Among the incidents involving golf ball divers in Florida, there’s an attack by an 11-foot alligator that cost the victim his shoulder. Then there are the stories of divers bitten by venomous snakes and snapping turtles in golf course ponds.
Who would want a job with risks like that? Maybe you would once you realize you can make hundreds of dollars daily working in golf ball recovery. As a bonus, you don’t have to do it in the land of alligators.
Tens of millions of golf balls are lost every year in the United States, mostly in golf course water hazards. When recovered and cleaned up, these used balls sell for as little as six cents wholesale and up to $1 or more retail. It’s a $200 million industry, and a golf ball diver can make $100,000 per year, according to Golf.com.
For that kind of money, you might not mind getting into a pond, at least not if it’s in Wisconsin or Maine in the summer.
The Two Types of Golf Ball Recovery
Diving is how you make the most money, because it’s more efficient than other methods of golf ball recovery. A good diver can find 3,000 balls per day. Or, if you’re Forest Rothchild, who was followed by a local news crew, 9,000 balls in a day. He gets 7 to 10 cents per ball, and the company he works for also pays the course for each ball recovered. In other words, Rothchild made somewhere between $630 and $900 for that day’s haul.
But it takes some serious preparation and work to do this well. For starters, you have to be a certified scuba diver. The necessary gear will cost you quite a bit. And you have to be ready to work in hazardous conditions, especially if you operate in the south. The bags of balls you’ll drag around underwater and eventually lift into your vehicle can weigh up to 80 pounds.
If this sounds like too much trouble, you might consider the non-diving method of collecting golf balls.
To get started, buy a golf ball rake with a long handle for reaching out into ponds from shore. There’s also a product called the “Golf Fisherman,” which you toss out into ponds and pull back in (hopefully full of balls) using an attached rope. You can get started with tools like these for under $50, and you might even keep your feet dry (until the rake gets stuck). You won’t gather those used balls as fast as divers do, but you might still make some extra cash, especially if you sell your finds the right way, which brings us to…
The Two Ways to Cash In as a Golf Ball Retriever
Wholesale buyers deal only in large quantities. Golfball Monster, for example, buys a minimum of 5,000 balls at a time. If you work as an independent contractor for Underwater Golf Ball Recovery, you get paid weekly for whatever you collect, but then you ship your balls to them in lots of 15,000 or more. Generally you’ll be paid between 6 and 12 cents per ball selling them wholesale. If you’re good at collecting, that can add up to hundreds of dollars daily.
If you’re not a diver, or you don’t find more than a few hundred balls at a time, you might consider retailing the used golf balls yourself. Although some people do this at flea markets, the best way is probably to sell them online. If you look for used golf ball auctions on eBay right now, you’ll find plenty of them. Ignore the “buy it now” prices and look at the actual bids. In researching this, on the first page of results I saw 36 Callaway Hex Control used golf balls with 13 bids, the highest at $25. The seller will pay the $9.99 shipping cost.
Getting 70 cents per ball instead of 7 cents makes it a bit more interesting if you’re dealing with smaller quantities. And used Titleist golf balls sell for up to $1.50 each on eBay. You can also gather up all your worst balls and sell them as “hit away” or “shag” balls that are used for driving practice. You’ll only get 5 to 10 cents each for these, but you’ll sell them in batches of 300 to 600. If you can find and clean 250 in a day, with some good brands in good condition and some not, you might sell them all for $150 on eBay.
Golf Ball Recovery Tips
Your biggest challenge in this line of work will be convincing a golf course to let you salvage balls in their ponds. The best courses already have arrangements with divers, so try smaller courses or look for collection points just off the course where balls might land in water or thick vegetation (and where you can legally gather them). Usually a golf course is paid 6 to 10 cents for each ball salvaged, or paid with a portion of the balls, after cleaning.
If you work as a contractor for one of the big outfits that buys used golf balls, they will help you make arrangements with golf courses. Don’t be a “poacher” and sneak onto courses at night. People are sometimes arrested for golf ball poaching.
Once you collect them, golf balls have to be cleaned, and they can be pretty slimy if they’ve been underwater for years. Rinse them with a hose, and then soak them in buckets of warm soapy water for a couple of hours. Use a scrub brush and rags to finish the cleaning process. Sort them by brand, model, and condition, because that’s how you’ll sell them.
If you don’t want to get wet at all you can approach a golf ball recovery diver and buy used balls to sell. Offer a few pennies more per ball than he normally gets wholesale, and then retail them on eBay for a nice profit.
Other sources of used balls include rummage sales, friends who no longer golf, and anyplace you can get them cheap. Paying for your product might mean making less profit per ball, but you’ll also spend less time in the water and cleaning.
Your Turn: Do you know anyone who has collected and sold used golf balls? Have you? Tell us your stories in the comments section below.