A pro ball hawk tells all
David Hay Jones spends the day with Jeff, a professional golf ball hawk, who makes $4000 a month selling lost golf balls he retrieves from five public and private courses.
I had a hard time persuading Jeff to let me join him on an evening ball hawking session.
It's a bad idea, he said.
How do I know you're fit enough to keep up? I don't want to babysit you.
I assured him I was very fit and didn't mind hard work. The plan was for me to join him on a two-hour sweep of an 18-hole publiccourse.
Wear a hat
Jeff told me to wear a ball cap, long pants, and a long sleeved sweathshirt.
Don't dress scruffy, but don't wear clothes you care about. You'll be in thorn bushes and thistles. Bring a bag to put the balls in.
We parked at a subdivision next to the golf course. Jeff never parked at the course.
I don't want course marshals to see my car, he explained.
We pushed our way through bushes and small trees to get to the course. Straight away, Jeff was scooping up balls with a telescopic retriever. He'd found at least 20 balls before I'd noticed any.
I had a hard time keeping up with him, he moved so fast.
This isn't a walk in the park, it's work. The idea is not to get noticed. Just keep moving, keep picking balls.
I asked him why he didn't just ask for permission to hawk balls.
Clubs always say 'No', he explains.
Players and clubs hate ball hawks. The clubs have contracts with ball recycling companies to retrieve balls. Players think we're stealing their balls.
Ball recycling business
The ball recycling businesses hate independent ball hawks because we're eating into their profits. They put pressure on golf clubs to keep us off the course. Some clubs have marshals who patrol the course in marked golf carts. They're not police, but they think they are.
Public courses are easier to work because they don't employ so many people, and they have more places where balls can get lost.
Private courses are manicured, says Jeffs.
Private golf clubs have a lot of officials on the course, the courses are fenced, and if they catch you, you're charged with trespassing.
Public courses, he explains,
often have footpaths around the edge, there's usually a public park joining the course. If they catch you on the course, you're just asked to stay in the public park away from the course.
Millions of lost balls
American golfers lose more than 300 million golf balls a year, so it's not surprising there's a thriving market for recycled balls.
The Titleist Pro V1 is about $45 for a dozen balls, says Jeff.
If a golfer can get recycled Pro V1's for a couple of bucks, he's happy. Lots of the balls I find have been hit only once. They're in mint condition.
On a good day, the Pro V1 will make up to 20% of a day's haul. The rest will be cheaper Titleist balls, or Galloway, Nike, Noodles, Top Flite, Slazenger, Dunlop, Wilson, Precept, and Pinnacle.
I see a lot of Top Flite, Nike, and Pinnacle, says Jeff.
There's a market for them, but they're not my money balls.
Jeff moved so fast I was exhausted after an hour. His pace was just slower than a jog, which he he kept up for a solid two hours, working all 18 holes, the edge of the course, water hazards, bushes, and patches of woodland.
I was drenched in sweat and bitten by insects. My hands were scratched from thorns. I don't know how many miles we covered but my feet were aching. I picked 2 balls to every 10 that Jeff found.
A bad day, I'll find about 100 balls. A good day will give me up to 500 balls, Jeff explained.
If he finds so many he can't carry them all, he has a couple of lock boxes hidden on the course where he stores balls.
With me helping him, we carried 2,000 balls from the lock boxes to his car. It was backbreaking work!
During the summer months, he works one course from 4 till 5 a.m., another course from about 5.45 until 7.30 a.m., then he does an evening shift at a third course from 7 p.m. until it's dark.
He prefers to work the courses when there's no one about. He only works courses in the middle of the day if it's raining and no one's playing.
He has been a pro ball hawk for two years. He says,
It's hard physical work. If you're caught, your income collapses overnight, so you become good at making yourself invisible. When you're starting out, you find 30 or 40 balls everytime you sweep the course.
Then you learn each course. You know exactly where to look, you know places to avoid. You find places where balls always gather because bad players make the same mistakes day after day.
After a couple of months, you can find 100 balls a day on a busy course. Then you progress to 150 balls a day by looking where no one else looks. Some balls have been hidden for months.
Ball hawks might be hated, says Jeff,
but it's a serious job like any other job. If you work hard, you can make good money.
EMAIL US your second income ideas.