14 March 2018

The fate of golf balls in the ocean

About 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured every year, according to a 2017 report in Chemical & Engineering News, and more than half may be lost in the environment. A New York Times story in 2010 reported that an estimated 300 million disappear each year in the United States alone. With many of the planet’s approximately 32,000 golf courses located beside the ocean, countless golf balls find their way into the water, where they sink and accumulate more rapidly than anyone is cleaning them up.

Weber, a grade 12 student, is doing her best, but is barely putting a dent in the collection of drowned balls. Just two weeks earlier, Weber and her father spent several hours snorkeling in the same cove and cleared the seafloor of about 2,000 balls.

Now, the ocean bottom is again awash with golf balls. “Big waves come through and uncover them,” says Weber, who started collecting golf balls here in 2016. “It can sometimes make what we’re doing feel futile.”..

They don’t just sit inertly on the seafloor, either. As Weber has documented, they corrode.

In fact, golf balls have been found in the stomachs of at least two gray whales found dead in Washington State—one in 2010, the other in 2012—though the balls were not identified as the cause of either death. Golf balls also appear in bird stomachs on occasion—something Steiner says he has seen scores of times while inspecting decayed albatross carcasses in the northwestern Hawai‘ian Islands. Golf balls may even find their way into birds’ reproductive tracts—in one documented case, a golf ball encased in shell was laid by a Canada goose.
More at Hakai Magazine.


  1. As a kid I was told not to pick apart golf balls because they'd explode.
    I wish I'd been less gullible and more persistent. The few golf balls I started on would have been a few less decaying in the environment.

  2. I just searched 'biodegradable golf balls' and see that they've been around for a while, including some that claim to be healthy fish food. I golf so seldom and inconsistently that I would never know to blame the ball for a lousy shot but am curious as to the reasons 'real' golfers might have for not using these purportedly eco-friendly balls.

    1. The ones I know about are those designed to be used on cruise ships, where golfers hit them out into the ocean just for exercise. They are biodegradable, but have nowhere near the performance characteristics of those used on land.


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