Weber, Johnston Clean Ocean at Pebble Beach

Alex Weber, Jack Johnston Removing Golf Balls from Ocean at Pebble Beach

I do not recall being particularly sensitive to the environment as a high school student. I was going along in my bliss assuming that all the good things of life would stay the same without my help. When I learned of the six month project headed by high school students Alex Weber and Jack Johnston in Monterey Bay to clean up the underwater portion of Pebble Beach, I was no longer able to recognize the high school years as I knew them. High school, like society at large, possesses members who are wide awake, and those who are not. These young environmentalists have grown up faster, and are at many levels more engaged with the world and its destiny. Unlike me, they are proactive and intent on cleaning up a mess that is in part my generation’s fault. We loved watching the ocean swallow golf balls in the famous tournaments of Pebble Beach, but had no clue that the out-of-sight, out-of-mind spheres were a danger to the environment. To us, they were like rocks, almost indestructible. A golf ball at rest wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? To tell the truth, at my age, I’m a little embarrassed.

The two heroic teenagers are also divers, something else I would never have considered. The two embarked upon a six month mission to harvest as many of the balls they could find lost to the water from the fairways and roughs of Pebble Beach and similar coastal courses in the area. There are several just in the Monterey area. With cameras and sacks, they brought hundreds and hundreds of pounds of golf gear up to the surface. Some of it was barely worn, and could be used again. However, some of the older balls had begun to disintegrate to dangerous levels. The typical golf ball is made with a polyurethane skin with a synthetic rubber core. The interior eventually unwinds into a spaghetti string mess resembling sea grass. Fish eat it. The outer plastic contributes to the worldwide mess circling the ocean farther offshore.  The students were, in Alex’s words, “amazed and disgusted.” Between their own efforts, and of those contacted in the region, more than 40,000 balls have been presently brought up. Even the employees of Pebble Beach have gotten into the act, bringing up a good 10,000 or more.

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At least so far, and to the public, Pebble Beach is leading with a good response, one that is both grateful and collaborative. If I have to get cynical later, I will, but for right now, I’m going to take them at their word. It’s good to see the game of golf, already a healthy pursuit, stick up for the ocean’s good health in its back yard.  This project of Weber and Johnston reminds us that there are coastal courses all through central California, in the Pacific Northwest, the south, and throughout the world. I can only hope that a worldwide conversation and response will come out of these efforts. Perhaps that conversation will drive more action in handling the vast plastic  patch circling around somewhere out there.

On a lighter note, the whole thing lends a new charm to the sport/hobby of gathering golf balls. The tradition is golf’s answer to the paper route and an allergy to 9-to-5 jobs. Even old people enjoy canvassing the rough for the fruit of an errant shot. Of course, the stakes are higher now. Diving is serious business. It can be dangerous, and a lot of gear is required where a stick and good tennis shoes used to suffice. A knowledgeable diver could start a hefty little business, and there will always be hooks and slices into the ocean to keep it going. With Pebble Beach at the epicenter, one could dream idealistic dreams of a change in golf ball manufacturing, clean coastal oceans that inspire governments to take on the bigger environmental picture. Just imagine golf saving the world, one golf ball at a time. And it all started in high school.

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