The Golf Ball Kid
Scott Dickinson dives so golfers can Tee It Up . . . Again.
Dickinson, 26, began Tee It Up . . . Again as a sideline business after years of selling the golf balls he found by chance. "We used to live on the ninth fairway of a golf course. We used to go find them as kids and sell them," says Dickinson, who moved to Center Valley, Pennsylvania, from Florida when he was 12.
As a high school freshman, he got a part-time job as a maintenance worker, mowing lawns and being a "gopher" at Wedgewood Golf Course in nearby Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and continued his childhood hobby. "My demand got bigger than my supply--instead of asking for one or two balls, people started asking for a dozen of a certain type--so I started walking in the mud holes looking for them," he explains. He began packaging them and selling them for $4 a dozen. He became known around town as "the kid who sells golf balls."
Dickinson, now working full-time in the maintenance department, read an article about a man in Florida who turned retrieving golf balls from the bottoms of lakes and ponds into a big business. The story intrigued Dickinson enough to try it himself.
"I didn't have a diving certification. I didn't know anything about it," says Dickinson, who started diving for balls by simply holding his breath and going under, bringing up four or five at a time. He finally took a diving course and invested about $750 in used diving gear, including net pouches, which he uses to hold the balls he finds. "I think the first time I went out with the diving gear, I got 800 balls."
In 1995, Dickinson invested $4,500 in a 12-foot motorboat, which he now uses to tow a single roller to scrape the bottom of the lake to unearth the balls. He still dives, though, since some ponds are too small or shallow to use the boat. "I'm a fair-weather diver, but with the boat, I can go longer into the season," says Dickinson, who dives from April through September, but continues to retrieve balls as late as November using the boat.
Dickinson says he owes much of his success to his father, who helped him come up with the capital for his equipment. "He always encouraged me . . . even if my job seemed bizarre."
Dickinson currently pulls used golf balls out of ponds at nine different courses. He cleans, sorts and packages the balls at home, and has upped the price for a dozen in good condition to $6.50. By comparison, new ones can cost anywhere from $15 per dozen to as much as $50 per dozen.
Even when being in the water too long takes a toll on the golf balls, Dickinson can still turn them into cash by selling them in lots of 500 to 10,000, for up to 30 cents apiece.
Within the last year, Dickinson has managed to get his used golf balls, packaged with a business logo in plastic packages, into local sporting goods stores and golf shows. Marketing's not a big problem, since he's still working hard to keep up with demand.
His goal is to save enough money to eventually buy land and open his own driving range.
When he does, at least he'll know where to get the golf balls.
Based in Danielsville, Pennsylvania, Johanna S. Billings is a freelance writer and former competitive runner who believes golf courses are best used as sites for cross-country meets.