Hundreds of years after golf's emergence, the search for the perfect ball goes on. The sphere's small and seemingly simple nature wouldn't seem to allow for much tinkering, yet, at last count, 169 different golf balls confirmed to international regulations.
Perhaps the most talked about model currently is the Maxfli DDH, called "the longest, most accurate ball in history" by its American manufacturer, the Dunlop Sports Company of Greenville, S. C.
On the shelf, the DDH looks like most every other ball. Upon closer inspection, however, one notices the unique cover. Unlike most balls, which are dimpled evenly all over, Dunlop's prototype has a mixed of bag of dimples grouped into 12 identical pentagons. This odd configuration, called a dodecahedron, accounts for the DDH's name.
The overall design took English engineers five years to develop, an indication of how tricky ball aerodynamics can be.
During the past decade dimple design has become the new frontier for ballmakers, who for years stuck with a regular dimple pattern while trying to pack greater energy inside. Angling for customers in a glutted market, manufacturers have changed the ball's flight characteristics by altering the dimensions of the dimples, occasionally changing their shape (Uniroyal came out with hexagonal dimples in the early 1970s). One ball, PGA/Victor's Polara, was even designed to minimize curving, a feature that accounts for its outlaw status.
Some distance balls have been designed to fly low and run on landing, others to rise dramatically and sail down the fairway. Whatever the flight pattern, these balls generally sacrifice accuracy for length.
A hybrid ball, Dunlop felt, could be developed to make such a trade-off unnecessary.
"Most of the aerodynamic research in the last 10 to 15 years has been oriented toward maximizing a ball's distance," says Dunlop president Dean Cassell. "We felt distance was important, but we wanted something extra -- greater flight stability or more accuracy."
Stability, as the game's Scotch forefathers discovered, was enhanced by surface cracks and cuts. This knowledge ultimately gave rise to grooved, pebble-grain, and dimpled golf balls.
Dimples improve the flow of air from the front to the back of the ball, actually creating a jetstream effect. Improved air flow lessens drag, helps lift the ball, and contributes to greater spin. Good spin makes for dependable flight, uneven spin, as seen with a knuckleball or wobbly football pass, for erratic flight.
Dunlop's efforts to balance drag, lift, and spin have resulted in what they consider their state-of-the-art ball.
"The DDH is the 180 degrees different from the Polara," states Cassell. "The Polara was purposely created to have unequal aerodynamic properties, the DDH to have nearly perfect aerodynamics.
"That doesn't mean that when you hit a bad shot you won't pay for it. With the DDH, you will get everything you deserve out of the shot. If you slice the ball, it will slice. If you hook the ball, it will hook. It's just the ball will behave the same way each time."
Dave Eichelberger, a touring pro who plays the DDH, says it's long enough to "get out there where you have a nice shot to the green and it will react well when it is hit with the iron. It will hold its line." Or as 1979 Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller says, "you've always got a handle on it."
A ball that can fly predictably, even in turbulent air, is especially valued in Britain, where Dunlop originally developed the DDH and where courses are notoriously windswept. British pros had good results playing the DDH overseas before the new ball was adapted to slightly larger US specifications and introduced in the United States this spring.
The DDH underwent seven months of rigorous in-house testing, using both a mechanical ball-hitting and tour players. On the average, pros drove the DDH 277 yards, giving it a slight edge over some leading competitors. Its edge in accuracy, as measured by how consistently machine-struck 5-iron shots landed in a target area, was more clear- cut.
While meeting all the US Golf Association's requirements (minimum measurement of 1.68 inches; maximum weight of 1.62 ounces and maximum velocity of 255 feet per second), the DDH is the first ball to utilize the dodecahedron pattern. Three other options are possible, but until now, only eight-triangle (octahedron) and 20-triangle (icosahedron) dimple patterns were used.
Choosing the configuration it did, Dunlop eliminated a problem caused by the seam line on other balls. This line prevents absolute surface uniformity. Oddly enough, Dunlop researchers hit on the idea of adding nine false seam lines to counterbalance the natural one.
Varying the size and depth of the dimples is the ball's final distinctive feature. The larger dimples provide lift, the smaller ones aerodynamic stability. The result is a unique design on which Dunlop has taken out a patent.
Asked if someone could design around this patent, Cassell replies, "Who knows?"
The company has jumped headlong into marketing the DDH, which goes for $22 a dozen in pro shops, with an ambitious advertising campaign. A three-page color ad has been running in the golf magazines, where many of the country's 5 million to 6 million regular golfers are likely to see it. These players go through four or five dozen balls a year, are always looking for ways to knock off a stroke, and are prepared to fork over the going rate for top quality balls.
Sales during the next several months should go a long way toward determining whether the DDH can really 'fly'."