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The golf ball aerodynamics of Peter Guthrie Tait

  • Chris Denley (a1) and Chris Pritchard (a1)


The eminent physicist, Peter Guthrie Tait, having constructed mathematical models of the flight of a golf-ball and having carried out an extensive series of experiments to evaluate their parameters, specified the maximum distance a golf ball could be made to carry by the most accomplished golfer. He was then upstaged by his son who hit a monumental drive which pitched even further. The golfing press of the day - what there was of it - was happy to run the story and scientists themselves seemed to enjoy the joke at Tait’s expense. Macfarlane, for example, related the anecdote in the following terms in a lecture delivered just eight months after Tait’s death:

“He […] communicated his results to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and there stated definitely the longest distance to which a golf ball could possibly be driven […] but the champion golfer upset his father's calculations […] by driving a ball five yards further.”



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1. Hoerner, S.F. Fluid Dynamic Drag, Private publication, Bricktown N. J., 2nd ed., 1965.
2. Houghton, E.L. and Carruthers, N.B. Aerodynamics for Engineering Students, Arnold, 3rd ed., 1982.
3. Kermode, A.C. Mechanics of Flight, Pitman, 7th ed., 1962.
4. Knott, C.G., Life and Scientific Work of Peter Guthrie Tait, Cambridge, 1911.
5. Low, J.L., Tait, F.G., a Record, 1902.
6. Macfarlane, A., Lectures on Ten British Physicists of the Nineteenth Century, Wiley, New York, 1919.
7. Streeter, V.L. Fluid Mechanics, McGraw-Hill, 4th Ed., 1966.
8. Tait, P.G. Scientific Papers, Cambridge, 18981900.

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The golf ball aerodynamics of Peter Guthrie Tait

  • Chris Denley (a1) and Chris Pritchard (a1)


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