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Diving for golf balls a good business

BY CLARK CAHILL | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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Hitting several balls into a course’s water hazards during a round of golf is enough to make anyone irate.

But former Iowa City resident Paul Lovelace loves nothing more than a pond laden with golf balls.

Lovelace has made a living diving for golf balls in various water hazards throughout the Midwest, selling them at a price cheaper than retail value.

Now known to many as Golf Ball Paul — also the name of his Kansas City business — Lovelace has been selling used golf balls for almost 20 years.

The Iowa City West High graduate got his start at Finkbine.

“I went to school in Houston for hard-hat diving off of oil rigs,” Lovelace said. “Once that business kind of dried up in early ’80s, I moved back to Iowa, and that’s how it all got started.”

At the time, Lovelace’s mother dated the owner of Ameche’s Pumpernickel restaurant in Coralville, who gave Lovelace a job at the eatery.

“All of the Iowa coaches would go there for lunch,” Lovelace said. “The golf pro at Finkbine knew I could dive and said he would pay me some money to get as many balls as I could out of the water hazard.”

Lovelace was promised 15 cents for every ball he could gather at the course’s 13th hole — the only hole at Finkbine with water. After two days of diving, Lovelace accumulated around 9,000 balls from the pond.

The successful two-day venture led Lovelace to a Waterloo golf pro who said he was looking for someone to buy used golf balls from once a month. Lemon was also able to provide Lovelace with around 15 more courses to dive.

“That is when I decided to go full-time,” Lovelace said. “It got to the point where I got so efficient that the courses didn’t want to buy the amount I was finding anymore, so I had to buy the balls from them myself.”

Golf Ball Paul’s has around six divers contracted who dive in approximately 200 different courses. Most divers pay around five to 10 cents per ball found, depending on the course.

Once balls are accumulated, they are cleaned and packaged according to its brand and wear and tear.
Golf Ball Paul’s sells a dozen used Titleist Pro V1s — which many consider the best brand of ball to play — for $24.95. The normal retail value is $49.95.

Lovelace said he sells out of his store, but much of his earnings come from selling the balls wholesale to European countries.

Currently Finkbine does not have anyone dive for balls, but other Iowa City courses use the service of divers and retrieval companies.

Pleasant Valley Golf Course has a server from Wisconsin dive for balls three or four times a year, said head golf pro Tom Hein.

While the goal is to find balls, Lovelace said there is a vast amount of other treasures that can be found in hazards.

“We used to have a display case in my store with some of the interesting things we have found,” Lovelace said. “Fishing poles, hockey pucks, watches, cell phones, car keys, and hundreds of golf clubs. And luckily to this point, there have been no bodies.”


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