additional Golf Ball Characteristics that Affect Flight

Golf with a glove on his left hand admires his shot.

Besides golf ball dimples, manufacturers research two other aspects of the golf ball, the inner core and the outer cover. In addition to its significance in being the first ball with dimples, the Haskell ball also toyed with how the ball was constructed. (Click here for a brief overview of the evolution of the golf ball.)

The Haskell ball was constructed from a solid rubber core, wrapped with a tightly wound rubber thread, and covered with a thin layer of gutta-percha (sap from a Gutta-percha tree).

This modification immediately added up 20 yards of distance to the average shot and became the first multi-layered golf ball, the design for today’s modern golf ball.

Solid Inner Core

The size of the inner core of a golf ball is important because it receives the bulk of the energy transfer when struck by a golf club.

Beginner golfers and those golfers with slower swing speeds (i.e. women, junior and senior golfers with swing speeds under 100 mph) should play with a dimpled ball that has a larger inner core.

The larger the inner core, the more spring-like effect that allows the ball to travel farther despite a slower swing speed. There is a trade-off however as a larger inner core comes with less control and feel on the shot.

Outer Layer

The outer layer of a golf ball consists of two types of materials, Surlyn (a material developed by DuPont and used as early as 1960) and urethane plastic.

Surlyn covers are more durable and offer less ball spin when hit, something needed by less skilled golfers.

Conversely, urethane covers are found on professional-grade golf balls and present a softer feel and more control but are easier to damage in the course of play.

Here are the types of layered golf balls offered and the reasoning behind their construction:

One-Piece Golf Balls

The one-piece golf ball is what you typically find at a driving range or a putt-putt course. It is constructed entirely out of Surlyn with dimples molded in.

Two-Piece Golf Balls

These balls are ideal for beginner golfers and those with slower swing speeds.

The ball consists of a large solid inner core with a thicker Surlyn cover that is more durable, provides greater distance, and offers less spin, which is important on mishits that veer sharply away from the fairway.

There is a trade-off however as two-piece golf balls offer less feel and provide difficulty in hitting controlled, shaped shots.

Three-Piece Golf Balls

A three-piece ball has a slightly smaller solid rubber or liquid inner core and a second inner layer between the cover and the core.

These balls are slightly softer to hit than two-piece golf balls and the additional layer adds more control and accuracy to the golf ball.

Four-Piece Golf Balls

The four-piece ball offers a lively solid rubber core to hit the ball farther with two inner covers and the outer cover.

Each of the covers is specifically designed to enhance a golfer’s ability to control spin, the ball’s trajectory, and accuracy.

Five-Piece Golf Balls

The five-piece ball has only been around for just over a decade. The most expensive balls on the market, the additional fifth layer seeks to further enhance the design principles of the four-piece ball.

Along with the four-piece ball, the five-piece ball is designed for optimal performance for professional and low-handicapped (single digit) golfers.

Now that you know all about golf ball dimples, you can stop spending time counting all the little indentations and marvel at the wonder of modern physics and sheer ingenuity that is the modern-day golf ball.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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