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Ever wanted to search for sunken treasure? Try your hand as a golf ball diver, kitting up in scuba gear to recover the millions of golf balls lost in water hazards every year.
More or less every golf course has between four and twelve water hazards, picturesque pools and fountains wherein many a golfer loses a golf ball or six. This has led to a roaring multimillion industry in recycling those that have been lost to the waves, and at the forefront of this are the golf ball divers. Every year, around one billion balls are produced, but nearly 100 million of these are later salvaged and recycled.
The job role itself is a simple one – just get the balls out of the water and into baskets, for them to be cleaned, repackaged and then resold at a cheaper price than those bought new. Divers have reported that a typical pond will have as many as 500-2000 balls lying in the sunken depths, and so they have perfected several methods to use for retrieval:
A dive crew of around three people work together, two in the water collecting balls and loading them into baskets, which they pass up to the third person on the water’s edge. The person on land also helps to direct the ones working underwater, as well as watching out for their safety. This is probably the most thorough method.
Two people stand on either side of the pond (assuming it’s small enough) and pull a roller through the water, which scoops up the balls as it moves. Occasionally it will get clogged up with mud or stuck in rocks or weeds, which will require a diver to go underwater to detangle it. Once all areas of the pond have been covered, the roller is pulled out and the golf balls removed. This is the quickest method but can easily miss balls that your hands would have noticed.
Just whack on a scuba-suit, jump in the pond, and start filling your bags with the ‘white gold’. You keep all the profit, but it’s a slower process. You’ve also got no-one to help with the heavy lifting; each sack can weigh around 30kg each on a good day.
Becoming a golf ball diver is relatively simple. All you really need is entry-level certification from a diving agency, active liability insurance, and a bit of experience.
Maintaining this as your main source of income is the difficult bit. You need to be comfortable with the stresses of the job, as it is very different to recreational diving in the clear, warm waters of the Mediterranean.
You’ll be scrabbling around in almost zero visibility, hardly able to see your fingers pressed to your mask. The water is typically icky, usually polluted with various pesticides and fertilisers, and thick with dirt and mud. Regular tetanus injections are recommended to ward of disease.
This is supplemented by all the exciting things that somehow end up in the waters’ depths, from the clubs of frustrated golfers to forgotten fishing lines and broken bottles. In the UK, a pair of thick gloves and a knife to cut yourself free from entanglement should be the most you will need. Gross it may be, but hopefully no more dangerous than one of the mud-marathons undertaken by those who want to do battle with the elements.
In the US, the dangers are much more exotic, including snapping turtles, alligators and poisonous water snakes. One traumatised diver told the story of how, during alligator mating season, he descended to hunt out some golf balls only to become the subject of the amorous advances of an excited male alligator.
These dangers, however, have the advantage of quickly weeding out those who think it sounds like a fun way to earn quick money (which it is), but don’t have the guts to follow through.
A golf ball diver usually earns from $50,000 to $100,000 a year, which is what we at MoneyMagpie call a decent sum.
The independent diver or the company they represent usually signs an exclusive contract with 10-20 courses to retrieve their water hazard’s balls. Working with this amount of courses means that schedules must be very carefully organised so that they can all be covered in the most efficient fashion.
They will either pay the golf course a fee for each ball that they recover, or offer a percentage of the balls they find. The remaining balls will be either:
The golf ball to watch out for is the Titleist Pro V1, the ‘Cadillac’ of golf balls which sells for around $2 each; usually, the golf ball diver will get around 8-10 cents per ball once they have paid the course.
This involves a fair amount of work for what seems a bit of a measly sum, but remember, when collecting over 3000 balls a day this swiftly adds up to a very decent annual income.