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According to some people who love to research the history of golf balls, the first balls were like stones. Other than that, history also shows balls made from wood, boxroot, and different type of hardwoods. Apart from all these stories, some also say feathery was the first golf ball, and you can find it dates back to the early 17th century.
In 1618, James Melville, a golf maker from St. Andrews, got a 21-year monopoly from King James I and VI. He got an exclusive right to develop golf balls and started making feathery. At that time, the Dutch were the best feathery makers. They were extremely famous in Scotland. Until the mid-19th century, feathery was the standard ball for golf. People made it from horsehide and cow and stuffed it with feathers, generally with goose feathers.
The balls needed several methods and techniques to get into their preferred shape (which we will discuss later). Additionally, the feathery could reach a distance of more than 175 yards and had a record of reaching 361 yards. However, people stopped using it after some time because of several drawbacks. Apart from flying long distances, it was more or less useless if these balls got wet.
Many ball makers tried to come up with a solution to this problem. For these reasons, some even tried to rub it with neat foot oil. But they couldn’t solve the issue completely. Unfortunately, these balls would easily get wear and tear from the iron clubs. Another reason for the downfall of these balls was that the manufacturing method was too time-consuming and costly. It was too long that the best ball makers could make only four balls in a day.
By the end of the 18th century, people had built standards to make these balls, such as it would be no more than 1 ½ inches in diameter with 1.4 to 1.6-ounce weight. It was greatly near the size and weight of the modern ball. But the balls were not perfectly round. Because of all these problems, some ball makers introduced Gutta Percha Ball.
How Were Feathery Golf Balls Made?
You already get an idea of how manufacturers used to make the feathery ball in the last section. While those feathers filled in the ball were not soft, they would become soft when they got wet. The outer shell of the feathery golf ball was made from three pieces of leather. The ball makers tried to stitch leather in a sphere to give it a ball shape. On the other hand, the feathers used in this process were either chicken or goose feathers.
First, the manufacturers used to spend several hours building the feathers and leather in order to make them softer. After that, the makers tightly put them in a leather ball and sewed them before the leather would get dry. Dried feathers inside would expand. In addition to it, when the leather used to dry, it would contract. In the end, they would get a complete hardball. Because the makers needed to spend too much time and effort on a single ball, they were extremely expensive, even more than the modern golf balls.
How Far Feathery Flew?
The primary reason why people kept using this ball, even it was expensive and got wet, was its flight. As we have discussed, it had a great flight of more than 361 yards. Samuel Messieux, a golfer in 1836, was the one who was able to strike feathery to this distance. This was really a surprise to people of that time. The reason he was able to do it was the frozen ground, which helped the ball slide to a longer distance.
The average distance of feathery was also great, which falls between 180 yards to 200 yards. However, only professional golfers could hit feathery to achieve this distance.
Problems with Feathery
There were many problems with the feathery. No doubt, it was the best golf ball of its time, but these balls were often out of shape. Most of the time, they were not properly sphere. Yes, it was dependent on the maker of the ball. Even when one would opt for the best maker and excellent shape ball, there was no guarantee that it would not get out of shape after some games.
Another problem was that it could burst at any time during the game. Also, as England and Scotland have wet feathers, they had to purchase new balls frequently. Not to mention, the cost of these feathery balls also limited its access to some people who could not afford it.
Gutty was the upgrade of the golf ball that resolved all the significant issues. Golf makers invented it in 1848 and made it from rubber-like sap of the percha tree. After their invention, feathery was no more the preference of golfers, as people quickly adopted the Gutty and stopped using the feathery.
A feathery golf ball was the first ball whose traces you can find in history. These balls were expensive because of their complex manufacturing process. Besides having many drawbacks, people still used it for several years. They stopped using it after the invention of gutty.