Antique Golf Balls: A Collector’s Primer

There are several types of golf balls that were around long before the standard ball we use today. Collectors can look for any number of antique golf balls such as the following:

Wooden Balls – The very first golf balls were, like the clubs players used, made of wood. Not much information is known about these balls, but there are records of golfers using them. While there are written records of these balls being used, there haven’t been many, if any, ever recovered. It’s hard to imagine getting much distance with a wooden ball hit by a wooden club, so it’s easy to see why these balls didn’t last too long. Collecting this type of ball is virtually impossible.

Feather Balls – In the 1600s, a new type of ball was introduced – the feather ball. This ball, as you can imagine, was a lot closer to the type of ball used today. This ball had a leather exterior with feathers packed inside of it. When stuffed into the ball, the feathers were wet, and when they dried, the ball became hard. These balls were produced by a variety of manufacturers including. While examples of feather balls exist, most of the ones recovered have been from later years. Generally the oldest type of ball collected, these can sell for thousands of dollars at auctions.

Gutty Balls – It took about 200 more years to pass by until the next ball was introduced. This ball was made from rubbery-type sap from a tropical tree. The sap, when warmed, could be formed into a sphere, forming the golf ball. These balls had a pattern on them like today’s do, but the dimples were facing outward instead of going into the ball. These balls are far easier to find and because there were several different types of these balls, the price of one can greatly vary. Still these can be found from under $100.00 to several hundred dollars.

Rubber Core or Mesh Balls – The Gutty also played a role in the next ball being introduced, the rubber core ball. These balls were developed by Coburn Haskell and had a hard rubber wrapped inside of a gutty ball. With the hard rubber in the middle, balls started flying and gave golfers a greater distance. In the early 1900s, manufacturers began making these balls with the famous dimple pattern that we see today. Many mesh balls can be found for under $100.00, while spectacular examples or those made by certain manufacturers can sell for more than that.

Two Piece Ball – Finally, in 1972, we saw the golf ball that we use today, the two piece ball. This ball, as implied by its name, is made of two distinct pieces – the dimple-patterned exterior and the hard rubber inside.

When it comes to collecting these types of balls, standard rules generally apply – the older, the more expensive.  Where can you find them?  Actually every day eBay has thousands of antique balls, clubs and other items up for bid, ranging in price from a dollar or two to tens of thousands.  That's one of the best things about collecting antique golf balls and other items:  there are entry points for collectors of every budget.