Do Golf Balls Float?

In short, most real golf balls sink due to their density being greater than water.

However, there are exceptions, like lightweight practice balls or situations involving saltwater, where they might float. Intrigued?

Keep reading for a detailed dive into the fascinating world of golf ball buoyancy.

The Composition of a Golf Ball

Delving into the composition of a golf ball reveals a complex world of materials and design intricacies that play a crucial role in its overall performance and, interestingly, its buoyancy.

Overview of Materials Used in Golf Balls

Golf balls are marvels of engineering, designed to provide the perfect balance of durability, aerodynamics, and performance.

At their core, most modern golf balls feature a solid rubber core, often made from synthetic rubber compounds like polybutadiene.

This core is primarily responsible for the ball's energy response upon impact.

Surrounding the core, you'll typically find one or more layers made of different materials like ionomer resins, a type of thermoplastic, which adds to the ball's durability and controls its spin characteristics.

The outermost layer, or the cover, is usually made from urethane or Surlyn.

Urethane covers are softer, offering more spin control and feel, preferred by advanced players, while Surlyn covers are harder, providing more durability and distance, favored by recreational players.

The choice of materials is a balancing act.

Manufacturers aim to create a ball that maximizes distance while adhering to the rules of golf set by governing bodies like the USGA and the R&A.

These materials are selected not just for their physical properties but also for their ability to withstand the harsh impacts of a golf club striking at high speeds.

The Density of These Materials Relative to Water

The density of these materials is a critical factor in determining whether a golf ball sinks or floats.

Density is defined as mass per unit volume, and in the case of golf balls, the combined density of the core, intermediate layers, and the cover determines its overall density.

Typically, a standard golf ball has a density greater than that of water, which is why it sinks.

Water has a density of about 1 gram per cubic centimeter (g/cm³), and most golf balls have densities ranging from 1.1 to 1.2 g/cm³.

This higher density is a result of the compact materials used, like the solid rubber core and the layered construction.

The materials' density is not just about buoyancy; it directly impacts the ball's performance.

The denser the ball, the less it is susceptible to air resistance and wind, allowing for greater control and consistent flight.

This is crucial in golf, where precision and control are paramount.

Additionally, the density and hardness of the outer layers affect the spin and feel of the ball during putting and short games.

The Science Behind Sinking: Why Real Golf Balls Don't Float

The physics behind why real golf balls don't float in water is a fascinating blend of material science and fluid dynamics.

Understanding this phenomenon requires a deep dive into the specific properties that govern buoyancy and density in golf balls.

Detailed Exploration of the Density of Real Golf Balls

The density of a golf ball is the key factor determining its ability to float.

As mentioned earlier, density is defined as the mass per unit volume of an object.

In the case of real golf balls, their density surpasses that of water, primarily due to the materials and construction techniques used in their design.

A standard golf ball weighs about 45.93 grams and has a volume of approximately 40.68 cubic centimeters, which translates to a density around 1.13 grams per cubic centimeter.

This is slightly higher than the density of water, which is about 1 gram per cubic centimeter.

It's this small but significant difference in density that ensures a golf ball will sink in water.

The materials, particularly the solid rubber core and the layers of synthetic materials, are packed tightly during the manufacturing process, leaving very little space for air.

This compactness contributes to the ball’s higher density.

Additionally, the types of polymers used in these layers are chosen for their density and resilience, further adding to the overall density of the ball.

Why These Balls Are Denser than Water

The reason why real golf balls are designed to be denser than water boils down to performance requirements.

The density and hardness of the ball affect everything from its velocity and trajectory to its spin and control during play.

To achieve the desired performance characteristics, golf ball manufacturers use dense materials to construct the core and the layers of the ball.

For example, the core is typically made from high-density synthetic rubber, which provides the necessary weight and firmness.

The outer layers, often made from tough, resilient materials like Surlyn or urethane, add to this density.

These materials not only contribute to the ball's weight and feel but also to its durability and ability to withstand the impact of a golf club.

Moreover, the rules of golf, as set by governing bodies, specify the maximum weight and minimum size of a golf ball.

These regulations ensure that the balls used in professional play adhere to a standard that promotes fair play.

The combination of these design choices and regulatory requirements results in a golf ball that is inherently denser than water, ensuring it sinks when it lands in a water hazard.

Exceptions to the Rule: Floating Golf Balls

While the typical golf ball is designed to sink, there are exceptions that defy this norm.

These exceptions are primarily seen in practice or fake golf balls, each designed with unique characteristics that enable them to float.

Fake or Practice Golf Balls

Fake or practice golf balls are specifically designed for different purposes compared to standard golf balls.

These balls are often used by golfers for practice sessions in limited spaces, such as backyards or indoor facilities, where a full-distance ball would be impractical or dangerous.

To suit these environments, practice balls are engineered to mimic the feel and flight of a real golf ball while minimizing the risk of damage or injury.

One common type of practice ball is the wiffle ball, made from lightweight, durable plastics and featuring a hollow design with multiple perforations.

These holes not only reduce the ball's weight and distance traveled but also impact its aerodynamic properties.

Another type is the foam practice ball, made from soft, low-density foam materials.

These balls offer a safer alternative for indoor practice, as their soft composition reduces the risk of damage to surroundings.

Reasons Why These Balls Are Less Dense and Can Float

The primary reason these practice balls can float is their significantly lower density compared to real golf balls.

This reduced density is a result of both the materials used and their construction.

The hollow design of wiffle balls, combined with the lightweight plastic, drastically lowers their overall density.

Similarly, foam balls, made from materials like polyurethane foam, possess a very low density due to their porous structure.

The density of these materials is often less than 1 gram per cubic centimeter, which is the critical threshold for an object to float in water.

When the overall density of the ball is lower than that of water, it displaces enough water to support its weight, enabling it to float.

This feature is particularly advantageous in practice settings, such as mini-golf courses with water hazards, where easy retrieval of balls is essential.

Additionally, the design of these balls often focuses on safety and convenience rather than replicating the exact performance characteristics of standard golf balls.

The ability to float is a byproduct of this focus, as the materials and construction that make them safe for indoor use and limited-space practice also render them buoyant.

The Role of Design in Buoyancy

The buoyancy of a golf ball is not solely determined by its density; the design also plays a pivotal role.

The intricate features of a golf ball, such as its dimples, surface area, and overall construction, significantly influence its interaction with water and its ability to float or sink.

How Dimples, Surface Area, and Construction Influence Buoyancy

Dimples on a golf ball are one of the most recognizable features and serve a crucial purpose in its aerodynamic performance.

While their primary role is to reduce air drag and increase lift during flight, they also have an interesting effect on buoyancy.

The dimples increase the surface area of the ball, allowing more water to interact with its surface.

However, this increased surface area does not significantly impact its buoyancy because the dimples are shallow and do not contribute much to the overall volume of the ball.

The density of the materials and the ball's construction play a far more critical role in determining its buoyancy.

The construction of a golf ball, particularly its core and layers, directly affects its overall density.

A solid core made of dense materials increases the ball's mass relative to its volume, making it denser than water.

The multiple layers that envelop the core also contribute to this density.

These layers, often made of different materials, are designed to enhance performance characteristics such as spin, control, and distance.

However, they also add to the mass of the ball, further influencing its tendency to sink.

The Relationship Between Design Features and Water Interaction

The interaction between a golf ball and water is a complex interplay of its design features.

While the dimples and surface area have a negligible effect on buoyancy, they can influence how the ball behaves once it's in the water.

For instance, a ball with more dimples might create more resistance against water, affecting how it sinks.

On the other hand, the ball’s materials and construction, which are crucial for its density, are the primary determinants of whether it will float or sink.

A ball designed for professional play, with denser materials and a construction focused on performance, will almost always sink due to its higher density.

In contrast, practice balls designed with less dense materials, like lightweight plastics or foams, will float.

Furthermore, the interaction with water isn't just about floating or sinking.

Once submerged, factors like the ball's spin and surface texture can affect how it moves through the water.

A ball with a smoother surface might move differently underwater compared to one with a rougher texture, such as a ball with more pronounced dimples.


In conclusion, the journey through the world of golf ball design and buoyancy reveals a fascinating intersection of physics, materials science, and engineering.

From the density of real golf balls that causes them to sink, to the unique designs of practice balls that enable them to float, each aspect of a golf ball's composition and design plays a crucial role in how it interacts with water.

This exploration not only enhances our understanding of these seemingly simple sports objects but also underscores the intricate considerations behind their design and functionality.

Whether sinking or floating, each golf ball is a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship and scientific principles that define the game of golf.