14 years ago, out-of-work thief Glenn Berger was struck by a crazy idea that would turn out to make him a millionaire. He decided to dive in lakes across the golf-course rich state of Florida, looking for lost golf balls. He now fishes out about 1.3 to 1.7 million balls a year, and claims to have amassed a fortune of about $15 million so far!
“I was partially unemployed and I was stealing golf balls out of a golf course lake where I lived and I realised that wasn’t the way to make money,” he said. So he started to sell the balls at a minimum of $1 each – a decision that has paid off handsomely over the years.
One of the reasons the balls fetch so much money is the risk that scouring golf course ponds involves. Berger faces loads of underwater dangers and challenges on a daily basis – he’s encountered tables, golf carts, lawn mowers, snakes, and the worst of all, alligators. He always makes sure to look carefully before leaping into a water hazard, but he still bumps into alligators sometimes. “One time I felt my arm in an alligator’s mouth,” he says. “I couldn’t see anything, but I almost flew out of the water. There was no blood, so I think the gator just mouthed me without biting down.”
Photo: Caters News video caption
“I really don’t like to talk about alligators but they happen and you learn how to deal with them,” he said. “Scuba diving is a dangerous sport as it is. People can usually see. I can’t see. So I have fish, snakes, turtles, and all those fun things running into me all the time.”
Berger isn’t the only full-time golf-ball diver in Florida – there are about 100 others in the state. They all pay a fee of about five cents a ball to work each golf course. Berger revealed that the most balls are retrieved from public courses, but Florida’s most elite golf resorts yield a decent number as well. TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, home to the PGA Tour headquarters, features a par-3 17th hole, nicknamed ‘the Island hole’. It sucks down about 100,000 balls a year.
According to a USA Today report, Berger’s claims of becoming a millionaire by diving for golf balls is entirely plausible. “The average golf course hosts about 30,000 18-hole rounds every year,” the report states. “Let’s make a very conservative estimate an average golfer will lose 1.5 balls to a water hazard every 18 holes. That would mean Berger would need exclusive rights once-a-year to retrieve all the golf balls from about 34 different course’s water hazards. If he does that, he’d hit his “between 1.3 and 1.7 million golf balls” figure. A bit of a stretch, but certainly doable.”