Published July 07, 2011
In the 70s, two scientists invented a self-correcting golf ball -- one that automatically flies straight. Thanks to physics and a clever dimple design that reduced the sidespin causing hooks and slices, the company sold more than 300,000 balls by the early 80s. Recreational golfers rejoiced -- until the United States Golf Association outlawed the "Polara" golf ball in 1981.
Banned but awesome, the Polara is now making its U.S. comeback.
“When the ball was originally introduced, it met all USGA guidelines in place at that time,” Dave Felker, head of technology and chairman at Polara Golf, told FoxNews.com. That is, until the USGA created a new “symmetry” rule that eliminated only the Polara, Felker said. The USGA then settled with the creators, before the ball was quietly retired in 1985.
Over twenty-five years and one new patent owner later, the amazing, self-correcting Polara golf ball is back, much like the game itself in the past decade.
“Our goal this year was to launch the product in the U.S. alone via e-commerce and some limited retail strategies,” Felker said. “When our servers crashed for 12 hours after numerous requests from 128 countries, we realized there was a lot more pent-up demand and interest in a golf ball that goes up to 75 percent straighter.”
And by 75 percent, Felker really means upwards of 90 percent. In robotic test trials, nine out of 10 balls flew straight, despite being poorly hit on purpose. And in personal trials at my local driving range, I went 10-for-10 in hitting straight balls with the Polara Ultimate Straight. Before and after, I was four to five out of 10.
And it's all thanks to simple physics: The dimples along the ball's y-axis are enlarged and shallower, helping to reduce forward drag. The dimples along the ball’s x-axis are smaller and deeper, to reduce sidespin. These help the ball correct any natural slice or hook -- making you a better golfer.
But isn’t playing with Polara similar to bowling with gutter bumpers or riding a bike with training wheels?
“If you're constantly hitting into the trees and out of bounds, golf isn’t fun anymore,” Felker told FoxNews.com. “We’re not out to change the rules of golf, just how much it can be enjoyed by amateurs.”
Scientists may crow, but 25 years later the USGA still doesn’t think the ball is good for the game, no matter the skill level of the player.
“While the later version of the Polara ball has not been submitted to the USGA for evaluation by the manufacturer, their description of the ball indicates that it would not conform to The Rules, just as the 1980s version did not conform to The Rules,” Dick Rugge, technical director of the U.S. governing body, told FoxNews.com.
Felker fires back, saying the organization has already bent the rules for recreational players in other ways, including recently banned wedges that feature deeper grooves for gripping the ball. “For recreational players, the USGA said you could still play these USGA tournament-banned wedges, as long as you are not a tournament player,” he said. “Our approach is consistent with USGA moves to limit best available technologies to recreational, non-tournament golfers.”
Plus it’s faster, he said. “If the recreational golf market used the Polara instead of traditional golf balls, we believe the speed of play for an average golf round would top out at 3.5 hours for 18 holes instead of 5. That’s not only big for players short on time, but for courses interested in booking more rounds.”
Frustrated consumers are certainly warming to the idea. A recent study commissioned by Polara found that nearly 30 percent of “serious” golfers said they’d be interested in playing with a self-correcting golf ball like the Polara.
For Felker and company, that equates to a bright future. “We estimate at least 40 percent of this market will prefer to play the Polara Ultimate Straight, once they try it for nine holes on their favorite course,” he said. “It hurts no one and makes the game of golf more fun.”
Blake Snow is a freelance writer, media consultant, and weekend golfer. He lives alongside the Wasatch Mountains with his family.