Trials of the Florida lake man

A day in the life of a ball retriever

Bob Warters's picture
Tue, 19 Feb 2002

Norm Spahn collects golf balls for a living. Not the ones with fancy logos to be kept in a sad display cabinet in the spare room – he finds his at the bottom of Florida lakes.

His day at the office is usually spent under water in the murky depths of golf course lakes retrieving balls for the Davis Golf Ball Company, or any other relics for that matter, including a pick-up truck.

During the BellSouth Classic at TPC at Sugarloaf, last year, one of the officials parked his brand new Dodge Ram truck on a river bank to avoid blocking a service road but left it in reverse and it tumbled into the lake.

Norm gets a call and hours later is searching through the mud to find a secure place on the submerged truck to tie a tow line.

"That was a tough job," says Norm in his southern drawl, "because the frame of the truck was under two feet of mud. It was brand new with only 100 miles on the clock and it was trashed. But they couldn’t leave it there and no one else wanted to deal with those diving conditions."

Half his working life is spent in water you wouldn’t wash a hippo in. And every three months he’s in the crocodile-inhabited lakes at Sawgrass retrieving thousands of balls, especially around the island 17th green. He also mends submerged irrigation pipes.

At Deerfield Lakes in Jacksonville, he was even called in to speed up play.

One aging local citizen, nicknamed Soupy, regularly caused a hold up searching for balls, so Norm was commissioned to stick a cheeky sign on a pole in the middle of the lake, with the offender's name writ large to embarrass him into leaving the balls alone. It worked.

At Big Cypress Golf Club in Lakeland, the par-3 is a regular pit stop for golfers peering into the clear lake trying to retrieve balls nestling on the bottom.

The course owners feared someone might fall in so called in Norm to sweep the bottom. He not only found hundreds of balls but no less than 41 ball retrievers.

Another prize find was a new set of graphite-shafted Pings.

Tell us about your embarrassments with balls in the water. Ever fallen in, trying to retrieve one? We're game for a laugh on The Forum.



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