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July 2002 Vol. 28, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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They've Got Balls

from the July, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Diving for golf balls is big business, especially in Florida. But it surely has its hazards. After diver Daryl Drake surfaced in a Sarasota pond with with the hundreds of balls he had bagged, he was face-to-face with a seven-foot alligator. It tried to bite Drake, and all Drake could think of by way of defense was to jam the bag of balls into its mouth. He did, and it gave him enough time to get to shore safely.

Companies work out exclusive deals with golf courses, often paying for the rights to mine the ponds. In return, golf course operators chase away challengers. Southern Florida has logged five diver drownings in the last twelve years. Last January, Mark Feher, twenty-one, of Fort Lauderdale, and his brother, Akros, twentytwo, were diving at The Links at Boynton Beach. When Akros surfaced he couldn’t see his brother — he found his body an hour later. Akros was working for the East Coast Golf Ball Co. in Boca Raton. His family is suing the company, alleging it gave him malfunctioning scuba gear that caused him to drown.

Restored golf balls resell for as much as a dollar each. Divers working for companies get about ten cents a ball, and can retrieve as many as 4,000 a day from a good pond. Drake, who works for himself, says he retrieved 21,000 balls in two days from a Naples golf course. A couple of years ago, he harvested 90,000 balls in four days at Camp Lejeune, N.C., causing the pond’s water level to drop three feet. He has found wheelchairs, bicycles, cars, dope pipes, guns, and a goat’s head. At a course in North Miami, Drake found a living room set, so he arranged a couch, table, and chairs so he could sit and take a break.

Drake says he’s “grabbed everything there is to imagine — turtles, snakes, crabs.” He searches by feel, making his way along the pond bottom, kicking up sediment as he probes the mud. It doesn’t take long, he says, to learn the difference between a golf ball and the snout of a snapping turtle.

From reports by Michael Otter and Ethan Skolnick in The Miami Herald.

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