How I Got Started In Golf

Summer, 1998-1999, Hauger Golfklubb, Oslo area, Norway: 

The club manager had just reached the green on the first hole at his course, when a young boy with a bike helmet on came rushing out of the bushes, walked straight up to him and presented himself with a handshake. The boy had been out “picking balls” in the woods and bushes to later sell them on the 3rd hole, for about 1 dollar a piece, back to all the golfers who possibly had been responsible for (irresponsibly) leaving them in the woods in the first place. It was a strategy that seemed to work, and the manager did not seem to mind. In fact, he encouraged the young boy to keep at it, and as the boy hoped, he did not get in trouble for “intruding” on the course.

This was my early days on at the Golf Club close to my home in Norway, where I would pick up golf, to later become one of their elite players for many years, taking home 2 club championship titles competing against the best of the 1500+ players that were members at Hauger, while representing and playing for the club as a junior player around the country for many years in my teens, bringing home 3-4 B-Tour trophies( B-Tour, as it was called back then at the qualifying stages for the top junior Tour in Norway).

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I would go on to play with some of the best players in Norway at many events, once shooting a 68 foursome round against a former European tour player from Norway, at a Norwegian National Team Championship, having me and my playing partners score leveling the score of the former European Tour player and his playing partner. In the same event, we also got to play with another former European and PGA Tour player from Norway, Henrik Bjørnstad.

During the early years, being 11 or so this day when I met the Club Manager, I would spend quite some time collecting balls from the woods, high grass, cornfields, side of water hazards and high rough (sometimes within the cow fields) – pretty much wherever these golfers would seem to mishit their shots on the course and lose their ball – I was there to find their ball and sell it back to them later on.

In the battle for balls to sell, it was not uncommon to get burns from stinging nettle on my arms and hands, obviously getting dirty hands and clothes quite often, and once a slight electroshock from a cow fence in the attempt to sneak under to reach the 60+ balls on the other side I was able to retrieve that day, if I remember correctly. Nothing comes easy in this business.

Balls that in my eyes had a higher value, like “Titanium” balls (yes, they were a big hit in those days, probably more of a marketing ploy) and balata, would go for double the price. After all, it was business, and quality balls that were more scarce would need a higher price. The customers did not seem to mind either, in fact many were quite happy to be able to buy back their balls.

I remember taking on the water hazards by using rubber boots and walking along the sides of the water hazards stomping my feet in the shallow water and reeds that were growing along the edges of the ponds, to feel for balls in the mud and reeds. The result; 200 balls, dirty and full of discoloring from too much time in the muddy water, after 1.5 hours of solid work, on more than one occasion.

After that it was home to my house 1 km away, to wash the balls in our bathtub, to my mother’s distress, getting all the mud off and wash them clean with a body brush. It got pretty messy, but in the end, 200 new balls for each time I did this would be ready for sale, 3-4 times per year.

Next step; Take them to the course and sell them back to the poor golfers. One good afternoon on hole number 3 would usually result in between 50 and 100 dollars in sales. Not a bad payday at all for an afternoon’s work for an 11-year-old.

Later, once the club got new teaching and pro shop staff, they would hear rumors of my business, and we eventually cut a deal so I would not totally put them out of the ordinary “selling golf balls” business.

As I had started to pick up the game and was now playing and needing better golf gear, I would bring in on several occasions 600+ balls to the shop at a volume sales price for myself in exchange for gear from the shop. Not a bad deal either, and both parties seemed to win on it as they would sell golf balls solo again on the course, and sell the balls I brought in at the shop instead for a slightly higher price. Appreciation and kudos to the Head Pro for cutting the deal, and for later helping me out as a golfer and tournament player. He became a friend and my coach for many years, helping me a better player.

The motto I learned from him those years was simple, yet important and highly effective when applied; If you want something in life, you gotta work hard, and you gotta work smart.

Like Ben Hogan believed, there are no shortcuts in life.


About the author

Mathias Hamnvik

Former junior elite player, 0.6 hcp currently, three times club champion - on my way towards +hcp and bringing you along for the ride!