Finding balls has always been the strongest part of my otherwise rather fragile game – my skills have been honed and sharpened by years of staring at undergrowth and rummaging through bushes. It’s the only aspect of the game I feel I’ve genuinely mastered.
Perversely, this talent has often proved my undoing, and my matchplay record would certainly have been very much better had I not so frequently found an opponent’s ball. Even when all-square going down the last, I simply can’t resist the challenge of looking for a ball and am genuinely delighted when I find it, even if in so doing I self-inflict a defeat.
A combination of this ability and the fact that everyone who gives me birthday or Christmas presents invariably chooses golf balls ensures I have enough to stock a medium-sized driving range. Despite this, I can never abandon a ball without a thorough search and am always delighted to receive a sleeve of new ones.
It also explains why, despite being rather skeptical as to its effectiveness and wary of the ghastly spelling, I was extremely interested when sent details of the Nite-Hawk, an electronic device the manufacturer’s claim locates lost balls by “emitting short-wave light making normal golf balls illuminate in a miraculous way.”
And so late one Saturday night when most sensible people were either down the pub or watching ‘Match of the Day’, I went to Dale Hill to test it. Despite deciding against a Balaclava, I nevertheless felt distinctly criminal as I slipped my black Mondeo into the quietest corner of the car park. With my Nite-Hawk torch in one hand and a Sainsbury’s plastic shopping bag in the other, I sneaked noiselessly past the first tee and headed for the rough.
When safely out of sight of the clubhouse, I noted the time and turned on the torch, which emitted a curious blue light. The effect reminded me of the dodgy nightclubs I visited in my youth where the ultra-violet lighting would highlight anything white in an otherwise black room thereby fatally damaging the chances of anyone with dandruff and a dark jacket pulling a member of the opposite sex.
After about 75 yards, standing out like a full moon in the night sky, was my first find, a Srixon. I plopped it into the bag and moved on. After picking up another couple of decent balls, I crossed the 18th fairway and headed for the woods on the right of the 17th, a popular spot with those whose lives are blighted by a slice. Suddenly, small constellations of stars were winking at me and my pulse quickened as I scrambled about picking up balls.
Just as the manufacturer’s claim, only a tiny fraction of a ball’s surface needs to be exposed for it to be clearly visible. The other thing I began to appreciate was why they enclosed a pitch repairer in their pack. Instead of simply a gesture to demonstrate how concerned they are about the maintenance of greens, a pitch repairer is an essential tool for extracting a plugged ball. Having not brought one with me, I was obliged to kick maniacally at the buried balls with the toes of my Wellington boots, which was both time consuming and tiring.
Scooping up balls with extraordinary frequency, I was conscious my searching was becoming increasingly frenzied. Eager to see how many balls I could find in an hour, I was no longer wasting precious seconds looking at the make each time but instead hurrying onto the next. But perhaps the most lunatic aspect of my extraordinary behaviour was a reluctance to give up on an inaccessible ball even though there were dozens of others more conveniently located. And so I scrambled down ditches, ducked under barbed wire and stuck my head heroically deep into hawthorn hedges to secure my prey.
One particularly dangerous maneuver ended in tears, not because I couldn’t reach the thing but because when I finally managed to grab it, I discovered it was fatally split. May I therefore appeal to you not to thoughtlessly throw badly damaged balls away, but to dispose of them responsibly?
Despite effectively tackling a tough assault course with an increasingly heavy burden, I was nevertheless reluctant to stop when the hour was up simply because there were so many more balls still out there. After all, I’d only covered little more than two holes.
Back in the comfort of my living-room, I counted out my booty. In total I had found 79 balls (Titleist 23, Srixon 13, Callaway 10, Top-Flite 8, Dunlop 6, Pinnacle 4, Taylor-Made 4, Nike 4, Miscellaneous 4, Wilson 2 and Bridgestone 1).
More interestingly, I think I have hit upon a new type of golf that will appeal to those who struggle with the traditional form of the game. Not only is it fun, but it also uses courses at night when they otherwise lie idle. And it will generate much-needed extra revenue for clubs.
Either strokeplay or matchplay and in twos or fours, players could go out after sunset and be given, say, 10 minutes to play (search) each hole. If you find five balls on the first while your opponent finds only four, you go one up. There are no heavy clubs to carry and, instead of losing balls, you would only ever find them. The Nite-Hawk British Open? Although perhaps not much of a spectator event, I can clearly see it glowing from strength to strength any night now.