When we think about golf, we tend to think about a few things. A nice walk, being outside, exercise, maybe spending time with friends. If you’re critical of golf, you might think about the chemicals used in maintaining the grounds or the cost to play. Rarely, however, does anyone consider the environmental impact of the lost golf ball.
One of our team members saw a video from Vice News that summarized the problem, and the work of Alex Weber. She’s collected more than 50,000 golf balls from the ocean around Pebble Beach golf course, in various stages of decay.
Estimates for golf ball decomposition range from 100 to 1000 years, but many of the balls she’s collected show significant loss of material – primarily plastic. When you consider the loss of plastic over the scale of the golf ball problem, with estimates for lost balls at 300 million in the US every year, you can see the scope.
Golf balls are made of several materials, and different balls are made differently. The common denominators among them, though, are plastic. Every ball, while it represents tremendous technological and scientific development, also represents a problem that has mostly been ignored. And all of this in an industry that, in total, claims nearly $200 billion a year in economic impact in the United States.
Originally, golf balls were made of far more sustainable materials – compressed goose feathers with a leather cover. Over time, the research and development that went into perfecting the golf ball became substantial, today leaving us with the dimpled surface (for reduced drag) and highly-scientific chemical makeup of the core. These balls are engineered incredibly well, but without any mind towards the environment.
Once in the water, golf balls start to break down from the salt and friction of the moving water. In time, they release plastic particles into the water that accumulate in plants and animals. Ultimately, much of this plastic moves up the food chain and becomes part of our dinner.
While all lost golf balls don’t end up in the ocean, many golf courses do sit along the water. Playing golf along the ocean has strong appeal, with beautiful views that command a premium from those who play. Every one of those missed shots into the deep has consequences, and it’s nice to see someone advocating for change.
Alex Weber is pushing for legislation that would require golf courses to collect their lost golf balls which, while far from easy, would go a long way to reducing the problem. When we consider the scope of the ocean-plastic problem, there are few sources we can easily isolate and concretely correct. The golf ball problem is one of those few.