Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Black Market

"It's good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls...while they are still rolling."--Mark Twain

One time when I was 16, my grandfather had to drive me to golf team practice.  Before I got out of the car, he handed me a five dollar bill and said, "In case you get hungry."  So, I went in the pro shop, looked at the grill menu and bought a brand new sleeve of three golf balls.  On the first tee, I showed them off to all my buddies; then I lost them all on the front nine.

New golf balls were a rarity among my high school friends.  On the B team, we played with any balls we could find, mostly scuffed and waterlogged balls we'd find in the rough, far away from the fairways.  And since none of us were any good and we were regularly hitting out of the rough, we found lots of abandoned golf balls.  With my friends, it wasn't as easy as you got to keep the balls you found.

Like a lot of things in golf, there seemed to be an unwritten rule on the B team about who got to keep the balls. There were three rules which we had to follow:

1.  On the next tee, each player was supposed to announce any balls he'd discovered on the previous hole.  There were usually one or two each hole.

2. The most senior player on the team had first dibs on any balls, whether he'd found them or not.  He could simply claim them and they were his.  One year, we had one guy who would take every ball just because he could.  By the end of our nine holes, his bag must've carried 10 pounds of balls.

3.  If the most senior player didn't want them, they went on the black market. You could barter with teammates for your found balls, trade balls in the same way kids trade baseball cards, or just give them away to teammates who needed them.

A lot guys traded cheap cigarettes for golf balls: (I'll give you three GPCs for that shiny, sort of new-looking Titleist.)  One guy always carried mini Snickers bars in his golf bag, which he used to trade for balls.  Mostly, I chewed sunflower seeds which carry no black market golf ball trade value whatsoever.  Sometimes, the bartering went on for multiple holes until a deal was reached.  I mostly ended up with a bunch of beat up Top Flites.

Sometimes we'd make a bet for a ball. (If I beat you straight up on this par 3, you give me that ball with the Houston Oilers logo on it.)

These days, I mostly play with new balls, though not very expensive ones.  I still pick up balls here and there, but I'm spending less time these days in the rough where all the lost balls end up.  Though, next time we're on the course and one of my buddies stumbles on a nice one, I might just challenge him for it.


  1. You must have been a wuss to let upperclassmen steal golf balls you found. However, I think I've told you in person, "I play what I find." And I haven't played since we last played. When I finally convince you to move to the AVL, maybe I'll get back to it.

  2. Of course I was a wuss. I don't think that's ever been a question, really. Thanks for reading. Coming to you every Tuesday now. I've got enough posts scheduled to last till at least the end of January.

  3. What do you think you could get for the 12''x18'' bin full of golf balls in our garage?

    1. 2 turkey sandwiches, a half can of Skoal and a used golf glove.