December 6, 1931 Sunday Oregonian
Events of the week in sports by Cartoonist Lee
Vinny Digiano, an Eastmoreland 100 founder, like myself, often find ourselves fairy addicted to the news from 100 year old papers. We are last of Generation X, the cusp of the millenials, so we remember a time when people read the morning papers. There's something nostalgic reading the century old news, and surprisingly informative on the daily life of people from a long, long time ago
This cartoon discovery was pure luck. I'm working an an article about Paul C. Murphy, president of the Ladd Estate Company the developer of Eastmoreland. The process involves reading through dozens of articles, one on December 6, 1931 pictured to the right is typical in that's it's not particularly informative or useful. The election of "Mr Lake Oswego" to the Oswego Lake Country Club is no surprise. Afterall, he literally built the entire town around Chandler Egan designed golf course. and the engineered Oswego Lake.
So even though this was a bust, I dug a bit further and look over the rest of the Sunday's Sport Section and found this cartoon gem.
The "Which Size" cartoon caught my eye because it references a anomaly in golf history. Namely, in 1931 the USGA and the British Royal & Ancient Golf Association briefly had different set of rules for the size and weight of golf balls.
What's fascinating is the controversy is similar to the current debate on the future of the golf ball.
"I want some new size golf balls"
With the development of golf balls progressing at an alarming rate the U.S.G.A, fearful of the skill level required to play golf being continually compromised by the golf ball manufacturers, decided to standardize the weight and size of golf balls. In 1931 the U.S.G.A ruled that no ball played in their championships could weigh more than 1.55 oz, or was smaller than 1.68. in diameter. These new sizes were not popular with the British golfers, as the windswept links of yesteryear required different flight characteristics in a ball.
The USGA and the R&A have been dueling for more than a century on who is the leader in adding more pages to the rules of golf, than the tax code. The equipment rules are an important part of the game though often controversial. In 1918, only hickory sticks were legal and remained so for almost another decade before steel. The evolution of the golf ball was just as essential, and shows the importance of technology impact on how the game is played.
Here's a quick recap of the history of the golf ball for your pleasure.
The "Feathery" Balls Era: 14th century to 1860's
The first 400+ year, golf was played with a hand woven leather ball stuffed with feathers or animal hair. This was the era of "colf" the ancient game developed in the Netherlands, which the Scots transformed into early version of golf. The "feathery" balls required resources and artisan technique. Most of the early golf professionals into the 19th century were in fact club and ball makers, who toiled away in workshops making the tools of the trade. Each craftsmen could only produce a maximum of three or four featheries a day, As a result, the golf ball was a very expensive luxury.
According to Scottish golf history, finding a golf balls was akin to finding gold coin!
Sebastian van Warendorp, a Spanish army commander, demanded a ransom from Tilburg of 12,000 balls or he would burn the village down. The Tilbergers were not ball makers, but they prevailed upon the neighbouring village of Goirle in the south to help. After rummaging behind the sofa, the ‘ballefrutters’ of Goirle produced 6,500 balls as a down payment!
The ancient game of colf was a tiresome game, a cold game, a dangerous game, a muddy game and an uneconomic game. Geert and Sara Nijs Games for Kings and Commoners
In the 1860's the gutta-percha arrived, a solid rubber, which was cheaper and less cut-able. It's no surprise then that golf as an organized sport flourished with the new ball. With the ability to manufacture balls with molds and machines, the costs went from what would be the equivalent of $100/ball to $10/ball. Balls were still a valuable commodity, just more available and affordable. The Vardon Flyer represented the premier guttie of golf ball and the first ever manufactured in the U.S. by Spaulding in 1899 and the first ball represented by a pro golfer, none other than Harry Vardon. His first trip to the U.S. where we won the 1900 U.S. Open was sponsored by Spaulding and included many showcases in department stores across the country to promote the ball and golf clubs.
However, Vardon Flyer very soon replaced by the new "Mesh Balls" a compressed, wound-rubber-core ball, that flew much farther. By 1902 all professionals were using the new mesh "Haskel" ball
Mesh Balls 1910's - 1930's
Since there was a patent on round dimples, the ball manufacturers began creating mesh balls with all sorts of dimple patterns. This is an very cool period for the golf ball where the patterns are as much about adornment than science. As with all things golf, performance will always trump style, and the round dimple proved the best through experimentation and research.
1931 - "Which new size?" the punchline
In 1919, the R & A, the British equivalent to the USGA, announced its intention to
“to limit the power of the ball, in order to retain the special features of the game”
While there was disagreement in the regulation size and weight (a debate driven no doubt by the ball manufacturers themselves) In 1921 was a compromise wby USGA and R&A, based on 1.62oz maximum weight and 1.62 inches minimum diameter.
In 1929 the USGA broke away from the R&A and announced “From extensive and constant research, the conviction has grown that a 1.68 inch minimum and 1.55oz maximum ball, best meets all requirements of play." for debut in 1931.
3-piece Hard fairways are an issue in Portland for about 5 weeks, maybe, so I wonder if the lighter ball was total flop here in Portland right from the start. The new 1931 ball was nerfed as my friend Justin Ball would say, and was likely very unpopular with players as it loses distance and accuracy.
So this cartoon poked fun at a invented controversy frustrating golfers and retailers alike. The USGA changed the rules in time for the 1933 U.S. Public Links held in Portland, OR. So my guess is many of the local players were faced with the real dilemma of having to prepare with the new conforming ball, only to have that changed in time for the tournament.
The USGA, we know you are doing your best, sometimes less is more. This debate rages on led by Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of the 1960' & 1970's who will often remark that the USGA needs to change the ball. He played in the era of the modern 3-piece "wound dimpled ball" and benefited year after year from slight improvements - though relatively unchanged for over 50+ years
When I was young, there were two sets of balls. Pro balls were round with Balata covers. Not the longest off the tee, though essential for a good short game, as the softer covers could react to the club and make the ball "dance" and spin. They were also prone to cuts and damage, rarely lasting even a full 18 holes. The other option was hard synthetic covers of Surlyn and solid ball that were less expensive, resisted damage, and most of all longer. The were like rocks for chipping and putting so rarely used by the Pros. Into the early 1990's the soft covers of Urethane improved to the point that by 2005 almost all Pros were using Urethane balls solid core balls.
Will the USGA change the ball? Since 2005, the ball has not really changed much in performance. If we get another 50 years from this design, and I'd say most amateurs are very pleased with modern balls. I like both bombing drives distance and soft spin fortouch around the greens.
For the Pro's it might be fun to see them try persimmon woods a throwback era like major league baseball. Hey that gives me an idea for Eastmoreland 100 ;)