This post was most recently updated on February 17th, 2022
Technology has allowed golf equipment to improve considerably in the last 150 years and the golf ball, the only equipment used on every shot, is no exception.
The first balls dating back to the 14th century were made by carpenters from beech wood. In the 17th century improvements allowed feathers to be stuffed inside a leather outer to create the “featherie” golf balls.
The early 1900s saw the release of the first balata golf balls with Spalding producing golf balls with balata covers in 1903.
Balata golf balls were popular amongst professionals and the best amateur golfers as they strike the ball solidly on a regular basis which prevents the ball from scuffing and cutting frequently.
Mid to high handicap golfers often have mishits thus damaging balata golf balls quickly and rendering them unplayable.
The balata cover generated higher spin rates on iron and wedge shots thus offering greater control over ball flight for highly skilled golfers.
The advances in technology eventually overtook the balata construction in the 1990s and manufacturers stopped producing it. Surlyn covers have become more popular and durable offering golfers of all levels a quality golf ball.
History Of Balata Golf Balls
In the late 1890s a visitor to B.F. Goodrich’s Rubber Goods factory, Coburn Haskell, had a golf appointment with Bertram Work, a Goodrich superintendent.
While waiting for Mr. Work, Haskell wound a bunch of rubber bands into a ball shape.
Playing with the ball by bouncing it on the floor, Haskell realized that it contained a high amount of energy.
This was used as a basis for the new golf ball. It was covered with a rubber-like material produced from the sap of the balata tree which is grown in Central America, Southern America, and the Caribbean.
Fortune Brands, formerly known as American Brands, brought Acushnet and its golf brands into their group in 1976.
In the 1980s Titleist experimented with balata golf balls again. Titleist tour balata balls were exceptionally soft offering unbelievable control on shots on and around the green.
The price and durability kept the demand for the Titleist tour balata balls at a low level making it financially not viable to continue.
To counter the low demand, Titleist produced a “Professional” ball offering the performance of a balata golf ball covered by a more durable cover.
Why Were Balata Golf Balls Considered A Pro / Low Handicapper Ball?
Professional and low handicap golfers found that the balata golf balls generated more spin than their predecessors and the golfer could control the flight better with their irons and wedges.
Do Any Companies Still Make Balata Balls?
As far as we can ascertain no manufacturer, whether it be a large or specialty golf ball manufacturer, still produces balata golf balls.
When Did They Stop Making Balata Golf Balls?
What happened to balata golf balls?
The introduction of urethane and surlyn used in the outer cover of golf balls spelled the end for balata golf balls.
Towards the end of the 1990s solid golf balls, as opposed to the rubber band wounded golf ball, with the new cover materials started replacing balata balls.
The new materials are also more durable than the soft balata cover that can easily be scratched, dented, and damaged.
Were Balata Golf Balls Banned?
Balata golf balls conform to the standards as set by the governing bodies such as the USGA and the R&A so they are not banned from use.
Professional golfers and top-level amateurs used balata golf balls in competition play while it was the preferred ball from 1903 to the 1990s.
Can You Buy Balata Golf Balls Anywhere Today
There are no new balata golf balls for sale but you can buy used, special edition or vintage balata golf balls on e-commerce sites such as e-Bay.
This will enable you to experience the look and feel of one of the biggest advances in the history of the golf ball.