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Five Things You Didn’t Know About Golf Balls

You can drive it, putt it, slice it and hook it, but how well do you really know your golf ball? Before you head to Myrtle Beach for a golf getaway, wrap your head around these golf ball facts. They might not help your game but they will expand your brain:

* History: You think today's high-tech golf balls make you want to curse and throw your clubs? Imagine playing with these primitive spheres. The first golf balls, dating back to 1500s Scotland, were made of wood until the development of the featherie, a leather pouch stuffed with goose feathers. Various prototypes were developed over the years, including models using latex and rubber, before the modern era of the eurethane-coated, wound golf balls in the 1960s.

Today's balls are made in two or three parts. The less expensive two-piece ball is constructed of rubber and plastic, and it generally lasts longer than the three-piece ball, which consists of a plastic cover, windings of rubber thread, and a liquid or gel core filled with sugar and water. Maybe that's why they call it hitting the "sweet spot."

* Specifications: To prevent wild variations in golf balls, standardized specifications were adopted in 1932. Official golf balls must be symmetrical in shape, weigh a maximum of 1.620 ounces and cannot exceed 1.680 inches in diameter. Modern, more aerodynamic golf balls have 336 dimples, which are designed to reduce turbulence and allow the balls to travel farther, as well as affect the spin and rotation.

* Numbers game: Are you one of those golfers who runs out of balls in the middle of the round, or are you one of the poor suckers who has to loan a few to your wayward-hitting partner? Either way, you are part of the reason golfers blow through an astounding number of perfectly good balls each year, the equivalent of tossing dollar bills into the water or the woods.

According to statistics, the average golfer goes through more than 100 golf balls per year. And that figure isn't just the hacks-play on the local course. More than 125,000 golf balls are lost in the water that surrounds the famed island green on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass, so there are a few scratch golfers helping keep the scuba divers in business. Not to mention golf ball manufacturers, which produce more than 850 million each year. The US golf ball market is worth around $550 million in annual sales.

* Myths: Always looking to gain an edge, golfers have done some pretty ridiculous things to their golf balls in hopes of adding some time to their life spans and distance to their flights. That includes storing them in the freezer and nuking them in the microwave. Both are counterproductive, and one is a serious fire hazard.

In reality, golf balls will begin to deteriorate if they are too hot or too cold. While it's true golf balls travel farther in hot weather than cold, that's a factor of the air temperature, not the interior of the ball. The best way to preserve golf balls is at room temperature, about 75 degrees. One free tip: Work on your swing, not on your golf ball.

* Records: Although there have been wind-aided Long Drive shots and unsubstantiated reports of quarter-mile tee shots, the longest drive ever recorded in regulation tournament play is a 515-yard monster off the club of Mike Austin. He smoked his shot in the 1974 US National Senior Open at Desert Rose in Las Vegas at the ripe old age of 64, and his record still stands despite 40 years of fresh talent and new technology.

However, the unofficial record belongs to Russian astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who swung a 6-iron while tethered to the International Space Station in 2004. According to NASA, the ball will fly travel more than 1 million miles before disintegrating into Earth's atmosphere.


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