Facts of the Job
Job Title: Golf Ball Diver
Average Pay: $50,000 – $100,000
Qualification/Experience Needed: Basic scuba/open water qualification, general diving experience preferable
Looking for action? Adventure? Sifting underwater through piles of dirt and broken glass for hours looking for tiny round balls? Then golf ball diver is the job for you!
Every year about one billion golf balls are produced, only to be hit into the yonder and never seen again. The yonder consists of anything ranging from down a rabbit hole to a particularly thorny bush. The bane of every golfer’s life however is the dreaded course water hazard. For golf ball divers however, that same water hazard represents the source of the 100 million-or-so golf balls that get recycled and resold every year, which is why diving to retrieve them has become a multi-million dollar industry over the past decade or so.
So what do golf ball divers actually do to reclaim these 100 million golf balls a year and make a living out of it then? The actual golf ball collecting part is as simple as putting on your scuba gear, making sure your oxygen tank is in working order and hopping into a water hazard at a golf course. An hour later, on average, a golf ball collector could emerge with a couple of bags containing anywhere between 500-2,000 golf balls, horrible, dirty, old golf balls. The bags usually end up weighing up to 30kg each, so it’s not going to be a walk in the park, or pond in this case. The bright side is that this hour of dark, muddy, wetness could earn you around $100.
The way those balls are turned into money is through a retrieval company or seller. If the diver works for a retrieval company, they’ll be paid on a ‘per ball’ basis and they in turn will sell those golf balls to a larger organisation which will sell them on to a wide variety of different outlets in bulk. If independent, the diver simply cuts out the middle man and sells directly to the larger organisation. On average, divers in the legitimate business will end up earning between 8 to 10 cents per ball, after the fees paid to the course. On the rare occasion a diver stumbles across a Titleist Pro V1 (the ‘Cadillac’ of golf balls), they can expect two dollars a ball; which is why it pays to golf ball dive in the Hamptons.
A typical independent diver will have private contracts with 10-20 golf courses to take care of their retrieving and recycling, visiting each on a rota from 7am till midday and bringing in around 3,000 balls a day.
Responsibilities and Duties
Along with the actual diving and collecting of the golf balls (whilst making sure to not damage any course property – a big no-no for divers), there’s a lot more that goes into the logistics and planning of the entire process.
A diver has to carefully plan their diving schedules up to months in advance in order to secure all the relevant contracts with the golf courses and ensure that they have made all the preparations necessary for the diver to go about their work. If they’re hired by a retrieval company they must coordinate with the area dive manager to avoid clashes with other divers or sweeping water hazards which have recently been done. In general, as divers will often have contracts with a number of courses, a lot of travel is required to move between them all in the allotted time. This can often mean a lot of time on the road or even whole weeks away from home. If independent, this also racks up costs in petrol and accommodation fees.
And that’s just getting to the courses and collecting the balls, following that you’ve got to store and transport them. This involves organising shipping approval; arranging drop-off times; storing the 15,000-odd balls in pallets; preparing, packaging and labelling them for distribution; and doing the whole thing as cost-effectively and as efficiently as possible.
Should you Become a Golf Ball Diver?
If this sounds right up your alley so far and you still want a slice of the golf ball pie – you want to get in on this big dollar deal, you might be thinking, what’s the catch? Well, it’s actually not too difficult to become a golf ball diver, an entry-level diving certificate will do the trick, being one however, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Veteran’s often see experienced divers, used to crystal clear, tropical waters of the Caribbean lasting 5 minutes out in the cold, dark, dangerous, muddy world of gold ball diving. In general, divers are diving almost completely blind, without the use of a compass or any underwater lighting, using only their hands to feel around the bottom of the water for golf balls. All the while they’ll be routinely dragging around an ever increasing sack of golf balls, usually up to 30kg in weight. On top of this, the high level of dirt and dangerous chemicals in the water also means that divers are checked into have regular tetanus shots.
It’s not just the water itself which is hazardous to your health, it’s what’s in it. Everything from poisonous snakes, to alligators, to broken glass to even fishing lines (which divers have been known to become caught up in and consequently drown), can be found in golf course lakes and ponds and cause some serious damage, even to the seasoned expert.
Then, there’s the Nighthawks, which isn’t an 80s glam metal band, but the name in the golf ball diving industry for poachers of the treasured ‘white gold’. Nighthawks bypass course fees by sneaking in in the dead of night and collecting balls in the cover of darkness. Some nights a hardworking Nighthawk could bring in up to 5,000 balls, and sell them for 20-25 cents each, keeping all the profit, tax-free. Some legit divers reckon that poachers could be costing them up to $30,000 a year. Poachers are now so common that those in the legit business have been forced to keep their cards extremely close to their chests, revealing as little information as possible about the amount of balls that any given course will yield. This way, Nighthawks are kept in the dark about the best courses to pay a late night visit.
The market as whole is down right now as well, even for the Nighthawks, times are getting tougher. Over a decade ago, just as the industry was on the rise, both the professionals and their poaching counterparts were seeing inordinate amounts of money from their sacks white gold. Now however, business is starting to dry up and prices are falling. Too many new people have entered the market after hearing how good it was, golf balls are cheaper than ever and after the economy crashed, there aren’t as many rich bankers and businessmen taking weekdays off for a round of golf.
Blimey, that’s all a bit daunting isn’t it? If, after all that, you still reckon golf ball diving is for you, then more power to you, grab yourself a diving certificate then head over to My Job Hub to see what we’ve got for you. If no one’s hiring, then go independent, be your own boss, follow your dreams, we believe in you!