If a golfer at a seaside course hits an errant shot into the water, he gets a penalty. But the ocean pays a bigger price.
That’s the conclusion of Alex Weber and Jack Johnston, high school students in Northern California who set out two years ago to dive for golf balls on the Pacific Coast next to the fabled Pebble Beach course.
They just passed the 50,000 mark, prompting Vice News to chronicle this tribute to young environmental crusaders.
“If you were playing golf on this beautiful golf course and looked out and saw the entire surface of the ocean covered in golf balls, people would be outraged,” Weber said. “But because these golf balls are on the bottom of the ocean and you can’t see them, we just don’t know about it.”
At courses with ponds, lakes and small water hazards, diving for golf balls – and then reselling them – is big business. But nobody seems to have thought much about the ocean.
“We’ve had decades of scientific researchers, recreational divers out off the coast, and no one has brought this to our attention,” said Dawn Mathes, a spokeswoman for Pebble Beach, which has vowed to help clean up their golfers’ mistakes and set an example for other coastal courses. “It’s really these two students who have discovered something, and we are really quite proud of them.”
The students sort their collection into categories that display the ocean’s effects. Recent recoveries are still usable. But the water corrodes the plastic, smoothes out the dimples and eventually cracks the ball open.
The micro plastics enter the food chain, while the thin rubber strands that make up the core of older balls looks just sea grass to a hungry crustacean or a manatee.
Golf balls, of course, are just a tiny part of the plastic pollution crisis. But the experience inspired Weber and Johnston to found The Plastic Pick-Up, an organization to promote awareness and action to protect the oceans.
Ultimately, they would like to see legislation requiring seaside courses to retrieve the balls that hit the blue instead of the green. In the meantime, Weber told Golf magazine, she’s particularly frustrated to find balls with names and company logos.
“I wish they would print their phone numbers instead,” she said. “So I could call these guys up and say, ‘Hey, man, that was a crappy shot you hit. Now come retrieve your ball.’ “