A ball hawker's best tips
Dave devotes two hours a day, seven days a week to ball hawking on two public golf courses near his home. He finds 80 to 150 balls every evening from May through October. He sells the balls to a ball recycling company, who pay him 25 cents for every Titleist Pro V1 and 10 cents for all other balls. Dave tells us how he got into ball hawking.
Why I ball hawk
Two things got me into ball hawking. First, I am a runner and was recovering from a knee injury. I couldn't run, so I walked to stay fit. The best place to walk was my local public golf course.
Second, I was looking for an outdoor activity I could do with my 10-year-old son. I wanted to spend a couple of hours a day with him, out of the house and away from computer screens.
In the beginning, we weren't very serious about it. Not wanting to annoy the golfers, ws stuck to the edge of the course, picking up about 20 balls each walk. We didn't know what to do with the balls, but we washed and boxed them, figuring we might find a way to sell them when we had enough.
Pretty soon we were able to identify
hot spots, places where there were always a lot of lost balls. These would be wooded areas where a hole dog-legged, the banks of creeks, and in among the course's many raspberry bushes.
This got us into exploring deeper in the underbrush, where we would sometimes find 200 balls in half an hour, many of them old balls that we dated back to the sixties (thanks to Google and online searching).
Sweeping the course
Over the course of a summer, we became more and more systematic about our hawking. Our regular sweeps of the course would give us a basic 50-100 balls a day, which we'd combine with explorations of dense shrubbery, streams, buckthorn jungle, and overlooked nooks and crannies of the course.
We found out our main course had two other hawkers: one was an older guy in his sixties, who walked the edges late in the evening; and the other was a man in his 30s, who wore camo gear and a wide-brimmed hat. The few times we saw each other, we said hi and moved on.
Ball hawkers are solitary types who don't want to reveal their ball-finding secrets, and nor do they want to draw attention to themselves and be asked to leave a gold course.
The ability to cover an entire 18-hole course without being noticed is a matter of pride to ball hawkers. If you're playing golf late in the day, you might see us from time to time as we cross from one patch of woods to another, but mostly we avoid contact with golfers and other people.
Kicked off the course
In the two years I've been hawking balls, I've only once been asked to leave a course. That's when I entered a course at 5 p.m. on a September afternoon, only to be stopped and quuestioned by a driving range instructor.
I was armed with a ball retriever and a bag for the balls, and it was obvious to the guy what I was intending to do. He told me to leave the course immediately, which I did, quietly and politely.
The next day, it was business as usual, except I made an even greater effort to go undetected, avoiding the fairways, and checking that no golfers were around when I crossed from one area of woodland to another.
I figure every hawker can be stopped once on a course, but if you're caught twice you haven't a leg to stand on.
I don't only hawk balls for the money. I do it for the exercise: two hours every evening is pretty good going.
I enjoy the time with my son when he tags along. And I like to see all the wildlife on the course: deer; groundhogs; skunks; rabbits; foxes.
I like the solitude and the quiet. I value those hours away from my regular work, away from the city, surrounded by trees and grass, wildflowers and bushes. I finish each walk feeling refreshed and at ease. It's a sad day when the season ends. I often wonder whether I'd ball hawk every day if I lived in Florida or Texas.
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