Are you a Ball Hawker?
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I am a former golf ball “hawker.” You know the guy; their 15th club is a ball retriever. They are often found lurking around ponds and the heavily forested right side of fairways.
It is hard for me to recall when I became obsessed with finding golf balls. Maybe I should blame my parents! They moved to Florida after my father retired in 1988. Their home was on the 15th hole at the TPC Prestancia in Sarasota. The 15th is a dogleg left par 5 that curves around a large pond. The green is located on a peninsula that juts out into the pond. Many, many golf balls have found a watery grave on #15.
In the evenings, after the last groups had gone through, my father would stroll along the edge of the pond and scoop a few balls out. He used to joke that he could estimate economic conditions by the type of balls he found. Lots of Titleists = “Good Times” and lots of Topflites = “Recession.” When my wife and I would visit, I started to join him on his strolls. Soon, I was going out every evening whether my father wanted to or not.
Back in the Mitten State, I bought myself a ball retriever and started ball hawking in earnest. Once I went out at a local 9-holer late in the afternoon following some stormy weather. No one was playing and eventually I came to the 7th hole, a par 3 with a pond covering the 130 yards to the green. For some reason the course had lowered the water level and when I came around the corner, there were 100’s of golf balls littering the pond. Jack Pot! I spent 30 minutes hauling balls out of the water hazard and only stopped when I couldn’t fit any more balls in my bag.
I started filling 2-gallon popcorn tins with balls and gave them to friends and relatives. Still, my supply kept growing. I became pickier about what I would keep. Rejects were left on the next tee for someone else to collect. The better balls were given away or played.
Three things eventually halted my obsession: my wife, tournament golf, and “Harry.” My wife told me she did not want to be featured in a news story about the widow who had a basement filled with 100,000 golf balls. She told me to get rid of them. Also, I began to play low level amateur golf tournaments. I did not think hauling around a ball retriever fit well with the image of a serious tournament player. Finally, one day I was following a foursome of very senior golfers at the Bobby Jones complex in Sarasota. They were not moving very quickly, and our group was always right on their heels. As we walked off the 5th green, I watched one of the octogenarians deploy a ball retriever and start fishing for balls. One of his group yelled, “Put the damn retriever away Harry and get your ass moving.” I decided I did not want to be “Harry.”
The ball retriever went into the basement, and I stopped looking for any balls other than mine or the guys in my group. My supply shrank and soon, I had to occasionally buy some balls.
Fast forward to today. I continue to be in ball hawking remission … most of the time. Once our golf season comes to an end and courses close, my wife and I walk several local clubs for fresh air and exercise. I do tend to steer our walks along the right side of the fairway and snag the occasional ball out of the long grass and forest. No more ball retriever or fishing in ponds. If I can’t get to a ball with a couple of steps, it stays lost. I still give balls away and those that are of modest quality or condition are taken to a local mom & pop range and “donated” during a practice session.