It’s a question that’s often asked of small objects. Sink or swim? Generally speaking, it’s heavy objects that sink, and lighter ones that float. But what about golf balls? They’re not that heavy, are they? Wouldn’t it be nice if they floated, thus making them far easier to retrieve?
But no, golf balls do not float. And I should know – I’ve hit hundreds of the things into the water!
Why Don’t Golf Balls Float?
Quite simply, because they are too heavy, and thus lack buoyancy. Within the outer shell of a golf ball is a weighty core. This core can consist of one, two, three, or even four layers, but the weight is more or less always the same. Which, in accordance with R&A and USGA rules, is no heavier than 45.93 grams.
The diameter of a golf ball is no less than 42.67mm, which means that a fair amount of mass is contained within a small surface area. Because of this, it means that a golf ball unit is heavier than a water unit. Due to its density, it doesn’t float. So down the golf ball plummets, into the depths of those troublesome lakes, rivers, and ponds.
If you want to get your teeth into the specific science of buoyancy, check out this SeaPearch article.
But golf balls aren’t just heavy for the sake of it. This unit weight is necessary for the ball to travel at optimal distances. Without mass, the ball would be sorely lacking in aerodynamics. Even a few milligrams of weight taken away would make a huge difference. If you tried to hit a hollow or even a slightly underweight golf ball off the tee, you’d have a pretty bad time.
Floating Golf Balls
If you’re really getting sick of losing golf balls to water, you could consider buying some floating golf balls. They’re built as light as possible without sacrificing too much performance (though they still won’t perform nearly as well as normal golf balls).
Of course, if you hit them to the middle of the lake, you’ll still have a hard time retrieving these balls. But if they’re close to the edge, and you have some sort of golf ball retriever, it should be fairly straightforward to get them back.
Another benefit of buying floating golf balls is that they’re cheaper than most regular balls. Coupled with their lighter weight, this makes them an ideal practice ball.
It’s also worth noting that regular golf balls can actually float – if the water is salty enough.
Unlike freshwater, saltwater can be more dense than a golf ball unit, meaning that the ball will in fact be buoyant. It’s rare that a golf course water hazard will contain saltwater rather than freshwater, but if you happen to be hitting golf balls into the sea, then they may indeed float!
Using salt to make golf balls float is also a common experiment used in schools. It usually involves placing a ball in freshwater, allowing it to sink, and then adding more and more salt to the water until the ball rises to the surface. Science!
Golf balls don’t float, but it’s for a pretty good reason. If they were any less heavy, they wouldn’t fly nearly as far, and your scorecard would probably look a whole lot worse.
Golf ball design has been tinkered and perfected over the years. If we have to watch them sink to the bottom of lakes and ponds every now and then (or far too often, in my case!), it’s a small price to pay for optimal performance.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.