Not many people know this, but until 1990, the USGA and the R&A, the two governing bodies of golf, couldn’t agree on one size for a golf ball. That seems like a funny problem to have, but it was real, and that led to two different sizes of gall balls being used in golf majors and tournaments worldwide. There was a smaller version of the golf ball used in tournaments governed by the rules of the R&A, while there was a different golf ball for the USGA tournaments.
The rules of golf didn’t specify a standardized golf ball size until 1990 when an agreement was reached between the two governing bodies. The size agreed upon for the golf ball is still the same size that the current golf balls have. The current rules on the size of the golf ball are as follows:
- The golf ball diameter is 1.68 inches
That has remained the standard golf ball diameter for the past 30 years, and there are currently no plans to change the size of the golf ball any time soon. To help you learn about the differences between the two golf balls that had been in a play before 1990 and the golf ball diameter, we must take a trip down memory lane and tell you about the history of the two golf balls.
The “American Ball” and The “British Ball”
We start by looking at the tale of the two golf balls used in golf tournaments worldwide. There was the golf ball that was used by the R&A, and the other golf ball was used by the USGA. Throughout most of history, both balls were used in tournaments until a consensus was finally reached in the 1990s. Here is a breakdown of the two golf ball diameters.
- The golf ball diameter used by the R&A was 1.62 inches
- The golf ball diameter used by the USGA was 1.68 inches
Both governing bodies agreed that the golf ball’s weight would remain similar, which was around 1.62 ounces. In the early 1900s, the R&A came out with the rule that they would only allow golf ball diameter of 1.62 inches in their tournaments.
However, by the 1930s, the USGA had enough and decided they would play with a bigger ball with a golf ball diameter of 1.68 inches. Therefore, the slightly larger ball was called the “American Ball” and the smaller golf ball was called the “British Ball.” It was also called the “European Ball” on occasion by players.
The “British Ball” was called that way by golf professionals because they often came up against that ball when playing in the Open Championship. Hence, the rules of the R&A applied for the tournament, and the golfers had to play with the smaller ball.
American Golfers Preferred the Smaller Ball
A little-known fact about the small golf ball was that most American golf professionals preferred playing with the smaller ball. They preferred to play with the “British Ball” when they played in the British Open, as they thought it gave a small advantage to them. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were the two most famous American golfers who preferred playing with the British ball.
They chose to do that because the 0.6 difference in the golf ball diameter offered them a big advantage. It may seem like an insignificant difference, but most golfers who played with the smaller ball claimed that they managed to achieve greater distances on their shots, and the ball was more likely to fade and draw when there was wind around.
That was a substantial advantage to any golf professional who wanted to win the Open Championship or the British Championships. Therefore, most golf professionals preferred to even the playing field by playing with the smaller ball in the tournament. That meant the smaller ball was the most popular option before the golf ball diameter was standardized in the 1990s.
Golf Ball Diameter Standardized in 1990
As the years passed by and there were two golf ball diameter sizes that golf professionals could choose from, golf’s governing bodies had a decision to make. They had to choose one size that every player would prefer. The change in the rules in 1990 meant that the USGA and the R&A finally got over their differences on which golf ball diameter size to use.
The first step was taken by the R&A, who put their foot down and decided that the smaller ball won’t be used in the British Open in 1974. As a result, the major championships of golf would be played with similar golf ball sizes, and players would no longer have an advantage over each other. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s when the golf ball diameter size was standardized.
The USGA and the R&A finally came together and decided unanimously that the golf ball diameter that would be used in all tournaments and by all players would be the 1.68-inch diameter. That was the ball used by the USGA, which meant the smaller ball or the “British Ball” would no longer be used in any tournament.
Our Final Thoughts
Throughout history, the golf ball diameter size has been debated at great length by the two governing bodies of golf. However, the current golf ball diameter size of 1.68 inches has been around since the 1990s, and it will remain the same for the foreseeable future. No one knows what the sport of golf would have been like had the smaller ball been chosen by the governing bodies. However, one can safely say that the smart decision was taken, and the game has benefited as a result.