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The insanity of searching for lost golf balls

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

What is it about losing a golf ball that makes us do insane things like risking life and limb to slide down slippery hillsides, wading into highly suspect water to retrieve them, or trespassing in an area clearly marked "Beware of snakes"? It makes no sense ... unless the ball happens to be yours.

Lost Golf Balls
Yes, we lost golf ball addicts will go to great lengths to retrieve lost balls.
Lost Golf Balls

Recently I was playing with a lady who had bought into Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer's "Stack & Tilt" method. Problem was, she had just bought into it and was stacking when she should have been tilting, or maybe it was the other way around.

Whatever, it wasn't working.

Her balls were going everywhere, missing fairways bordered by drop offs into creek beds and wild, knee-deep rough. It didn't seem to wrinkle an eyebrow, though. Carrying her bag, she went after every one of them, the top of her wide-brimmed straw hat bobbing up and down in the grasses like a bird on the edge of a glass. Then she'd pop back up onto the fairway, drop a ball and, bam, back into the weeds.

We didn't see much of her until she had to pay up for a round of drinks at the bar. Another golfer, a high-maintenance type who you just know must have buckets of balls in the back of her Hummer cannot give it up. Especially if it's a pink ball.

Her caddie is already a neurotic mess, the result of years of trying to track this lady's erratic hits. One day, this rock star was playing on a very tough golf course in Scottsdale when her drive ran out of fairway and plunged down a steep incline into an arroyo.

Never mind the cactus and dicey stone-strewn bank, for her, the desert rule didn't exist.

Using a club as a hiking stick, she picked her way down to the bottom where she poked around collecting a handful of balls. On the way up, she slipped, jammed her club into the ground to steady herself, bent the shaft, stumbled and broke her wrist. Not her best day.

Then there was Megan. I was playing with her the time she saw her ball go into a brook edged by shrubs and poison ivy. Covering the carpet of shinny leaves with her towel, she took off her shoes, walked gingerly onto the towel to the edge of the creek and retrieved her ball, which was wedged between a rock and a hard place.

A few days later, she had to go to the doctor for a prednisone shot. The itchy, ugly rash was all over her hands and face. Silly girl, poison ivy is a sneaky culprit.

Golfers look and look in the most inhospitable territory where only an intervention from God could help them find their ball. Where are the time police when you need them?

Hello. Rule #27-1 says you can only look for your ball for five minutes.

Some companies have set out to help you. RadarGolf has imbedded a little chip into its golf ball. For just $199.95 (www.radargolf.com), you get a RadarGolf Handheld device and case, one dozen RadarGolf Balls (embedded with RF microchips about the size of a gnat) and other stuff.

Shank a ball into the woods, and RadarGolf's technology kicks in allowing your Handheld to "communicate" with your ball. The closer you get, the louder and faster it beeps. Terrifying.

Then there's Visiball's windshield-sized, dark blue, plastic, wrap-around glasses. Besides making you look like a Darth Vader wanna-be, with these puppies, you can visually sweep across a cobalt landscape and find your ball, unless it's hiding under a leaf or rock or lost in a sea of dandelion fluff. Dazzling. (About $50 to $70; www.visiball.com)

Okay, I admit it, I have been known to go after a ball or two, especially if I'm down to my last one like the time I was in Wales. Having learned the hard way about the price of new balls on the other side of the pond, it didn't matter.

If it was under a gorse bush or smack into a cliff, I'd crawl under the brambles or tramp up the snarley hill even if I have to do it with crampons (especially if it's was a new Pro V1).

And I would risk disfigurement for a "featherie." I'd probably be playing somewhere old, like in Scotland. In 1743, Thomas Mathison described the featherie, seen at the time as an improvement over the wooden ball, which had been used forever by the likes of golfers like King Henry VIII and Mary Queen of Scots, the daughter of James IV. She, by the way, was criticized in 1567 for hitting the links just a day or two after the murder of her husband. (Yes, women played even then.)

Mathison wrote:
(he) with matchless art
Shapes the firm hide, connecting every part
Then in a socket sets the well-stitched void
And thro' the eyelet drives the downy tide;
Crowds urging crowds the forceful brogue impels.
The feathers harden, and the leather swells.

I'd even go out on a limb (literally) for a "Guttie" (Gutta Percha) ball. Introduced in the 19th century, these balls were made from the rubbery sap of the Gutta tree, their surfaces marked with different patterns like raised spherical bumps.

Today, an antique Guttie in good condition with a dimpled pattern can be worth more than $500. Hey, that would buy a round of golf at Pebble Beach.

Golfers have broken bones, sprained wrists and ankles, muddied up their shoes and clothes and lost their dignity.

Take my friend Noelle who took one too many steps on the edge of a pond and sunk into the mud almost up to her knee. The last thing she saw before she toppled face first into the mud was the sign "Stay out. Soft ground."

Perhaps there should be a "Lost Ball's Anonymous" to help poor souls who simply cannot let go. I confess, "My name is ... and I'm a lost ball addict."

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • lost golf balls

    oneunder wrote on: May 11, 2009

    Save the golf ball hunting for the ball hawks.


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