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Golf balls soaring better with dimples from a computer

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It's the dimples that get them to the dance, and golf ball manufacturers dance to the tune of the US Golf Association. ``The USGA limits the size, weight, and initial velocity of a golf ball, so the only thing left to experiment with is aerodynamics, and that means getting the right number of dimples and getting the right size, shape, and depth of the dimples,'' said Paul W. Jones Jr., vice-president for research and development at the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, as he examined a golf ball in his suburban Chicago office.

Dimples -- those little circular depressions that characterize the surface of a golf ball. They play a major role in determining just how far the ball will go, how much it rotates, and which direction it will take on impact.

Until a year ago, engineers at companies like Wilson, Spalding, and Acushnet would play with dimple patterns by using a bowling ball as a model and pasting paper circles all over it. Toolmakers would then construct a prototype golf ball from the bowling-ball design and engineers would test its carry, roll, and trajectory.

Enter the computer: The bowling ball and much of the testing have been bypassed by computer graphics.

``We used a software program written by Steve Aoyama, an aerodynamics engineer, that allowed us to sort through many iterations of golf ball dimples,'' Mr. Jones said. ``We tested about 800 configurations and the computer showed us the optimum patterns we should try: 78 variations we could build and test. We ended up with our 432 series -- 432 dimples. And instead of the golf ball's symmetry being along a single line between its hemispheres, we were able to develop multiple lines of symmetry; 16 ways you could rotate it and have it perfectly symmetrical.''

Wilson, recently acquired from PepsiCo by Wesray Capital Corporation (whose chairman is former Treasury Secretary William Simon), had developed an image that could be called stodgy even in the conservative sporting goods industry. Then, in 1983, John Cranor became president and hired Mr. Jones away from General Electric.

``John decided we were going to be an innovator, a leader, a reputation Wilson had once enjoyed but in the past few years had not,'' Jones said.

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