The dreaded sound of a cherished Pro V1 sinking to the bottom of the pond.  99% of the time, we don’t give it a second thought (unless you’re like me and immediately duff another into the water).  But, I’ve always wondered how those recycled balls make it into the store at a fraction of the cost.  It wasn’t until a late-night bourbon and Google search later I discovered it: the big business of golf ball divers.

Also referred to as the hunt for “white gold”, golf ball diving has surpassed a mere side hustle and evolved into a full-fledged business opportunity, for the right person or persons. 

The numbers behind this operation?  I hope you’re sitting down for this.  There are reports of golf ball divers raking in anywhere from $50,000 – $150,000+ a year.  That is not a typo.  $150k big smackers!  That’s a lot of cheddar from collecting errant water hazard shots.  Talk about capitalizing on catastrophe.  The overall operation is fairly straightforward: golfer hits ball into water, diver collects balls, cleans them up, and posts online (or in shop) for us to buy. 

While the idea of making that kind of dough sounds appealing, the logistics can actually be somewhat of a challenge for breaking into the golf ball diving biz.  

First, you must be SCUBA-certified.  I’ve personally never been SCUBA diving before, but I hear it can be a rigorous and dangerous process to get the card.  Not to mention, a lot of these divers have to carry hefty liability coverage, given the dangerous nature of SCUBA.

Second, a lot of golf courses contract with divers.  I’m sure they aren’t naïve to the fact there are night owls who are willing to sneak on the course in the dark looking to steal their thunder, but the overwhelming majority of courses prefer to contract this service out to companies like PG Retrieval and Golfballdivers (who’s motto is a pretty straightforward, “we dive for golf balls.”)

Third, there’s a TON of risks these divers take underwater to “secure the bag”.  The water hazards on a course were not created for your casual weekend diver in mind. Often the task involves diving blind with what seems like 0 visibility or the threat of a bite from a gator, turtle, or snake.   

Lastly, the amount of balls divers must collect to make a profit is astronomical.  I mean, these guys are pulling thousands of balls per pond (or said body of water) and you have to figure at least half of those water balls are either considered unworthy or just functionally unplayable, depending on how long they’ve been marinating underwater. And the kicker? A lot of courses require a per ball fee, anywhere between 5-10 cents/ball.

The opportunity is certainly out there for the right individual to make cold, hard, white cash.  All you really need is the SCUBA gear and certification, a couple ins to a few courses, a warehouse to store the thousands of balls, and a website.  In 2022, this is a relatively straightforward business.

When it comes down to it, purchasing recycled balls should not be frowned upon.  While a lot of golfers don’t mind dropping the $4+ a pop cost for new Pro V1s, the recycled balls are literally half the cost per dozen. Did I mention the average number of balls lost in the water per round hovers around 2?  That’s not counting balls flying into the woods!

Golf is an expensive game as it is, so when the opportunity arises to save a few bucks to allocate towards, let’s say swinging juice, the only question is why not?  

So, just remember the next time you hear a “splash”, there’s a golf ball diver that hears “cha-ching”.

Brian Price

Columbus, Ohio (O-H) native, Brian has consistently played championship or mediocre golf since a young age...depending on the day. He's learned to adapt his game to a lifelong "baseball-like" swing and will never sway on his stance that the club is always at fault, never the golfer. In addition to golf, Brian's passions include sipping bourbon (neat), rescuing dogs, smoking meats, and lifting heavy things.