There’s White Gold at the Bottom of That Pond
If you’re an avid golfer, you know the feeling of sailing a drive down the middle of the fairway, only to watch in horror as your ball disappears into a water hazard. It’s a frustrating experience, but it doesn’t have to be costly. With a bit of effort, you can find and retrieve your lost golf balls at the golf course and save yourself a lot of money. According to Golf Digest, the average price of a new golf ball is around $1.50, not including the premium balls that can cost upwards of $5 each. So, if you lose just one golf ball per round, that’s an extra $108 you’re spending on golf balls each year.
But for those golfers who don’t find their ball, there is a big business in fishing out those lost balls of White Gold from the depths of that water hazard. An entire industry has been built around retrieving golf balls from water hazards, with some companies charging as much as $8 per ball for a top-name reconditioned golf ball. That’s a huge markup from the $1.50 you would pay for a new one.
So, how can you get in on this lucrative business? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Just be prepared to do a little fishing. This type of fishing will bring in the dollar signs, and we’re talking about the white gold that sits nestled under layers of mud at your local course if you are not familiar with or unsure what “white gold” could be. We are talking about used or lost golf balls sent to their graves at the hands of a bad golf shot. Unfortunately, most people never bother to retrieve their lost ball in the water hazard.
Not everyone is suited for this type of fishing, and it makes sense once we explain the specifics of how lost balls turn from muddy specs of white into cold hard cash.
Four main methods for commercial golf ball retrieval.
Rolling for Balls
The first way is using a large roller that rolls along the bottom of the ponds cutting through mud, grass, and other loose objects to collect the balls between the openings of the disks. The balls stay in place mainly from the pressure of being pushed in between the blades on the roller. Next time you are at the local driving range, watch the range cart. On the front will be a small plastic roller that is spinning on the ground running over the balls. Now imagine that but 5X the size and made of lightweight but durable metal.
Getting started with rolling will be expensive, but there are a lot of benefits to this over diving with scuba gear. The roller can cover a larger area of the pond faster and can get to deeper parts of the pond, making it safer than throwing on full scuba gear. Although in dealing with machinery, there is always a chance something breaks or does not work correctly. However, for the most part, rolling is the easiest way to get balls.
The setup is the following: Two golf carts on either side of the pound face each other from the opposite side. On the back of the custom-made golf carts are small Honda motors mounted to run the winch system that effortlessly pulls the roller from one side to the other. Then either person pushes down on the lever, activating the winch to drag the roller back and forth until the whole pond has been covered. Or, if the hole hasn’t been worked in a while, the roller will fill up with balls and need to be emptied. Some spots can have as many as 3 thousand balls in them at one time.
The Roller method is the most common way to get balls out of ponds and lakes.
Shallow Water Diving
Shallow water diving is where you do not need scuba tanks. Instead, a diver will work the edges of a pond where the rollers cannot get to very well. This style of diving has a lot more risk involved; being open and unprotected in the water with golf balls flying at you constantly makes it hard. Playing dodge ball or waiting for slow golfers to clear a hole is the most time-wasting part of the day. The unknown of what is in the water makes a lot of people scared of giving it a try. The number of people who thought they wanted to work in this business but then got in the water and felt something other than a golf ball is more than those currently still diving for the millions of lost balls each year.
Scuba & Deep Water Diving Method
This is where it gets serious. Deepwater diving can only be done by certified divers with all of the proper equipment. This is the riskiest style of diving because if something goes wrong, it could be catastrophic.
Diving was once the main method used before rollers became mainstream in the golf ball retrieval industry. It’s a lot more work and takes a little more skill than just rolling around, but it can still be just as effective. This way is the quickest way to start making money in golf ball diving because you only need one person, and then there are not a lot of upfront costs to get started.
If you are not already certified, the highest upfront cost will be the wet suit and diving certification. Purchasing a good wet suit is necessary because the less swamp water touching your skin, the better. Having been around the business for 15 years, I have seen rashes and every nasty thing you could imagine being in the water. If you are not a certified diver, there is still plenty of work to do.
When diving, the biggest thing is staying safe and not hurting yourself; you will be in some pretty nasty water with who knows what floating around in it. So being careful and sanitary is a must.
It is recommended to start in a small pond to get used to retrieving golf balls and diving before moving on to the big lakes.
One final method that is becoming more popular is using a net. This can be done from shore or by boat. The net will go along the bottom of the water and scoop up any golf balls in its path. This is a good option for those who do not want to get in the water but still want to retrieve golf balls.
No matter what method you choose, retrieving golf balls can be a fun and profitable way to spend your time. There are millions of golf balls lost each year, so there is no shortage of work.
Bring Home The Cash
A successful golf ball retriever will be able to work independently and most likely make your own hours. Each ball pulled out of the water can be viewed as a coin being thrown on land or a few dollar bills for the premium balls. Once the balls have been dragged out of the water and bagged, the work really begins. Washing the golf balls and then sorting individual balls by hand is the most time-consuming part of the job. Once the several thousand golf balls are sorted by brand and condition, they can be packaged for sale. Each year Millions of golf balls are sold online from divers and online used golf ball businesses. The average golfer would never be able to tell the difference between a used ball and a new one. That is the reason most people prefer to buy the cheaper options. Retrieving lost golf balls can be a very lucrative venture. It is not uncommon to rake in $50,000 to $115,000 a year, depending on how many golf balls you fish out of the ponds in a year.
Plenty for the taking
An estimated 100,000 golf balls a year are plunked into the water at TPC Sawgrass. In addition, nearly 100 million used golf balls are recovered nationally and processed for sale each year, equalling a multi-million dollar industry. Some reports have revenue topping over $1 Million a week in business, with many divers recovering 3,000 to 5,000 golf balls per day.