Helpful Tips

Why Are Golf Ball Dimples Important?

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One of the most frequently asked questions by beginners and seasoned golfers alike is why are golf ball dimples important? The best golf balls will feature a dimple pattern that’s designed to get your ball up in the air and go the distance. But what role do the dimples really play? Can the dimple pattern have an impact on your performance?

Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?

Surprisingly, many low handicappers don’t know the answer to these questions, or really have an idea concerning why dimples or so important and even whether or not the lack of dimples can have an impact on their performance. But dimples do matter. Believe it or not, these small indentations can make or break a game. They can help you gain some serious distance and can even help you achieve a consistent golf swing.

In terms of numbers, a golf ball can have dimples ranging from 300 to 500. The dimples and the type of impact on the ball that it has traveling through the air are called fluid dynamics. There are a couple of different types of fluid dynamic flows:  turbulent and laminar. When a ball is smooth it provides something similar to a laminar flow. With a smooth ball, the fluid flows downstream detaching from the surface in a process known as flow separation.  This process can slow the ball down significantly.

Dimples act as artificial turbulators. They create turbulence next to the ball’s surface providing a couple of layers of air that go around the ball. The top layer of air goes faster than the bottom as air attempts to cling to the ball’s surface. Essentially, the dimples help to reduce drag, helping the ball to travel smoother and farther. Drag refers to the force component that arises as a result of different velocities of fluid and solid body. Drag opposes the solid motion through the air. A dimpled ball reduces  50% of the drag compared to a ball that’s smooth. This reduction in drag will allow a ball to travel much farther with minimal resistance.

Lift will occur when fluid is turned by the solid. This creates an opposing force. The ball is spinning in a manner that pushes air downward and upward again, causing the ball to experience lift force.

What happens when the ball is spinning? When the ball is spinning it decreases the air pressure on the top of the ball, so that it’s lower than the air pressure along the bottom of the ball. Upward force is created because of this imbalance in air pressure. Spinning will contribute to half of a ball’s lift. Dimples are what produce the other half. This will allow for optimal lift force.

How Do Dimples Affect the Golf Ball Flight?

Antique golf

The dimples on a ball are placed in a symmetrical manner. If the dimples are not symmetrical the ball will wobble, or the ball’s flight can depend on which part of the ball is sideways or forwards as the ball spins

What would happen if the dimples were only located on half of the ball? The golf ball usually curves towards the side on which there are dimples because wake will be generated towards the smoother side.

Launch Conditions

In the golfing industry scientists and engineers have studied the impact between the ball and club in order to determine launch conditions. Typically, the impact lasts only a fraction of a second, however, it establishes the ball’s velocity, spin rate, and launch angle. With this brief impact, the trajectory of the ball is entirely controlled by aerodynamics and gravity. Aerodynamic optimization is a critical part of golf ball design.

With a smooth ball, the ball would only travel approximately half as far as a ball that had dimples would. The drag and lift forces on a ball are extremely sensitive to the depth of the dimples; any change in the depths of the dimples can produce a significant change in the trajectory of the ball in addition to the overall distance. Traditionally, dimples have been spherical in shape, however, it’s possible to optimize the ball’s aerodynamic performance with the use of other shapes. As an example, some manufacturers use hexagons instead of circular dimples.

The Original Golf Ball Design

In the past, golf balls were completely smooth. However, the golfers noticed that older golf balls that were dented and nicked, those that had slices and bumps in the cover, tended to fly much further. Of course, being golfers, players naturally gravitated toward anything that would give them the upper hand on the course, so most preferred using beat-up balls. At some point, an aerodynamicist had to have taken a look at this issue and suddenly realized that the cuts and nicks were working as turbulators, which introduced turbulence to the layer of air that was located directly next to the ball. Over the years, the golf ball went through many changes, resulting in the tough, lightweight dimpled ball you play with today. These balls are optimized for speed and distance and can take a golf game to the next level, with the right swing technique.

To learn more about adding some yardage to your swing, click here to read my article on golf distance control tips.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know why are golf ball dimples important, you may have a whole new appreciation for the rough texture and how they have such a major impact on how much spin your ball has and the type of distance it can go. Over the years, the design of the golf ball has evolved. Made with different textures, multiple layers, and new materials, designed with performance in mind, these balls are able to travel further than ever before. The addition of different styles of dimples may or may not have an impact on how well you play or the type of golfer you are, but it’s interesting to learn that these small dimples can really help your ball go the distance.