Golf Ball Dimples for Distance

Frank,

I have always wondered why a golf ball has dimples? Would a smooth ball not fly better through the air?  I am getting back into the game and find your weekly web column very helpful.

Brian, –VT

Dear Brian,

Welcome back to the game and I am so glad that our weekly Q&A’s are helping you.

The fact is that a perfectly smooth golf ball with no dimples would travel about 130 yards when hit with a driver by a good player. On the other hand, a ball with well-designed dimples, struck the same way, will travel about 290 yards. Why the difference? Aerodynamics.

The smooth ball flies like a bullet, and has no “lift.” The dimpled ball, because it is spinning, climbs up into the sky, taking off like an airplane. Also, the dimples create a turbulent layer around the surface of the ball, which actually makes it slide through the air more easily — the dimples reduce the drag. The ball must, however, spin for the lift force to be created, and unfortunately a spinning ball has more drag than a nonspinning ball. But this is the trade off.

It is the combination of the lift and drag properties of the ball, as well as its speed, launch angle and spin rate, which will dictate the flight path or trajectory of the ball, and thus the distance it will go.

I hope this helps.

Frank

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