After work beers with...The Golf ball guy
GOLF : This man has balls.
Simon Mansfield handles million of balls a year. That's a lot of balls.
He is the owner of Ace Golf Balls, a flourishing business that provides golfers everywhere a cheaper alternative to a new sleeve (or 3) every time they take to the fairways. The lake ball business is big; there are an estimated 3bn golf balls plunged into lakes around the world every year, many which have been hit only once. First tee heartbreak right there.
We spoke with Simon over post work beers...
Venue : The Outside Chance
Format : Pints
The Sporting Blog : To kick things off, tell us what a lake ball is.
Simon Mansfield : A lake ball is a golf ball that has been retrieved from a lake.
TSB : OK we asked for that one. Where do these millions of lake balls come from?
SM : A combination of retrieving them from UK lakes and importing them from the USA.
TSB : Is the USA your biggest source?
SM : The sheer number of golf courses in the US makes for a huge number of balls that get hit into lakes!
TSB : So there are people that dive lakes for you, what sort of numbers are we talking about each time they dive?
SM: I hear stories from the US of divers pulling 5,000 even 10,000 balls in a day but in the UK our divers will get around 2-3000 balls per course visit. They might go to each course once every 4-6 weeks.
TSB : What is the process for a guy diving a lake looking for balls? Is it nets, do they use machines? How does it work?
SM : A net tied to his waist that can hold around 500 balls but they pick almost entirely by hand, although some use their feet. There are treaders and divers; The treaders go in the waist height type of water and use their feet to scoop them up. Generally the divers are going around in zero visibility looking with their hands.
TSB : Is there a correlation between the quality of course and the quality of balls? How important is that?
SM : Very important. It's not so much the quality of the ball, but more importantly it is the brand of ball you tend to get used at the top end courses.
TSB: Do people ever request balls from specific courses?
SM : We wouldn't be able to do that but people often ask for specific numbers, or no numbers over 5, or only number 7's etc. People do ask for celebrity balls from time to time, I'm building quite the collection!
TSB : For most people that play or have played golf, there is one iconic golf ball; The Titelist Pro V1. Is that still the most popular golf ball?
SM: Absolutely. Always has been and probably always will be.
TSB : How much would I pay you for Pro V1's as opposed to buying new ones?
SM : We try and price it so that you pay around half the cost that you'd pay for new. So if you paid £40 for a dozen Pro V1's new, on our website a dozen Pearl Grade Pro V1's will be about £20.
TSB : How does the grading system work?
SM : Pearl Grades are as good as new, some might have pen marks or a logo. Grade A will have a small mark on it, Grade B will have slightly bigger mark and perhaps more pen and the Practice Grade is as you'd expect. We have a grading guide on the website.
TSB : What level do you have to get to before it makes a real or genuine difference playing with brand new balls over lake balls?
SM : Personally I play off 12 and I've never seen a real difference, but obviously I haven't used a lot of new balls! We say to people once you've tried the Lake Balls you'll never go back, because frankly our Pearl Grade balls are basically a brand new ball.
TSB : Is there likely to be a gap in the ball market left by Nike stopping their golf equipment business?
SM : In the UK the Nike Golf brand is not massive relatively speaking however we've always got a huge amount of Nike balls from the US so it will be interesting to see which brands fill that gap. I would imagine it will be a combination of them all but of course in the lake ball business these balls will continue to be recycled for some time before they disappear entirely.
TSB : Just signing off, how on earth did you get into this?
SM : Well being a player myself I asked the club pro where he got his lake balls, then researched where to get hold of them myself. I started doing it out of my garage. Having been a web designer before I'd always been looking for an e-commerce product to sell, and golf was my thing.
TSB : How often are you playing yourself now?
SM : I try and play once or twice a fortnight
TSB : Do you pay for your own balls?
SM : Of course not.
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