"Golf Ball Paul is all about the balls."
By HOWARD RICHMAN
The Kansas City Star
Date: 03/17/01 22:30
He's the Jacques Cousteau of golf. Paul Lovelace is his real name.
Most people know him as Golf Ball Paul. Lovelace spends his days underwater, but he's not after something that got off the hook. When Lovelace dives, something went terribly, terribly wrong. Lovelace dives for golf balls.
"It's my life 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Lovelace, whose business of re-selling lost golf balls at his store at 1211 Southwest Blvd. has proven to be prosperous.
Lovelace made $50,000 one year. This is a lifestyle that Lovelace has led since college. Lovelace, 40, was raised in Iowa, and he was a key part of the University of Iowa golf team. Not as a player, however.
Paul Lovelace is an avid golfer, although hardly an average golfer: he loves water hazards.
To him, there is nothing more appealing than a pond full of golf balls, evidence of any golfer's distress.
"The coach asked me back in 1983 to dive in an island green and find balls," Lovelace said. Lovelace then took a job on the Gulf of Mexico as a diving team that participated in an OSHA cleanup, but the entire crew eventually got fired.
Lovelace returned to Iowa, where he was put to work again seeking golf balls. At one course, on the 13th hole, Lovelace found nearly 9,000 balls in the water.
It dawned on him that this could be prosperous.
"A light bulb went on," Lovelace said. "I thought instead of going to 10 courses, why not 20?
Soon I was going to about 105 different courses to find balls in Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
I was paying the courses 6 to 10 cents for the balls. Then I would repackage them and sell them." Lovelace, who now has a crew of four to help in his business, purchased a ballwasher that cost $5,000 and washes 43,000 balls an hour. His inventory?
Lovelace has found two bowling balls. A hammer. A hockey puck. A golf bag. A golf cart, which was buried in Lake Ozark, Mo. One of his better days? "At Tan-Tar-A Resort, I found 8,000," Lovelace said. Lovelace said some potential buyers are skeptical.
Lovelace has about 400,000 golf balls. Many of them are sacked like potatoes, some waiting to be washed, some waiting to be distributed.
Word of mouth is Lovelace's idea for promotion.
The best courses around here to find balls? Lovelace mentioned Overland Park Golf Course, Heritage Park Golf Course and Country Creek.
Some courses don't want him around on weekends because that's usually when business is at a peak, but there are those that allow Lovelace on any time. His shop features some of the wild things Lovelace has retrieved from lake bottoms with a roller that drags for balls.
Although they can buy, for instance, a 12-pack of Callaway 1's for $21.95 (which is about $10 less than the price for new ones), purchasers sometimes can be skeptical. Why, they say, should they buy used balls? Lovelace has a simple response. "A new ball is not new after one hit," he said. A 13-handicap, Lovelace said when he loses a ball, he just shrugs. "I don't look too hard for it," he said."
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