Why do golf balls have dimples?

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Why are there dimples on a golf ball? They feature on every single ball. But how do the size, number and pattern of dimples affect what your ball does through the air? And why don’t balls in other sports bother with them? Nike Golf’s balls expert explains.

Why do golf balls have dimples on them? 

Dimples, along with the amount of spin generated on the ball, create lift to keep it in the air. The use of dimples on a golf ball also reduces the drag through altering the ball’s wake – an area of low pressure behind the ball.

How many dimples typically feature on one ball?

Most balls in 2016 have between 300 and 360 dimples, but we do not believe there is an optimal number. There are other factors that influence the flight, including depth, profile shape, dimple edge shape, and surface roughness.

Are there restrictions on the number of dimples that can feature on the ball?

The R&A do not restrict the number of dimples; but they have two rules that directly relate to aerodynamics. These are the ball’s overall distance and symmetry based on ball orientation.

Do you experiment with the shape and depth of dimples?

Yes, and the new RZN Tour is a case in point. We spent a lot of time working on its dimple shape. We also added thousands of micro dimples to help optimise flight, especially after the ball has reached its apex. It is very common for us to tweak dimple designs by as little as 5-10 microns (less than the width of human hair). We also design different dimple patterns specifically for different types of golfers. As an example, slower swing speed players can benefit from a shallower dimple with more lift and a high trajectory.

How does the design differ to create ‘distance’ and ‘control’ balls?

The tendency is for distance balls to have less spin and control balls to have more. More spin creates less pressure on top of the ball and more lift. Depending on the amount of difference in lift force, sometimes the dimple is tweaked to optimise the ball trajectory.

What would happen if you had a completely smooth golf ball with no dimples? 

It would fly approximately half the distance of a ball with dimples.

Why don’t balls in other sports follow golf in using dimples?

A football doesn’t because it already has a streamlined shape. The wake behind it is already very small, so dimples are not needed. While a tennis ball doesn’t have dimples, the fuzz and construction seams still create some surface roughness which affects the wake behind the ball.

Golf ball dimples – the numbers

1897 – The year the first patent was registered for golf ball dimples.

352 – The number of dimples on Titleist’s Pro V1. Previous models have had 392 and 328.

0.001 – Inches added to a dimple’s depth could boost driving distance by 15 yards.

812 – The number of dimples on a ball designed by Excalibur Golf in 1988.