By Luke Robinson
“Just imagine it’s a pond full of dimes!”
That’s what my father told me one late February morning as I waded through a murky, muddy water hazard at Willow Point Golf Club. One not-too-cold-but-cold-enough-
Why was I mired in the muck, you ask? Well, at the time, I had cut a deal with the local golf pro to search out and retrieve errant golf balls from the slushy mouth of the hazardous beast. A dime per ball seemed like a heck of a trade before I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and sloshed about in the stinky mush. By 6:55 a.m., I was thinking about calling an arbitrator.
Luckily, my father was there to give me support. Unfortunately, the support only came in the moral variety. In fact, just in case I accidentally sloshed a hint of mud in his direction, Dad literally did all of his supportin’ in a golf cart…from about 75 yards away…while eating a hot breakfast….and drinking a Bloody Mary.
But, hey—a dime retrieved from the bowels of a pond is a dime earned, right? So I laboriously waded on, stopping only to pick up a Titleist here or a Prostaff there. More often than not, I would step on a ball as I clomped. I’d feel them with my near-frostbitten toes and reach down to grab them. “There’s one!” I’d say. “Here’s another…And yet anoth—no wait…That’s a dead turtle. I won’t get a dime for that. I may get scabies or Ebola, but not a dime.”
By the time I had finished my harvest, I had raked in about 900 balls, if I remember correctly. Frankly, I could have found quadruple that if I hadn’t seen something poke its head up from the center of the pond like the trash monster in the first Star Wars. That moment sent me straight for solid land.
Those who didn’t grow up around Lake Martin may not understand why I’d work so hard for about 90 bucks. First of all, those were 1987 dollars. You know how many pairs of parachute pants a ten spot short of a hundred would get me?! Secondly, and most importantly, the hunt for golf balls in this area is like a truffle excursion in the south of France.
Of course, tackling a smelly aqua-pit like old No. 4 pond is not the most popular hunting locale. No, that title was (and is still) worn proudly by hole No. 13. The green from that tee box is quite possibly one of the most picturesque scenes in the South. The great thing about golf ball hunting on No. 13 is that it is all done in the soothing waters of Lake Martin. This hole is basically a cul-de-sac filled with Alabama’s prettiest lake.
Back in the day, entrepreneurial divers like myself would ride bikes or mopeds to the ball-rich area after golfing hours, or we would get our parents to boat us there. The best times to go were actually in the early morning hours, though. The lake would be calm and clear. I would pull the front of the boat while one of my parents scoured from the bow.
The best part about diving for golf balls in Lake Martin is that they could be resold at market value. Pond retrievals are numerous, but the dimpled treasures of Lake Martin brought in up to 10 times the dollar amount at resale. Of course, there was more competition to get the golf balls from No. 13, too. Sometimes, you may walk away without a single Slazenger to add to your inventory.
Regardless, times were usually pretty good in the golf ball hunting business around Willow Point. I would wager that back in the mid-1980s if my friends and I added our total golf ball stock at its height, we would have easily surpassed 10,000. I personally had an old dorm room refrigerator box with at least 4,000.
It was also cool to find those more interesting golf balls. Anyone can find a Titleist. We looked for those multi-colored units that were marketed towards women. They’d be half green/half yellow and all ugly, but they were unique. Besides, golfing and color combos haven’t always made sense anyway.
We also liked to find those illegal spheroids; the ones that were just slightly smaller than regulation. They would have names like “Prostuff” or “Mitleist.” We had to sell those out of the trunk of our cars or tucked into our raincoats while conducting business in a back alley.
Today, it is a little more difficult to accumulate such a vast collection. There are a lot more people on the lake and definitely a lot more ways to get to the various hunting grounds. Way back when, though, golf ball hunting was a learned skill that my friends and I had perfected. Unfortunately, if the economy doesn’t improve I may just be dusting off the old diving mask pretty soon!