Somehow in 1973, my college roommate,
Bill Stump, and I got to discussing the big money to be made in recovery of golf balls in golf course water hazards. We discussed how the recovery could be done and determined two methods were possible. One was by hand as one would in an Easter egg hunt, and the other was by an underwater air lifting dredge. We decided to try the Easter egg hunt method out at the golf course his dad belonged to in Georgetown, Texas.

Bill's dad having been a long time resident of Georgetown and a prominent attorney there, made an easy job of acquiring permission to go golf ball collecting in the stream that ran through the country club golf course. Since this stream was about 6-8 feet deep, we decided to snorkel with mesh bags and collect the balls.

The day arrived and we made the pilgrimage to the Georgetown Country Club golf course. We waded into the clear stream and began to swim slowly around and look for golf balls. Those balls that were lost most recently were easy to spot because of their bright white color on the brown bottom. Those that had been there a while got covered with a layer of silt and leaves. You would know there was a ball there because of the small brown lump on the bottom. In collecting these balls, you would feel other balls deeper in the silt as you would pick the intended target up. Sometimes we would just put our hands into the bottom and feel around for more balls. This stream had small fish and turtles that we could observe as we worked on our fun project.

We collected a few balls for our efforts, but the Easter egg hunt method seemed slow. Bill, being an aerospace engineer major, was sure that he could build a golf ball sucker that would do the job more efficiently than by hand and cover more under the bottom area. He started to work on the project and a date was set to test the golf ball sucker out.

At that time, in addition to being a college student, I was assistant manager at Scuba Point Travis [Lake Travis; Austin, Texas], a dive shop which had an indoor pool, located on Hwy. 2222. One Saturday afternoon, Bill and his girlfriend, Bonnie, came out to Scuba Point with the golf ball sucker. It was made of 4" pvc plumbing pipe about 6' long. On one end was a mouth of a large funnel glued to the pipe. A few inches above this was a smaller short tube that had been glued to the side. Into this tube was inserted a scuba tire inflation hose. This hose would then be connected to a dive tank and the air turned on. The air rising up the 6' plastic pipe would create lift and we could suck the mud and balls quickly up. On the top of the plastic pipe was tied a large diver's mesh bag. The idea here was to catch the balls and allow the mud to flow out into the water.

Well, the golf ball sucker looked great. We poured the balls we had collected in Georgetown into the deep end of the pool and I got in with scuba and our new fangled contraption to see just how this thing would work. It worked like a charm! The balls were quickly whisked up into the mesh bag. We had ourselves a winner! We decided to remove the attached funnel cone as it did not seem to be necessary. A date, place, and time were chosen for a future clandestine golf ball nabbing dive.

The day, sometime during the week when few people would be playing golf. The place,
Balcones Country Club golf course. The time, near dusk was selected for the clandestine assault on the water hazard. The commando diver driver, Bonnie in a sleek, stealth, huge red-orange four wheel drive Chevrolet Suburban, The Orange Armadillo.

At zero hour, The Orange Armadillo was cruising through the residential area of the golf course past the water hazard to scout out if there was any danger of being spotted. The water hazard, a small pond was not in view of any houses and at one end of the golf course. Great! The plan was to let the suited up commando divers out ; Bonnie would drive away for about 30 minutes and then come back and pick divers and golf ball booty up and drive off into the sunset.

Bill and I got out and put our tanks on and scampered (as quickly as two equipment laden divers could) from the truck out into the golf course with the golf ball sucker and air tank in tow. No one in sight. Good! We got our fin on and slid into the pond and worked our way to the deeper depth of maybe 10 feet. The bottom has about a foot of gooey silt on it. As soon as we had settled down, a cloud of billowing dark silt would engulf us. Visibility in the waning daylight went from dim to dark. Through my mask I was able to smell what seemed like the odor of raw sewage. How could this be? How could one smell with ones nose essentially covered? Then memories of grade school science class came back to me. Yes, that's right, taste and the sense of smell work together. Oh God! Did we mistake part of a sewage treatment facility for a water hazard? Not wanting to dwell on this thought, the dive continued.

The dive lights did us no good as the light back scatter was worse than no lights at all. Bill cranked the sucker's air tank on and the bottom whooshed up into the pipe. What goes up comes back down! The debris cloud descended back on our heads. Undaunted, work continued. However, this method was going to have to be altered as not only mud and golf balls were being sucked up, but also sticks and leaves. Soon the mesh bag attached to the top of the air dredge became filled with garbage and became too top heavy to handle. We had not thought of this. We emptied the bag out and one of us held the bag and the other operated the golf ball sucker. Now mud, sticks, leaves and golf balls would shoot up into the water above and float back down. The diver with the bag would come along behind groping in the darkness and pick the golf balls up like Easter egg hunting. Just by sticking your hands deep into the muck, one would find more balls. We just hoped when we used this groveling method, that we would only pull a golf ball out. We hated to think of what else we might pull out.

In time we realized that the hand hunting method was even better than the sucker. All the water pollution the sucker was creating was making our job even harder. After collecting quite a number of balls, somehow we determined that it was getting time for Bonnie to pick us up. So, two extremely slimy, mud-ball divers crawled out on the banks and tried to shake off excess real estate we had collected on the dive.

In the distance, I saw a lone golf cart bouncing along and it seemed to be coming our direction. Sure enough it was! We looked around. No Bonnie yet! The cart reached us and the man inside got out and said, " Howdy boys! " . This is the type of greeting that a Southern Sheriff gives just before he cuffs you and send you to jail. Then comes the logical hard to answer questions that we had to answer. Here is where your past college training in answering test questions when you had no knowledge of the subject really comes in handy!

First, admit no wrong doing. Second, say you had not idea that there was anything wrong. Third, there was no one around the pond to ask permission. Fourth, you meant no harm and certainly would not do this again knowing what you now know. Fifth, divert attention from ones self to the magnificent golf ball sucker that you had designed and did the man want to see how it worked. Go into plenty of design details. Wear the opponent down.

It appears that we were now talking to the Pro who ran the course golf shop. He told us to come back tomorrow and he would buy all the balls that we had collected and would ever collect in the future for five cents a ball. He bid us good night and said he would look forward to seeing us tomorrow morning. The Orange Armadillo arrived and Bonnie whisked us away into the night.

The idea of five cents a ball was a lower price than we had even thought about. Our conclusion was that one could make a better living in other ways than by collecting golf balls. We did not go to the Pro Shop the next morning. I think the golf course Pro had taught us a lesson in economics and trespassing that we had never intended to learn!

The Original Golf Ball Sucker!

Above is a picture of the original golf ball sucker. It was made from a 5 foot long piece of 4 inch diameter PVC plumbing pipe. A 90 degree plastic elbow was glued into a hole a few inches from one end of the 4 inch diameter PVC pipe. A tire inflator hose was attached directly to a scuba tank. This tire inflator air chuck on the end of the hose did not have the center button that one would see in a normal air chuck. This button had been removed and relied on the air pressure from the scuba tank to force down the valve in a tire stem when use to fill tires. Basically, this tire inflator hose was just a hose going directly to the scuba tank. It received the full pressure of the tank depending on how far open the tank valve was opened.

The tire inflator hose was taped inside the 90 degree plastic elbow with duct tape. The scuba tank valve was opened just enough so that a good suction was created in this dredge. Air floating up through the pipe to the surface creates the suction which lifts debris from the bottom of the pond. A diver equipment mesh bag of about 3 feet in length by 2 feet in diameter was tied onto the upper end of the PVC pipe. This mesh bag caught things lifted from the bottom.

The dredge action worked fine. The mesh bag would quickly fill with balls, sticks and leaves and then droop down the side of the PVC pipe. When this happens, the PVC pipe get clogged with whatever is trying to go up the pipe. We eventually took the mesh bag off and had the balls shoot up into the water above us. The balls would float back to the bottom where we picked them up. With all this going on, visibility was zero.

I would not say this design was very efficient. In an email below that I sent someone who asked a similar question, I suggested ways one could try to get the golf balls to the surface to be filtered out by some sort of basket. I have not tried any of the suggested designs below.

If you do come up with some sort of dredge, send me the details as I would be interested in what you work out.


Future Design Suggestions

You can see by my one time experimentation in golf ball recovery, I am no expert. My initial web page contained the story of the golf ball sucker and our encounter with the golf course pro. Over time, various individuals who were interested in the recovery of underwater golf balls wrote me asking how the golf ball sucker was designed and if I had any ideas on using a suction pump or some type of venturi design. These questions have occurred frequently enough that I now have included a drawing of the golf ball sucker on the web page plus these design ideas that others may want to pursue.

To begin your research on underwater golf ball recovery, I would try to contacting people that are in the golf ball recovery business and see if they will share their secrets with you. I bet they will if you are not located in the same area as where they operate.

Use a the search engine as Google.Com and such words as "golf ball recovery" to start your Internet research.

On my experimentation of using compressed rising air within a short pipe to create a lifting suction, it worked. If I were to continue experimenting along these lines, I would have the pvc pipe attached to a similar diameter large flexible extension hose that went toward the surface and terminate into a large mesh floating basket located just beneath the surface. This mesh material could be of similar size as chicken wire mesh which would catch the balls and let the debris float down. I am sure you would collect twigs and leaves also. The basket could be supported under the surface by floats attached to the top of the basket.

Concerning your idea of using some sort of pump, I can only suggest a couple of ideas which have no basis in my own practical experience. If you are planning to use the suction of a pump to lift the balls, then some type of basket, container or compartment would have to be designed so that the balls would "drop out" into a catching area before reaching the impellers of the pump. Whether a large sealed container with mesh preventing the balls from entering the pump would catch the balls but still pass the suction effect, I do not know.

The biggest problem in golf ball underwater recovery is keeping the balls and letting the debris flow on through. Recovery of underwater golf balls is similar to panning for gold. At the end of the process, you want the gold, in our case the golf balls, to remain and everything else removed.

Another idea using some type of water pump would be to pump the discharged water down a tube and have it enter near the mouth of the dredge pipe. Maybe an inverted plumbing "Y" connection could be used to redirect the water flow back up toward the surface. This might create a suction effect lifting the golf balls. The force of the lifting action would be determined by the size of water pump used and the depth of the water the golf balls were located. I would then use a floating basket just under the surface to catch the balls. Again, this is only a thought with no practical experience backing it up.

The above are just some ideas that in reality may not work. Talking to those already in the business will probably get the most reliable results.

If you pursue this and find some method that works well underwater, I would be interested in hearing about the method you find that works the best.

Good luck in your research!


Golf Ball Filter Concept

Fourteen year old Eric Myers sent in a concept design for a golf ball filter shown below to seperate golf balls from the dreged sediment material. His concept design is not drawn to scale nor does it show the actual dredge mechanism itself. This idea is untested but shows the first steps in problem solving for coming up with a solution for a new engineering design. Some flaws as to why something will or will not work may be apparent at first. Eventually, any design has to be field tested and tweaked to come up with a workable design.

Design Concept by Eric Myers - December 2003


Further Reading Suggestions

Golf Ball Recovery Business

Tales of Golf Ball Recovery

Golf Ball Recovery Equipment

Underwater Golf Ball Recovery

Golf Ball Diving Dangers

Underwater Rollers

Recovery Resale Arrangements

Diving for Dollars

More Info-Rollers

 Golf Ball Diver Course

Operation Golfball

October 16. 1949 

Golf Course & Range Equipment

Froggie's Used Golf Balls

Diving is Deadly Dangerous


Who Really Owns a Lost Golf Ball?

Golf-ball diver jailed in England


Great White Golf Ball Company

Ruling overturned for

arrested golf-ball diver



Watch Out for Alligators


Seatasea Golf Ball Diver

The Murky World of Golf Ball Divers


Extra Golf Course Income

Golf Ball Diver


Hidden Treasures


Underwater Dredges

Water Pumps

Diving Equipment Dredges

Construction Water Pumps

Industrial Dredges

All Kinds of Water Pumps

Gold Dredge Manafacturer


Gold Dredge Supplier


Mudcat History


Mudcat FAQ


Principal of Dredging Operations


Flipping Gold Dredge Over


Drop Paul a Note!

University Scuba Club - The Early Years

© Copyright - 1998 - Paul Johnston