What Are Balata Golf Balls?
A balata golf ball is just a type of ball produced during the 20th century with a cover made of a substance called balata. It was valued by better players for its soft feel and the fact you could generate more spin on the ball either to shape shots or stop the ball on the green.
Balata balls fell out of favor when tour professionals started using balls like the Titleist Pro V1.
What else should you know about these golf balls?
What Is Balata?
Gutta-percha had been used to manufacture golf balls known as gutties during the latter half of the 19th century before being replaced by the Haskell ball. Gutta-percha balls were the first mass-produced golf ball since they could be pressed into shape using a mold.
The balata tree is native to the Caribbean, Central and South America. When tapped a soft viscous liquid is released which is similar to gutta-percha. Indeed the tree is sometimes called a gutta-balata.
The sap of the balata tree was found to be an ideal cover for the Haskell wound ball that had taken the golf ball market by storm in the early 1900s.
The liquid from the tree is dried and forms an inelastic rubber-like substance. This was then added to the rubber windings that made up the Haskell or wound ball.
Advantages Of Using Balata For The Cover Of A Golf Ball
Balata’s biggest advantage was that it allowed accomplished golfers to generate much greater spin on their shots. This gave them the opportunity to work the ball through the air to fight the wind, access an awkward pin position, or maneuver the ball around a tree. They could generate more spin around the green even with short shots.
The other thing that elite players liked was the soft feel off the club face.
Disadvantages Of Using Balata For The Cover Of A Golf Ball
The biggest disadvantage was the lack of durability. When playing iron or wedge shots catching the ball with the leading edge would put a “smile” on the cover. It could be so badly cut by mishit shots that the ball would be unusable.
Even if you managed to avoid cutting the ball through poor swing technique the cover was much more susceptible to damage whether from bunkers, trees, paths etc.
For golfers with less ability, the fact you could create extra spin was probably more of a downside. They have a tendency to put more sidespin on the ball causing them to hook or slice their shots and a higher spin ball would just make those bad shots worse.
Why Is Balata No Longer Used?
Ordinary golf balls hadn’t used balata since the 1960s. Ionomer covers like Surlyn were much more durable for the majority of golfers and had the added benefit of increasing distance too!
When Titleist introduced the Pro V1 at Las Vegas in October 2000 the balata-covered ball never stood a chance and professionals quickly seized on the opportunity to play a ball with balata-like spin on wedges and irons but distance ball yardage off the tee.
Materials Use Instead Of Balata
Their are two primary materials used for modern golf ball covers:
Golf balls aimed at better golfers will have a urethane cover. It allows them to generate the levels of spin they like to see on their shots while being much more durable than balata. In one recent mini-tour event, the winner used the same ball for all 4 rounds! It’s unlikely anybody ever managed that with a balata ball!
Cheaper golf balls aimed at higher handicappers and those looking for a budget ball will have an ionomer cover. The chemical giant DuPont developed a type of ionomer which they trademarked as Surlyn.
What Are Balata Golf Balls: Conclusion
Hopefully that’s cleared up any questions you have about balata golf balls. If you still have more questions about balls in general then take a look at my ultimate ball guide.
Who Made Balata Balls?
As the “No.1 ball in golf”, Titleist was heavily involved in the production of balata balls. The Titleist Tour Balata balls and also the Tour Professional model were as highly prized as the Pro V1 is today.
Spalding was one of the companies that experimented with balata at the end of the 19th century. It is easy to forget that for many years Spalding was a major force in the golf ball market.
Maxfli was another ball company that offered a balata ball.
When Did They Stop Making Balata Golf Balls?
The changeover was pretty rapid in the professional ranks. By the end of 2001 no one had won an event on any tour using a wound ball so not surprisingly Titleist switched over to solid ball production.
Can I Still Buy Balata Balls Today?
I’ve not been able to track down any company that makes balls with a balata cover, even as a novelty item.
The main golf ball manufacturers know that solid core balls with ionomer or urethane covers are what the public wants so that’s what they produce.
If you’d like to get some balata balls to pair with some hickory clubs for a vintage competition then your best bet will be eBay although any you find on there will probably be pretty expensive.
Can I Still Buy Balata Balls Today?