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Golf Today > Equipment > Lakeballs

Q: When is a lost ball not a lost ball?
A: When it's a lakeball!

You lost a ball today? Me too. But we weren't alone. 5,499,998 other balls parted company with their owners across the globe in the last 24 hours, according to industry estimates.

The 17th green on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass - home of the Players Championship
The 17th at TPC Sawgrass - a watery grave
for over 15,000 golf balls a year

In one year, that adds up to around two billion golf balls - enough, if you laid all those sleeves of three end-to-end, to go six and a half times around the equator, or two-thirds of the way from the Earth to the Moon!

Put another way, at 1.62 oz or 45 grammes a time in weight, that's about 90,000 metric tonnes of golf balls, the equivalent of over 11,000 London double-decker buses!

If you watched the recent Players' Championship at TPC Sawgrass, you will have seen some of the world's finest golfers dump a ball or two in the lake around the infamous 17th's island green. Indeed, that lake is believed to be the world's greediest consumer of golf balls, swallowing more than 40 a day on average, 15,000 every year!

Nike Platinum lakeballs
Pearl Grade Nike One Platinum lakeballs - who knows, one of these may have been Tiger's?

For reasons that no doubt have something to do with the style of many American courses, where water is often the preferred hazard, rather than the deep rough we get in the UK, our transatlantic fellow golfers lose around three times as many balls as we do - about 30 per golfer in the US, or 900 million a year, compared to just 10 in the UK, or about 30 million a year. (If you're thinking, like me, "I wish I only lost ten a year", then it must mean that some of us are much straighter, or look for them a lot more carefully, than we do!)

Of course, many of those missing golf balls are brand new, or near enough, because we all know that the hardest thing in the world to lose is an old golf ball.....

So what ever happens to them all? Do they slowly rot away, unwinding their milliions of miles of elastic and oozing their liquid cores into the environment? Fortunately not. Vast numbers are recovered, many legally, some illegally, and sold back into the market as 'lakeballs'. But choose carefully, and one man's loss can become your gain.

Scavenging for golf balls, where amateurs use rakes or wire baskets to dredge balls from the water at their local course, is illegal; lost balls are the property of the club whose course they are lost on. Often done at night, scavenging can also be very dangerous if you fall in, and is certainly harmful to the plant and animal life that live in our ponds and lakes.

Professional ball recovery, done with permission and under contract to the golf courses by specialist retrieval contractors who employ trained divers, is another affair altogether. Diving schools now exist in the US with "golf ball diving" courses. But that's not to say that it's entirely safe for the professionals either. Many lakes in the southern US, for example, are home to large numbers of alligators and snakes, who take less than kindly to the invasion of their territory!

The quantities involved make golf ball recovery a lucrative business, but there is benefit all round. It offers legal employment to the contractors who dive and the companies who clean, sort and ship the balls, provides a revenue stream to golf clubs, and an opportunity to buy "as new" golf balls for a fraction of the regular price to hard-pressed golfers. It also efficiently recycles a large number of the balls lost every year, saving raw materials, energy and potential long-term environmental damage.

Titleist Pro V1 Srixon
Pearl Grade Titleist Pro V1s - many of them have only been hit once or twice, and were merely cleaned and polished for Lakeballs.com
Srixon balls, graded 'A' by Lakeballs.com. Almost perfect, with very minor signs of play, these represent fantastic value for money!

Recovered balls must first be cleaned, removing any grass stains, mud and algae, but also those felt-tipped identifying dots, crosses and other marks we now tend to put on our balls. They are then graded by quality according to their degree of newness or wear and tear, discarding cut, split or damaged ones, and usually sorted by brand.

Some balls - usually those in less than pristine condition - will be "refurbished" or "refinished", which involves removing part of the original cover or coating and repainting them for a better appearance, including respraying the manufacturer's name or logo on the ball. Balls that have undergone this process should be sold as such, and are generally cheaper than balls which were close to perfect when found and are merely cleaned and repolished.

Assorted, branded practice balls
A mixed bag of practice balls

Different lakeball sellers have different grading policies, but the terminology is fairly standard: 'Pearl' for balls which are almost as good as new, and will often only have been hit once or twice; grades A and B, and then bulk, or 'Practice' balls, which have usually seen a fair amount of use, but are perfectly good enough for the range and very cheap.

With the most abundant supplies of lakeballs coming from the US, prices inevitably fluctuate somewhat depending on the dollar/pound exchange rate, but it's hard to beat a good lakeball for sheer value for money.

At Lakeballs.com, Europe's leading golf ball reclamation company, who buy only from authorised retrievers, the grading policy is very strict:

  • 'Pearl' are unmarked balls, 'as new' and ideal for competitive play. Usually priced between £1.00 and £1.50 a ball, according to brand.
  • Grade A have narrowly failed as a Pearl ball, however will still be in excellent condition and will have only minor signs of previous play. These balls are suitable for the low handicapper to beginner and for competitive or recreational play, and are perhaps the best value for money, with top-end balls selling at around the £1.00 mark.
  • Grade B balls have either marks, blemishes, colour fading or a combination of these but are fine for recreational play. At prices of around 15-25p a ball, depending on brand, you can hardly go wrong!
  • Practice grade are balls that have seen some action and include x-outs and refinished balls, but are ideal for work on the range. Buy these in bulk with a few friends, and you can get them for little more than 10p a ball.

If you're looking for bargain golf balls, you're certain to find what you want from their huge range, whether you need just a dozen, or 5000! To check them out, visit www.lakeballs.com.

May 2009


Picture credits: TPC Sawgrass courtesy of Golfbreaks.com - Golf balls courtesy of Lakeballs.com

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