I do not intend to inflict on my readers a history of the evolution of the golf ball. There is really comparatively little to tell that is not generally known of the outstanding characteristics of the ball since the days of the old feather ball, down through the "guttie," which we then thought was the last word in golf balls, until the rubber-core passed it into the ranks of the "has-beens."
What the golfer of to-day is concerned with is the ball he now uses, and in that he has a very great, in fact a consuming, interest. I had this brought home to me in a most remarkable manner in London some years ago. I had written for various reviews, magazines and newspapers articles on almost everything connected with golf. I had had no cause to complain of any lack of interest in my articles. I generally approached my subject from an angle different from the ordinary view-point, and until one earns one's right to do this in London it comes nigh to sacrilege; indeed,
© Brown Bros., N. Y.
CHARLES EVANS, JR. Finish of Drive.
when golf is the subject, it is a question if it is not more than sacrilege to introduce new thought, even gently to agitate the cobwebs of tradition.
Well, as I have said, I had plenty of evidence of general interest in my work; but one day I took it into my head to attack the marking of the modern golf ball, as being unscientific in the extreme and prejudicial to the flight and accuracy of the ball. My objection rested mainly on two grounds, that it was by excrescence instead of by indentation, and that in any case the marking was excessive.
This controversy was easily the greatest in the history of golf. It ran for four months, and during that period many interesting and amusing things were said and done.
I shall never forget the look on the face of the editor of The Evening Standard, who published my first article on the subject, when I said to him simply-and modestly I hope-"I am going to knock the pimple off the golf ball."
"That certainly will take some doing," he said. "Yes, indeed," I replied, "but it will be some fun"-and it was. Well, the pimple, or bramble, has not yet become obsolete, but before many years have gone by we shall find it only in museums and collections.
The origin of the marking of the golf ball is fairly well known. The old feather balls were smooth and they were erratic in their flight. After they had been played with a little and had been hacked about and marked it was found that they held to the line of flight better. After this they were marked by hammering and this was a great improvement.
When the gutta percha ball came in it also was marked. Probably the best and simplest marking ever used was the sunken line, if I may so describe it. This consisted of small grooved lines running in circles round the ball. There were two poles at right angles to each other, thus the lines of the circles, which of course varied in size as they were regulated from the pole to the equator, cut each other as they crossed. This divided the ball roughly speaking into small squares each of which was surrounded by grooves or sunken lines. This ball both carried and rolled perfectly. I never heard a complaint about it, and the marking held its own for a long time. Of course there were many variations but there was nothing that proved superior to this marking in any respect whatever.
Then came the rubber-core and with it a host of new markings, most of them grotesque and haphazard and introduced absolutely without thought, indeed, in the majority of cases, by people who were incapable of the kind of thought necessary to deal with a subject such as this.
We had arrived at this condition of affairs when I published my first article on the subject. I told the editor of The Evening Standard that there would be an immense outcry from the trade. There was. He sent an assistant to interview them about my ideas. They were quite satisfied that I was a fit subject for "inquiry" as to my mental condition. The idea was preposterous. I was a mere theorist. In fact it was the usual thing. They were practically unanimous in their opinion that my opinion didn't amount to anything anyway.
This interview was duly published and my friends all sympathized with me until I got tired of telling them that I had caused it to be done, as I wanted to get the trade opinion on record, where they could not go back on it. Also I explained to them that the trade, from a trade point of view, was quite right to say that I was foolish. They had millions of foolish balls to sell and my ideas would not assist in selling them.
The controversy became furious. About this time Professor Sir J. J. Thomson delivered his famous lecture on The Dynamics of the Golf Ball before the Royal Institute of Great Britain. I thought that possibly he might be able to shed some light on the disputed points so I asked him if he could explain why a smooth golf ball will not fly truly, while a properly marked, or indeed an over-marked, ball will respond to the influence of the driving force consistently until the marking gets knocked off it.
Professor Thomson was constrained to admit that he did not know the reason, and in his lecture he did not make any attempt whatever to explain this phenomenon. I have never seen it explained, and I am not positive that I can explain it, but I intend to try and to put it up to some one else to show that I am wrong and to produce the real explanation, or one that is better than mine. I need not be ashamed if I fail, for in my lack of knowledge-if so it be-I shall have much good company.
We all know that nothing flies well without a tail. Rob a bird of its tail and it is nearly as bad as a ship without its rudder. Try to shoot an arrow without a tail and certain it is that it will fall to earth you know not even whereabouts, until it has done it. Can you imagine a kite flying well without a tail? Where would an aeroplane be without a tail; and so I might go on for quite a while, but let me come to something more nearly resembling our golf ball.