Imagine lining up your tee shot, looking down the fairway for a desirable lie, and swinging your club as hard as you can only to hit a ball that disintegrated into flying goose feathers. Before the turn of the 20th century, golfers had to play a ball that consisted of a leather pouch stuffed with boiled feathers. As often as not the ball exploded into a plume of goose feathers. A few other balls were used that replaced the old “feathery” as it was known, notably the “Guttie” ball, which was made from the rubber like sap of the Gutta tree found in the tropics. When heated the rubber could easily be fashioned into a sphere and used as a golf ball. Not only could the ball be relatively cheaply produced, it could also be easily repaired by reheating and then reshaping. But it didn’t fly very far.
But, on April 11, 1899, wealthy avid golfer Coburn Haskell and Bertram G. Work, an employee of the B.F. Goodrich Company in Akron, received a patent for a golf ball that would dramatically increase the popularity of the game. While Work was an employee at Goodrich, the company produced numerous rubber items that helped make Akron the “Rubber Capital of the World.” Haskell was visiting his friend Work at Goodrich in the late 1890s and challenged him to make a decent golf ball that could be reused over many rounds of golf. Work explained that the company had tried, but couldn’t get a rubber compound that would have the right degree of compression to produce a long-wearing, long-traveling ball.
Haskell suggested taking a rubber ball and putting a cover on it. Work began to think of the compression properties that a covered golf ball would need to appeal to the average golfer. He finally realized that a rubber band that is stretched is the same thing as rubber that is compressed. Work immediately informed Haskell that he had it—the idea that would revolutionize the golf world for decades.
Haskell tried winding rubber thread around a rubber core. Many times Haskell would get the ball almost completely wound when the rubber thread would slide out of his fingers and the whole thing would unravel. Work then enlisted the help of the B.F. Goodrich machine shop to develop a machine for winding a perfect sphere out of a rubber band. This was combined with a harder rubber cover and the first modern day golf ball was invented. It was rightly known as the “Haskell” ball.