Date: July 18, 2016
Author: The Australian Golf Heritage Society

Q and A Golf History DZ Ed. No. 97

Answers to Previous Questions from Drop Zone #96


QUESTION 1:  How many majors did Australian-born Jim Ferrier win?

Answer. Jim Ferrier (1915 – 1986) won the 1947 PGA Championship, played at the Plum Hollow Country Club in Michigan. In the 36 hole final he defeated Chick Harbert by 2 & 1. The match play format at the time was particularly gruelling, 216 holes played over seven consecutive days. The 1947 PGA was Ferrier’s only win in a major. He was runner up on three occasions: the British Amateur in 1936, the Masters in 1950 and the PGA in 1960.

Ferrier learned his golf in Sydney at the Manly Golf Club, where his father was the Secretary. He had a sterling career as an amateur in Australia in the 1930s, winning the Australian Open in 1938 and 1939 and the Australian Amateur in 1935, 1936, 1938 and 1939.

In 1940 he went to the USA as a golf journalist. He was disappointed to find that he could not enter the 1940 US Amateur as, under American rules, his receiving royalties from an instruction golf manual he had written cost him his amateur status. He turned professional in 1941 and stayed on in America. He became an American citizen in 1944 and served in the American Army 1944/45. He died at Burbank, California, on 12 June 1986.

QUESTION 2:  For many years there was no effort to standardise the size and weight of a golf ball. When were these golf ball characteristics first standardised by the ruling bodies?

Answer. During the eras of the featherie and the guttie, the golf ball could have any size or weight. The same was true of the early rubber-wound balls, invented by Coburn Haskell in America. Yet the size and weight of these early balls were not wildly different from those of a modern standardised ball. There are sound reasons why, through trial and error, the old balls came to be the size and weight they were.

To explain fully what happens during impact between clubhead and ball and the subsequent flight of the ball through the air requires some understanding of physics. If you simply want a ball to go far when played from the tee, you would make it quite small. The smaller the ball the less it is held back by air drag and blown off course by side winds . But if the ball is too small it would not sit up very well for the next shot from the fairway. So a ball about the size of a modern ball is a compromise. The big advantage of a heavier ball is the same, i.e. the heavier ball is less effected by air drag and side winds. The disadvantage of extra weight is that the ball does not sit up so well on the fairway and a heavier ball could, especially with old style golf clubs, result in club breakage. On the other hand, if the ball is too light air drag and side wind will have a greater effect. So a ball about the weight a modern ball is a compromise

From about 1902 the rubber-wound ball became the ball of choice. It flew much further than the superseded guttie. The ruling bodies and golf writers began to express their concerns that the game was being made too easy and many golf courses were now too short to present a real challenge. Same old story! Balls that were slightly heavier and smaller than average, and therefore flew further, were rightly viewed as the big threat. After long discussions the R&A and the USGA, both decided on a standard. The R&A issued this rule effective from 1 May 1921: The weight of the ball shall not be greater than 1.62 ounces avoirdupois, and the size not less than 1.62 inches in diameter. The Rules of Golf Committee will take whatever steps it thinks necessary to limit the power of the ball with regard to distance, should any ball of greater power be introduced.

The R&A stuck with the 1.62/1.62 standard, but the USGA kept to it only for so long. After much experimenting the USGA diverged from the R&A and in May 1929 adopted a new standard: weight not greater than 1.55 oz, diameter not less than 1.68 inches. This was a specification for the ball to sit up better but fly less distance. In 1932 the USGA changed the rule yet again:  weight not greater than 1.62 oz, diameter not less than 1.68 inches. The USGA kept to this standard and the R&A kept to the 1.62/1.62 standard until a great coming together in 1990. In the Rules issued on 1 January 1990 R&A adopted the USGA standard of 1.62 oz and 1.68 inches, and this standard has been the same for both ruling bodies up to the present day.

In 1921, when the size and weight of the ball were standardised, the ruling bodies and other golf pundits were aware that a ball could be manufactured to fly further by means other than altering the size and weight of the ball. Without getting too technical, the simplest way is to increase the springiness of the material under the skin. In the case of the wound ball different rubbers under different tensions could be and were used. Finally, in 1976 the R&A and the USGA issued the following rule: The velocity of the ball shall be not greater than 250 feet (76.2m) per second when measured on apparatus approved by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews: a maximum tolerance of 2% will be allowed. The temperature of the ball when so tested shall be 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Centigrade). A similar rule applies today. It spelt out in great detail under the Initial Velocity Standard and the Overall Distance Standard and is kept on file at the R&A.

For the last few decades improvements in the design and manufacture of golf balls (and clubs) have made drives fly further, which in turn has led to monstrously long golf courses. It would be quite easy for the R&A and USGA to overcome this problem by adjusting the Initial Velocity and Overall Distance Standards. It would also be fairly easy for golf ball manufacturers to conform. Golf balls today are no longer rubber wound. Under the skin is a one piece or two piece solid core. To reduce the distance the golf ball travels, the overall design need not change. The material for the core would need to change to material that, without getting too technical, was less efficient from the point of view of “springiness”.