Working Under Pressure: Golf Ball Divers

One man's shank is another man's gold mine

What if you could spend all of your workday on golf courses—diving? When golfers hit a ball into a water trap, most of them look at the offending obstacle, say something nasty and settle in to launch another little white ball.

"As a golf ball diver, when their misfire splashes down in a water trap, it's like a deposit into the bank account," said Forest W.S. Rothchild. "And it's a unique way to make money doing my favorite thing: diving."

Ok, so the water's neither clear like the Caribbean nor colorful like a coral wall off the Great Barrier Reef. It's a cold, nasty, dirty job, but someone's got to do it. For golf ball divers, a bad day of golf is a good day of work.

Golf ball divers dive about four days a week and on an average day collect approximately 4,000 golf balls. "One day I found 15,800 golf balls underwater," Rothchild said. "Golfers might hit more than 10,000 balls into a single water hazard each season. Judging by how many golf balls I skim from the murky depths of golf course water traps up and down the East Coast, there are some truly horrendous golfers out there."

Golf ball divers average an income of about seven to 12 cents for every ball, depending what type it is. With a diver's hauls averaging thousands of balls each day, golf ball divers can make about $100,000 a year diving to collect these errant little white balls.

It's actually pretty easy to become a golf ball diver: To get started you need at least an entry-level certification from one of the recognized certification agencies and active liability insurance. But being a golf ball diver is challenging. Divers must be comfortable "diving blind" without using a compass or lighting. Water conditions are generally poor, and golf ball divers spend long periods of time at depths of less than 30 feet. In the trades it's called "Braille diving," because you just feel around for the golf balls. The work is strenuous and includes moderate to heavy manual labor (divers must routinely lift and carry at least 65-pound bags of golf balls).

A golf ball diver must also be very detail-oriented, planning his diving schedules weeks, even months in advance, carefully coordinating his schedule with his area dive manager. This job often requires a lot of travel, so it can be a tough job for a person with a family.

As an independent contractor, a golf ball diver conducts his business during daylight hours, without damaging golf course property and with consideration of golfers; that doesn't always go both ways, though. "One time a golfer almost hit me with his club," Rothchild said. "He'd seen bubbles coming close to the shore and when I emerged from the water, he was poised to hit me with his nine iron. He thought I might be a gator or a giant snapping turtle; he certainly wasn't expecting the creature from the black lagoon."

An independent contractor also provides everything necessary in the way of tools of the trade, including all gear and the ability to securely transport and store heavy items. When the truck is filled with multiple bags, each storing about 15,000 balls, the diver coordinates shipping approval with his area dive manager. He brings the balls to a freight company where he "builds" pallets of balls and shrink-wraps and labels the pallets. "It's a lot of manual labor and it's taken me a while to learn how to do it all efficiently and cost-effectively," Rothchild said.

If you're looking for a way to subsidize your diving habit, golf ball diving might be for you. To learn more visit

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