Industry experts estimate that 1.5 billion golf balls will be lost this year. Given time, Harris Prevost probably could find most of them. If he's not the best there is at finding golf balls, he's on the first team.
Fifty-six years ago, Prevost bought a golf ball, a Maxfli. Paid 90 cents for it. He regrets it to this day.
He already had some golf balls but he fell for the new one. He never hit it. He promptly sold it for 85 cents. Had he not bought it, he could say he's never bought one in all those years of playing the game. It's a matter of pride with him.
Prevost, 65, vice-president of Grandfather Mountain, makes a hobby of hunting balls. Twice he and son Tom, 17, have found over 100 balls in a day and he said they could do that regularly if they tried.
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Prevost is an excellent golfer, carrying a five handicap. He doesn't hit many shots into trouble but he knows where trouble lies and that's one of his keys to finding balls.
"I used to go out in the late afternoon and play and I'd hunt along the way," he said. "There were some places where I knew there would be balls. I'd dip into my favorite places and come out with ten or 15 balls.
"I was giving them away, or if I found one that had some identification on it, I'd return it.
"Then it became something the kids (Tom and Hillary) enjoyed. Hillary doesn't go hunting anymore but Tom and I go and, after I cherry-pick the best of them, we put them up for sale at a little produce place called Maw's between Boone and Grandfather Mountain. Tom will make about $400 in a summer."
The hardest ball to find is your own, Prevost said, like he's telling us something we don't know. You should pinpoint where it went into the trouble, he said, but golf being golf, we're so upset with hitting a bad shot we don't pay attention.
Here are some suggestions from the master ballhawker:
Expect to find a ball in every place you look. It makes you concentrate, which is critical. Look sharply and scan many different places from different angles, never spending more than a second or two on any spot.
If you find a ball, chances are there's another one close by. That's true more often than not.
If there's trouble off the first tee, search there. Lots of players have problems with their first tee shot of the day and usually won't search very long because they don't want to hold up play on the first hole. And the balls you find there are usually new.
Down the left side of the rough, concentrate close to the fairway and tee because balls lost there were either hooked or heeled and traveling low. On the right side, go deeper because slices usually come in on a higher trajectory.
If there are bushes, if you can get to the side away from the fairway, do it. Vegetation grows toward the sunlight, so leaves might obstruct your view from the outside. (Always take care to avoid critters.)
Look in the rough that borders water hazards. Golfers often assume their ball went into the water when, in fact, it's in the rough.
"Hunting balls is fun," said Prevost. "It's good exercise. It gets you outside.
And if, as in my case, it's a father-son thing, it's a great way to bond."