Fully Equipped mailbag: Why do golf balls have dimples all over the cover?

golf ball dimple pattern questions

Dimples on a golf ball matter. A lot!

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Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped mailbag sponsored by Cleveland/Srixon Golf, an interactive GOLF.com series in which our resident dimplehead (a.k.a., GOLF’s managing editor of equipment, Jonathan Wall) fields your hard-hitting gear questions. 

I’ve always wondered why golf balls have dimples all over them. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a smooth ball to go through the wind?

It’s natural to wonder if a smooth ping-pong-esque golf ball would give you an edge on the course. Reducing drag is one way to improve aerodynamic efficiency, so why not remove the dimples and let it rip?

In actuality, there’s a reason why your golf ball has those tiny depressions (better known as dimples) all over the cover. The dimple’s depth and pattern determine several key factors, including lift, drag, velocity, launch and spin rate after the ball leaves the clubface.

Lift and drag are critical pieces of the ball equation, as they dictate, among other things, carry distance while the ball is in flight. Alter the depth of the dimple by as little as 1,000th of an inch and you could negatively affect the ball’s aerodynamics. Simply put, a golf ball won’t perform like a golf ball without dimples.

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If you need visual proof, check out this video that was posted last year where four tour pros attempted to hit a dimple-less ball with a 460cc driver.

Even using the latest technology, the best carry yardage the pros could muster was 153 yards — with an unpredictable ball flight. Well-struck tee shots are penalized with short hangtimes, while mishits more closely resemble a dead duck as they take a nosedive to the left or right. Neither option looks appealing.

While watching some of the best golfers in the world struggle will no doubt make you chuckle, think about what those shots would look like coming from a 15-handicap. It wouldn’t be pretty.

“Once it’s in the air, it’s all about the dimple pattern,” said Tour pro Joost Luiten.

There’s no question a multi-layer cover and technologically advanced core will help your game, but without those dimples on the cover, you’re basically driving a Lamborghini with a Ford Pinto engine. It looks fast until you put the peddle to the floor.

Want to overhaul your bag for 2021? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast below.

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Jonathan Wall

Golf.com

Jonathan Wall is GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com’s Managing Editor for Equipment. Prior to joining the staff at the end of 2018, he spent 6 years covering equipment for the PGA Tour.