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June 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Skip the Caribbean: Dive Your Nearest Golf Course

from the June, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Feel like using your scuba skills for something lucrative? Forget searching for treasure in sunken ships. Diving for golf balls is where the real money is. With an estimated 300 million of the wayward golf balls lost in the U.S. alone each year, serious money can be made from their recovery -- if you're willing to take the plunge. Imagine swimming in a milkshake of silt. Now add weeds, broken bottles and every type of critter from leeches, to water snakes, even crocodiles, and you've pretty much got the idea of the perils of golf-ball diving.

Sam Harrison, a golf-ball hunter based in London, England, says in the U.K., there's an average of 5,000 golf balls in every lake. Harrison, 22, has a day job as a banker, but he also co-founded the company Lake Ball Diving. "Say we're selling the balls we find at an average 75 cents," he recently told CNN. "That would give $3,700 per lake." He estimates that he could earn up to $150,000 a year.

In the U.S., Paul Lovelace, who has been diving for "white gold" over the past three decades, previously worked as a search-and-recovery diver on offshore oilrigs before founding Golf Ball Paul's in Kansas City, KS. Lovelace, 54, says the most prized catch of all is the Titleist Pro V1, which can retail for $2 per ball. However, there are significant costs before he hits the water, and golf courses charge divers between seven and 10 cents per ball they find.

Then there are the hazards. Once in the water, you're lucky to see more than a foot in front of you, and Lovelace has one piece of advice for new divers: "If you're grabbing stuff down there and it's not round -- don't pick it up! In the Midwest, we have snapping turtles, and they can take off fingers and hands and toes and other extremities if you're not careful."

It goes beyond just snapping turtles. Last year, Jacques van der Sandt, 29, was killed by a crocodile while retrieving golf balls from a national park in South Africa. Steve Martinez, 51, was bitten by an alligator while diving at a Florida country club. In the UK, Harrison has to face water snakes, but he worries more about the water itself. "On some courses, the lakes are more like sewers. In those stagnant pools, you can catch diseases, so you have to wear a head guard so nothing can get on you."

Harrison says he'd much rather be diving in the Red Sea. "I'd rather be seeing some picturesque fish than broken beer bottles. But overall, I enjoy it. And you never know when you might find a lake where you hit the jackpot."

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