Which came first – the golf club or the golf ball? The answer most emphatically is the golf ball, as the Rules of Thistle Golf Club history makes clear. In the first four hundred years of golf, there were only four types of golf ball - the Hairy, the Feathery, the Gutty, and the Haskell.
Everyone refers to golf as a 'stick and ball' game, and this has over-emphasized the role of the clubs, when throughout history, as today, the development of the golf ball has been more important.
The 'feathery' or 'featherie', which dominated golf for over 200 years, was the making of golf on the links, but, before the feathery, came the 'hairy', inexplicably written out of golf history, due partly to the romance of the feathery, though it was arguably the reason why golf initially developed in Scotland when many other similar games died out.
The use of wooden balls in golf in Scotland is an assumption but without any definite evidence.
Wooden balls were used in games in northern continental Europe such as Colf, Crosse, and Mail. Examples of these balls have been found and descriptions of wooden balls in golf and the types of wood used are derived from these sources and not from any examples or accounts in Scotland.
The spherical wood balls were smooth and thus did not have good handling properties. Although they were more hard-wearing, the distance they could be hit was only about 75 meters and it is unlikely links golfers used these in preference to the hairy colf/golf balls which were available in Scotland from the early days of golf.
There are theories that wooden balls may have been used in a target version of golf in Scotland, but this is not golf proper and it is more likely than not that the 'hairy' colf ball was the first ball used for golf on the links in Scotland.
The Romans had a small, leather stitched handball filled with hair, called the harpastum, though there is no known connection to colf or golf and there is no evidence that they used this ball in any stick-and-ball game.
The hairy ball was probably one of the balls imported between 1486-1618 from The Netherlands, where it was manufactured in large quantities as a by-product of the Dutch agricultural revolution. It came into its own on the Scottish Links. Leather stitched golf balls were been being made in Scotland from at least 1554 when there was a recorded dispute between the cordiners (leather workers) of the Cannongate in Edinburgh and the 'cordiners and gouff ball makers of North Leith'. The construction of the oldest 'football' in the world found in Stirling and dated to 1514 is identical to extant feathery golf balls, which strongly suggests this type of construction goes back to the very early days of golf. This makes it even more unlikely that wooden balls ever played any part in links golf.