Saturday, January 19, 2019

The ball man

I had seen Stanley Smith on earlier morning walks around the orange groves of Avon Park, Florida. It seemed odd for him to be selling eggs in open containers from the bed of a pickup on a warm and sunny day.

I detoured from my route to meet him.

As I walked closer I saw that instead he was selling golf balls next to the orange grove across the road from one of Florida's ubiquitous golf courses.

The 77-year-old Lee, Florida native was offering a dozen gently used balls, maybe even fresh off the tee, at $6 a dozen. A 12-pack of the popular Titleists Pro V1 go for $40 at Dick's. Smith prominently featured packs of those favored dimpled globes.

His location was near a hole where anything but a straight, long drive will land, and dribble downhill into a marsh.

He said he's been in the salvaged ball business since 1984. He makes about $25 over five hours cooling his heels waiting for customers.

The buyers, mostly Northerners, appreciate the deal and the quality once they venture over to look at Smith's wares. They also know most balls are retrieved from snake-infested woods or swampy areas where gators patrol on the perimeter around courses.

"Northerners don't like snakes," Smith said with a grin. A minute later an errant drive bounced off the road and disappeared into the grove.

Smith has the calloused hands of someone familiar with manual labor. He used to do the dirty work of hunting the woods for balls but now buys them from a friend.

He gets a little chipping practice in while waiting for customers. He'll play a round in the late afternoon and off hours.

"I play when the prices go down," he said.


  1. Great feature -- and possible future career. You could sell for $5 a dozen.

  2. Good story - so glad to see that you are "blogging" again!