Researchers call a mulligan in their search for signs of a prehistoric loch beast.
Charles Briscoe-Knight/Getty Images
When Scottish scientists boarded their submersible and dove into the depths of Loch Ness, they were hoping to find evidence of a prehistoric creature along the loch floor. Instead, what they discovered were golf balls; hundreds of thousands of them.
The discovery illustrates an alarming report released from the Danish Golf Union showing that golf balls may take between 100 and 1,000 years to decompose in the wild. And decomposition is not a clean process. As the balls break down, they release toxins and heavy metals into the environment. The study shows that zinc, in particular, has the potential to cause problems because it attaches itself to sediments and poisons surrounding plants and animals.
Torben Kastrup Petersen, the course manager for the Danish Golf Union, explained that the true scale of the golf ball litter problem is not known:
There has been very little research on the environmental impact of golf balls, but it’s safe to say the indicators are not good. We are planning to collaborate with environmentalists in America to conduct more tests to fully explore the extent of the problem.
What is known is that the problem extends around the world and even to the moon. In 1971, Alan Shepherd set up an impromptu driving range on the moon. Though his out-of-bounds golfing had little impact there—it is thought that the moon’s intense temperatures would disintegrate a plastic golf ball quickly—this is not the case with detritus of renegade duffers here on Earth.
Collect the Balls
Researchers noted that the problem is getting worse. It is estimated that 300 million golf balls are lost or discarded every year in the United States alone and this number is only increasing. With untold millions already deposited in lakes and rivers, fields and forests, it seems the best option would be a collection program.
However, in practice such a program would be impossible. Beyond the cost and time required, there is also the risk of damaging fragile ecosystems and killing plants and animals in the process.
Prevention is the Answer
The best thing we can do is stop adding to the problem. Take care to keep your balls on the greens and fairways and don’t hit balls into wild areas or bodies of water.
If you don’t have access to a golf course or driving range, or you can’t help losing balls in forest and water hazards, pick up a package of biodegradable golf balls.
As Patrick Harvie, a lawmaker in the UK, told CNN: “From the moon to the bottom of Loch Ness, golf balls are humanity’s signature litter in the most inaccessible locations.” Don’t become a part of this legacy.