I happen to be a personal friend of one of the best golf ball hawks in mid-Minnesota. Ball-hawking is the art of finding lost golf balls on golf courses, and this guy I know (let’s call him Bob) is a master-hawker. Over the years, he has accumulated thousands of golf balls. He has never sold any but has given many away and still claims to have several thousand stored in large bins in his garage.
Recently, Bob sat down with this reporter and confided his “secrets” to finding balls on local courses. Bob told the reporter he originally was not going to divulge to the public his strategies for finding balls until he was diagnosed to be terminally ill, but now that he is in his 70s, he said he had all the balls he needed and was willing to share his secrets to success in his avocation.
First, he said one must pick the right time to head onto the course. Preferably, a good time to enter the course is when there are few golfers around so as not to disturb play. “No golfer wants to hear something strange rustling in the woods while getting ready to address his ball,” Bob said. So Bob usually picks Sunday evenings or early mornings just after sun-up to head on out to the course.
He also notes that days immediately following big tournaments or corporate outings are good times for finding balls since players, who were often given dozens of balls by their sponsor companies, jack them into the woods and seldom spend time trying to find them.
Thirdly, and maybe most important, is to pick the right kind of day, Bob said. By this, he implied that bright sunny days are the least productive, and the best conditions are overcast skies. “When overcast, the white ball just jumps out at you. They are so easily spotted in overcast conditions.” Bob claimed that people will find twice as many balls in overcast days as bright, sunny ones.
Another secret to finding balls is to explore areas of the course where no one has trod. “Find areas off the tee-boxes where a player might shank a ball into the woods or weeds and where you can see no one has entered. That is where you will most likely find the most balls,” Bob said.
Bob also recommended wearing ragged clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and long pants. He said that often one comes in contact with thick woods that could cause serious scrapes on arms, face and neck if one doesn’t have clothing that covers those areas. Also, it is good to wear long pants since there may be areas of poison ivy.
Spraying yourself with bug repellent is a good idea before heading into the jungle, and Bob found that carrying a stick or a five iron to help with balance and clearing brush as one trudges through woods is a good idea.
Asked to relay some special moments in his 60-year career in ball hawking (yes, he was finding balls on the banks of the Mississippi on the grounds of the St. Cloud Country Club when he was a pre-teen), Bob said: “I’ve seen my share of animals during my hunts, including ducks, pheasants, deer, foxes and even a bear.” He mentioned how grouse can scare the bee-jeebies out of a ball hawk since they wait until a hunter is going to step on them and then suddenly make a startling noise as they make their exit.
Bob said one time he came across a nest of duck eggs, and nestled between two eggs was a Niki golf ball that apparently the momma duck had spotted next to the nest and, thinking it was one of her eggs, pushed it into her nest.
Bob also recalled getting disoriented in the woods a couple of times to the point where he got lost and had a tough time finding his was back to the fairway.
And one time, last summer, while playing a high-priced, prestigious course in the Gull Lake area, Bob found 135 balls while playing an 18-hole round. “Generally, wealthy players play high-priced courses, and often times they don’t bother looking for their balls they hit in the brush,” Bob said.
And when Bob dies, where will all his balls go?
“My sons will come across them as they set up the estate sale and ask themselves just what the devil their old man was thinking, keeping all those balls,” Bob said. “They will, I’m sure, find a place for them in their garages or just give them away to local school golf programs. Or they may sell the entire lot for a buck.”
And Bob will most likely be looking down (or up) from wherever he is sent in the afterlife and be imploring to his kids, “Don’t give away all those good Titleists.”
Bob Statz is a Messenger staff writer.