2002.08.07 Golf may not be as boring as it seems (but I doubt it)

Written by David Green.


I’m not a golfer. Except for miniature golf, I’ve never played in my entire life. So when an issue of Golf Magazine mysteriously appeared in my mailbox last week, I expected to find little of interest inside.

And there wasn’t much to catch my eye except an article on scorecard pencils. I suppose memories of using them back when I played mini golf made it the only article I could relate to, but it was quite interesting.

For example, the scorecard pencil industry has sales of approximately $16 million a year, with Ohio-based Panda Pencil, the industry’s largest company, manufacturing about 100 million pencils annually

According to Larry Krane, Panda’s co-owner, a regulation pencil can draw an unbroken line 35 miles long. But most golf pencils are used once, then thrown out, creating repeat business any company would envy.

Of course, repeat business is necessary when a box of 144 pencils costs a maximum of $5.89. That’s for the deluxe model with eraser. Panda’s average golf course customer buys 200 to 300 boxes a year.

I also found out that since 1971, the National Pencil Association has taken steps to ensure that pencils are safe to eat. I’m not sure if that applies to the deluxe model with ferrule (the metal part that attaches the eraser), but if chewing wood appeals to you, Panda produces enough sawdust daily to fill a dump truck.

Even though most of those hundred million golf pencils disappear, apparently forever, another niche in the golf economy devotes itself to the retrieval, reconditioning and resale of the estimated 300 million golf balls lost each year.

A New York Times article recently called the used golf ball business a $200 million dollar industry. Those involved range from youngsters wading into shallow ponds to professionals with air tanks and scuba gear who retrieve and sell up to a million of the estimated 300 million balls lost annually.

Two partners in the golf ball retrieval business interviewed by the Times clean the retrieved balls and sort them into 12 categories according to their condition and original retail price. Some will sell for $2 or more each, some for only a dime, most somewhere in between. The two retrieve balls at the most popular courses every ten days, so usually little cleaning is needed. One of their customers orders 180,000 balls twice yearly to be shipped to Finland.

The article says professional golf ball divers working full time can earn $50,000 to $70,000 annually By starting their own company in an attempt to cut out the middleman, the two Florida  divers interviewed hope to earn $100,000 each.

“Not everybody looks at a murky, slimy, alligator-infested pond filled with golf course pesticide and sees a business opportunity, but we do,”  said diver Greg Siwek.

Siwek lost a front tooth in one confrontation with an alligator. Snakes, eels, snapping turtles, crabs and catfish are other hazards to keep in mind while diving.

An even greater danger to the golf ball diver is drowning. Weighted down by equipment and golf balls, having little or no visibility and having various animals bump into you is a recipe for panic. Several ball divers have drowned in recent years in Florida alone.

Siwek and his partner, Jimmy Lantz, also find hundreds of golf clubs, including entire bags of clubs in their underwater expeditions. Some courses even have abandoned cars in their water hazards. Lantz compares the water hazards at courses around Miami to a parking lot.

Lantz and Siwek also find dozens of watches lost by golfers with too fast of a swing. Lantz reports they are often approached by golfers who offer rewards for their “lost” Rolex watch. The divers have never found a Rolex, however. Most retrieved watches are a Timex or Seiko. Golfers who really own a Rolex are probably smart enough to leave them at home.

While I found both of these articles interesting, I still have no great desire to go play a round of golf. However, I would advise golfers to save their scorecard pencils. You never know when you might need something to distract a hungry alligator.

    – Aug. 7, 2002 
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