Recycled Golf Balls Are Big Business

Approximately 300 million golf balls are lost annually by wayward players. As a result of the mistakes and mishits by hackers, a $200-million-dollar industry has sprung up around used golf balls. Lost golf balls, or “pond balls” as they’re sometimes called, can yield anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars for a top-of-the-line ball such as the Titleist Pro V1.

Pond balls are collected by divers, sorted into different grades based on the original retail price and their condition, and resold only to, perhaps, be lost again. If the balls aren’t in adequate condition for selling retail, they still have some value as driving range fodder. There certainly is a market for dunked spheroids. Professional golf ball retrievers can earn between $50,000 to $70,000 a year or more if they work for themselves, according to an article in the July 2002 New York Times.

Sounds like an easy way to make a living, right? It is if you don’t mind muddy ponds, snakes and alligators. Greg Siwek, co-owner of Golf Ball Outlet Company in Boca Raton, Fla., told the New York Times, “Let’s be serious. Not everybody looks at a murky, slimy, alligator-infested pond filled with golf course pesticide and fertilizer runoff and sees a business opportunity.”

“The worst is when you come out of the pond and people standing on the green are screaming bloody murder, pointing behind you,” added Siwek’s business partner Jimmy Lance. “Then you know there’s a big old alligator on the bank behind you. Those gators don’t usually do anything. But you don’t like them sneaking up on you.”

Although alligators are certainly a deterrent to ball-retrieving go-getters, divers face a greater risk of drowning when weighed down by equipment and balls. “Some people freak out down there,” Siwek told the New York Times. “It’s not hard. It’s not like diving in the ocean or a freshwater pond. You can’t see, and fish and other stuff keep bumping into you. Even experienced guys start to panic. We’ve all almost drowned.”

But for the brave and the foolhardy, whichever they might be, the risk of pond-ball diving can pay off. Lantz said that an eight-hour shift can yield as many as 10,000 golf balls. He and Siwek anticipate collecting a million golf balls this year alone.