My foursome found 154 golf balls in less than an hour. Here’s how we did it

With the aid of UV light, nighttime is the best time to unearth golf balls.

Alan Bastable

Our adventure began as so many modern adventures do: in the digital Wild West known as Reddit.

My pal Scott has been known to lose whole afternoons on the virtual community’s golf threads, and on just such an occasion a couple of weeks back he came upon a post from a golf-course scavenger who used a UV flashlight to unearth balls in the dark. Like, lots of balls. Turns out it’s kind of a thing. Search “UV light” on Reddit’s golf page and you’ll find several discussions on the topic with headlines such as:

For my twilight buddies out there, bring a UV light for the walk and score some extra pick-ups.

Just went for a wee walk in the dark and rain with a UV light. 31 balls without a plan and just a few holes

Spent 5 hours with a buddy walking around our local course found 513 balls with the UV light

A recent haul from a Reddit poster’s nighttime hunt. Reddit: u/poseselt

That’s 171 sleeves! Scott was inspired, and when he shared his findings with his suburban New Jersey golf buddies — Dan, Matt and me — we didn’t take long to fall into line. None of us had heard of the practice. Heck, none of us had heard of a UV flashlight. The device looks just like any old torch but emits ultraviolet radiation — aka black light — that is useful for detecting certain substances and objects in the darkness otherwise undetectable to the naked eye, from saliva and scorpions to olive oil and rock salt to … yep, golf balls. When the UV light catches the orbs, they fluoresce like comets in the night sky.

Scott took the next sensible step, ordering a two pack of Morpilot blacklight flashlights, which felt like robbery for only $18. Now, we just needed a hunting ground. The muni up the road from us was an option, but when Scott offered up his club, the decision became a no-brainer: dinner and drinks at the clubhouse bar over Thursday Night Football followed by Titleist trawling on a Tillinghast track. (Important disclaimer: A pro-shop attendant had green-lighted our stroll. We neither recommend nor endorse trespassing!)

When the evening arrived, we were giddy. Lewis & Clark we were not, but still, for four guys whose weekday evenings typically revolve around bedtime stories and Netflix, an exciting expedition awaited. After heapings of wings and a few pints of beer, we congregated in the parking lot near the first tee.

It was about 9:30 when we slung backpacks over our shoulders and plotted our first move. The October air was cool and crisp. Having played the course hundreds of times among us, we believed we had a handle on the most popular graveyards for Pinnacles and Pro V1s. “I’ve been thinking about where the hotspots will be,” Scott, the Hannibal Smith of this mission, had texted us earlier in the week. “I think 1, 6, 14, 17, 18 with maybe 3 and 8 yielding some as well.”

Prepping in the lot. Alan Bastable

Toting wedges that would serve as shovels, off we ventured into the great unknown.

Funny thing about walking a golf course at night: no matter how well you may know the terrain, it stills feels foreign. The vastness of the landscape is gone, replaced by whatever is directly below your feet or illuminated by your light. The unfamiliarity is at once thrilling and unsettling. As we strolled down the 1st hole toward an area to the right of the fairway that we presumed to be rich with balls, we soon learned that we had presumed wrong. Yes, we found balls, but nearly all of them were fluorescent green range balls that had spilled over from the practice area by the 1st hole. Underwhelming start.

Between the rough and the range is a ball-trapping trench, but that, too, proved largely fruitless. Perhaps this hobby was harder than the Reddit posters let on. As we approached a thicket farther down the hole, where many second shots on this par-5 have gone to die, it was time to exert more effort. I spread open some branches and with flashlight in hand shuffled in the brush.

A sighting! Alan Bastable

Almost immediately balls availed themselves — one in front of me, two to my left, two more over that way. My fellow scavengers were peering through the foliage directing me to their own sightings. The bonanza was fully on. Still, I felt some degree of angst. I was now edging toward a backyard and beyond that a house, probably 100 yards from me. I didn’t relish the idea of a homeowner spotting me digging in the woods, so after about a dozen finds, we moved on.

Next it was Scott’s turn. When we crossed the fairway, he crouched over and crawled into a tangle of bushes so dense that we weren’t sure if we’d ever see him again. His courage was rewarded. Though we couldn’t see Scott, we could hear him as he delighted in the treasure trove upon which he’d stumbled. “I’m not sure if one backpack is going to be enough!” he hollered, cracking us all up. When Scott emerged nearly 10 minutes later, his pockets loaded with ProV1s, we didn’t need a UV light to know that he was glowing.    

Scott’s in there somewhere. You’ll have to take our word for it. Alan Bastable

And on the night went. Hunting, finding, laughing. Repeat. Pardon the cliché but there’s no other way to say it: We felt like kids again.  

Our final search-and-rescue came to the right of the driving zone on a par-4, in a cluster of trees where cumulatively we’ve lost dozens of balls. It was time for payback — and pay us back the leaf-covered land did, to the tune of four or five cases of balls. As our targets lit up like a sparkle of fireflies, our quest was beginning to feel almost too easy.

Not even an hour into the job, we had filled two backpacks. Sated, we reversed course back to the clubhouse, stopping briefly on a par-3 for an impromptu closest-to-the-pin chipping contest. (More like closest to the green if we’re being honest.) When we arrived at the parking lot, all was well — save for one oversight. We had left one of the packs back at the par-3. Inexcusably sloppy execution.

But just as Blackbeard would have never left behind his treasure, neither would we. We piled into Scott’s car and drove to a neighborhood street that borders the hole. With houses all around us and given the late hour, I was feeling apprehensive again, but that didn’t stop Matt and I from darting down to the hole, collecting our bag and returning it to the safety of Scott’s SUV.

Mission accomplished? Hugely so.   

The next day brought the really fun part: taking inventory. I was tasked with that job and reveled in it. I dumped our catch on my garage floor and started counting: 154 balls! Some were in excellent condition, a few were cracked, many were caked in dried dirt.

Catch of the day — well, night. Alan Bastable

The next day I put the balls in a plastic bin, added some dish soap and blasted them with a power washer. This is not the most advisable method for cleaning balls — I ripped the soft urethane cover of at least one Pro V1 — but it is efficient.

That evening, I treated the balls with more care, hand-drying each and rubbing off whatever remaining stains that I could. One ball was at least 21 years old; I knew that from its logo (2001 U.S. Open); another was at least two years older (1999 U.S. Senior Open). My favorite find: a Donnay, which previously I had known to be only a tennis brand. (Looking at you, Bjorn Borg.) In all, we had unearthed balls from 19 different manufacturers. Here’s the breakdown:          

Callaway – 40 (including 8 Chrome Softs)
Titleist – 39 (including 20 Pro V1s)
TaylorMade – 13
Kirkland – 9
TopFlite – 9
Bridgestone – 8
Srixon – 6
Maxfli – 5
Volvik – 5
Nike – 4
Pinnacle – 3
Slazenger – 3
Wilson – 2
Vice – 2
Donnay – 1
Noodle – 1
Snake Eyes – 1
Snell – 1
XXIO – 1

And here’s how they look in bar-chart form, beginning with Callaway on the far left:

Alan Bastable

So, what now? Has our ball-searching scratch been itched, or have we found a new pastime more addictive than golf itself? I’m honestly not sure. What I do know is we’d like to donate the balls to a worthy cause. Know a golf organization that would benefit from our haul? Drop me a line at alan.bastable@golf.com, and I’ll ship ’em out.

Happy hunting!

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.