7: The Thrill of the Hunt

7: The Thrill of the Hunt

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

The Thrill of the Hunt

If there is any larceny in a man, golf will bring it out.

~Paul Gallico

Finding golf balls is like an adult Easter egg hunt. I relish that juvenile “Hey, cool!” moment of excitement even as I race toward eligibility as a senior golfer. Besides, no one can have too many golf balls. Honestly, the richest I’ve ever felt was the time I bought a gross of balls. It was heaven. Just grab a couple of sleeves of those glaringly white jewels and head for the links. Once, I poured them all on the carpet and batted them around like a cat with a toy mouse. I would grab them by the handful just to feel the heavy, sensuous pleasure of them tumbling through my fingers like overgrown drops of water. Sadly, they vanished all too quickly.

Hey, look, it was my own fault. If I had spent more time practicing with the range rocks, the pretty ones would have lasted longer. Sure, the feeling of a new sleeve is nice, but nothing approached the joy of having a whole gross. A dozen dozen! It was wealth of truly biblical proportion: “Thou shalt have pristine alabaster orbs of the finest balata and their number shall be without end” (Book of Arnold, Chapter 4, Verse 72).

It’s always a treat to find balls. You’re out on the course and not having the best day. You carve another high one that clears the right-hand tree line and drops precariously close to OB. You trudge into the woods hoping it’s not lost and that by some miracle you’ll have a shot. Hmm, let’s see, if I can just punch-slap a little knee-high fade around that pine. Well, you know what I mean. Suddenly, you stumble across a stray ball and feel a little better. It’s sort of like the golf gods have taken pity and are offering up some compensation.

Yeah, like they really care. These are the same golf gods that have left your match-clinching putts hanging on the lip against your loudmouth brother-in-law. “Nice lag, Tarzan.” Or remember the time they let him snap-hook a 4-iron over water, off a rock and on the green for a tap-in deuce while you pure a 6-iron long into the back bunker? Sympathy is not their strong suit. Besides, if you didn’t like abuse, you wouldn’t play this game. I’m surprised it is not mentioned more often in the personals column of those freebie classifieds. “Wanted: Submissive male in need of discipline and swing advice. Please call Mistress Flog.”

So like any good supplicant, you shamelessly pick the ball up and stuff it in your bag. Trying to save face, you say, “Here’s one for the shag bag.” Shag bag, right. Like anyone is going to believe that you: a) practice, or b) pick them up yourself. Still no one calls you on it because they’ve told the same lie. You’re like conspiratorial winos in an alley patiently listening to one another swear they’re going to quit drinking and straighten up. The truth is, this little nugget will come in handy. Sometime soon, you’ll drown one too many of those precious surlyn pellets fresh out of the box and start reaching for the oldies. You’re just going to lose them anyway. Why waste the good ones?

Finding golf balls recently took on a whole new meaning. I was visiting a friend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He lives near a course. (Okay, everybody in Myrtle Beach lives near a course.) We were out for an evening stroll with Rover and, lo and behold, there it was: A sparkling white, slightly used, top-of-the-line ball in the right rough, about 220 yards from the first tee. What a find! Have you priced these things lately? Fifty-four bucks a dozen if you can get them! A little quick math says that’s $4.50 a ball minus depreciation, which in this case was probably one swing.

“You want this?” I said.

“Naw, you take it,” my friend said. “I’ve got a garage full of them.”

I doubted he knew exactly which ball I’d found, but took it anyway. Walking on, we found more. Not all the same type, but mostly high-end balls with few battle scars. I was excited. I was hooked. Wouldn’t you be if you just found $5 bills lying around? It was like a golfer’s Elysian Fields. I wanted more. “This is great!” I said, “I wish I could do this at home.”

He said, “You probably can. Not as much competition back in Charlotte. We’ve got to get out early down here before the retirees get ‘em all.”

He was right. How many other people living in an upscale golf community would spend (or waste) time looking for balls? “Pardon me, Barfield, that’s not a used ball you’re playing, is it?” I needed a cover. I needed a disguise. I needed a plan. So I stunned my wife by announcing, “Honey, I need more exercise. I think I’ll start taking a walk in the evenings.”

I waited until Monday. The course was closed so I wouldn’t be running into any late-afternoon golfers. Besides, with a full weekend’s play just finished, the woods should be teeming with dimpled fruit ready for picking.

I put on a hat and sprayed myself with bug repellent to ward off ticks and mosquitoes. I wore long shorts and high socks to minimize poison ivy exposure. I grabbed a 6-iron—ostensibly to ward off angry dogs, but perfect for swatting snakes—stuffed a plastic bag in my shorts and headed out.

Moving briskly, I planned as I went. I would have rules. No traipsing around in the neighbors’ backyards. They paid big bucks for a course lot and deserved any stray balls on their property—yuppie mineral rights. Lakes were off limits; even I can’t bring myself to buy a ball retriever, and it would blow my cover.

I would have to be selective. Unsold lots were fair game, but the prime hunting ground was the right side of hilly holes. You’ve got to go where slicers lose balls and fear to tread, and be willing to put up with a few hazards like Lyme disease, venomous serpents and twisted ankles.

The plan worked like a charm. My friend was right; I had no competition. I came home with ten balls. The next morning, I lovingly washed and sorted them: Shags, Kids, Everyday and Tournament. It was like Christmas. The next day was better still; my hunting skills had improved.

I have continued “walking” and have never come up empty. Several times, I’ve found two dozen balls. Not always perfect, but eminently playable. Many are only one bad swing and a little mud removed from the pro shop. For a guy who gave up golf gloves as an economy measure, this was a windfall. That feeling of extravagant but imitation wealth is back. I gladly suffer the opulent burden of choice. “Which of the $50-a-dozen balls shall I play today?”

I even make better grillroom conversation. “That brand is soft, but I prefer the lower spin of this one off the driver,” I might muse. “Still, nothing beats this third one for holding its line on putts.” I’ve become a golf ball connoisseur.

My buddies envy the luxury of playing different balls. They wonder if their own games are refined enough to discern such subtle differences. They marvel at my fearless calm as I execute lengthy carries from precarious lies without the temptation to reach for a water ball. My waist-line is thinner, my wallet is thicker, and both my cholesterol and scores are lower. Life is good.

Now if I could just figure out where everyone is tossing those new drivers.

~Henry Lawrence
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, The 2nd Round

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