TEEING OFF: BRENDAN JAMES
WHAT would you pay to be able to hit a 320-yard drive every time you stood up on the tee with a driver in your hand?
Would you pay a thousand bucks? A million? Maybe 10 million? If you paid 10 large you might just get your money back if you join the PGA Tour, after all if you can hit it 320-yard drives you will be right alongside the longest on Tour – Rory McIlroy.
Sounds fanciful, doesn’t it? And when something sounds this fanciful you can bet your house on the fact that a scientist is in the dark corner of a laboratory somewhere trying to turn fantasy into fact.
That’s how scientists got a man to walk on the moon. That’s how they have saved millions of lives using penicillin. That’s how they mapped DNA.
And, believe it or not, sometime in the future you might be able to buy the chance to smash a golf ball as long as Rory, thanks to science.
A ball hit by a professional golfer usually reaches 250km/h and spins backwards between 2,000-3,000 times a minute. This backspin generates the lift that keeps the ball in flight, and is crucial to a long drive. However, too much spin produces excessive turbulence. But dimples reduce this risk.
For more than a century it has been known that the secret of how far a golf ball flies lies in its dimples.
American scientists believe they understand the forces at work, as air flows over the ball’s surface. Their work could be the key to a new generation of more accurate, incredibly long-distance golf balls.
A few years ago, a team of scientists and engineers from the University of Maryland and Arizona State University started to use a set of supercomputers – usually reserved for predicting global weather patterns or the behaviour of sub-atomic particles – to solve the equations that govern aerodynamic flow on more than a billion points of a golf ball’s surface.
Each computer – with about a thousand times more grunt than your laptop or PC – ran for more than 300 hours before the scientific team was able to see the exact flow of air around a ball, and its dimples, in flight.
It is well known that a golf ball’s dimples reduce drag on a ball by about half because the airflow is separated from the ball’s surface longer.
After years of research the scientific team cracked the solution for a virtual golf ball, and what dimple designs work better than others.
While all this is very interesting, and will have the golf equipment tech heads in a fervour, the first question that crossed my mind about this research remains, why is this being conducted? Surely, these scientists could use their advanced intellect and skills for solving more pressing matters than getting a golf ball to fly further.
Then it struck me. Money, and lots of it, is out there in the golf market for the next big discovery that helps make the game easier for millions of hackers around the world and the golf ball is the obvious cash cow. The incentive for long hours spent in a lab trying to come up with a long flying ball every golfer will want is the price tag for the technology. The golf ball market is worth in excess of US$1.5 billion worldwide annually, which goes to prove there is more money to be made from bad golf than there is in solving the problems of climate change.
Keep this in mind as you read our look at the distance debate starting on page 57.