Golf-ball hunter’s passion | Philadelphia Inquirer | 2011-08-29

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Dec 20, 2011 in Rat News | Subscribe

Dressed in camouflage fatigues, Roger Letts crawls around the fringes of golf courses in the early mornings.

Sometimes his prey lurks in the nooks and crannies of woods. Other times it’s at the bottom of a murky pond.

Most days, the white-haired ex-biker returns to his ramshackle Moorestown home with bulging jacket and pants pockets. On a good day, he says, he scores 100 to 150 – golf balls.

Letts has been “hunting golf balls” since he was 8 or 10, when he was a caddie at the Pennsauken Golf Course, he said. His “golf nut” father, he said, taught him about the secret burial grounds of balls that had sliced far afield of certain challenging holes.

The youth would sell the lost treasure for pocket cash.

Now 73, Letts uses his pickings to supplement his retirement income. He estimated he gathered 10,000 balls a year.

“Rather than getting bored and sitting around, and doing nothing, I go out to the golf courses in the early morning hours,” he said.

Driving down New Albany Road, a well-traveled back road and shortcut, motorists can’t help doing a double-take at the sight of Letts’ place.

Rows and rows of neatly arranged egg cartons – filled with a variety of used golf balls – blanket his tiny front lawn, which is close to the Jeff Young Memorial sports fields off Lenola Road.

He sells a dozen balls for $5. Five dozen go for $20.

That’s far less than the $45 that golf enthusiasts might pay for a dozen Titleist Pro V1 balls, a highly engineered, multilayered type that can cancel spin and soar high and far.

A bunch of these “Cadillac” balls are mixed in with other brands.

Letts said his display attracted golfers and curiosity seekers. Often he hangs out on the porch of his house and just waits. When he’s not there, a sign invites shoppers to place the money in his mailbox.

A couple of years ago, he said, he sold $2,000 worth of balls to a man who told him he planned to open a shop to sell used golf items.

Letts’ surplus is stashed in a line of aquarium tanks on his porch.

His property also is overrun by a hodgepodge of motorcycles, old cars, wrought-iron chairs, worn wooden tables, fancy hubcaps, used golf clubs, planted plastic flowers, a deer head wearing a shamrock necklace, seashells, 3-D pictures, a rabbit pen, and a small tank that houses three pet rats. Some of the items – not his pets – also are for sale.

“If the American Pickers came here, they would have a field day,” Letts said. (The History Channel show features two antiques collectors who travel the country looking for finds among junk in homes and garages.) He trash-picks on the side, he said.

At one time he parked a turquoise 1976 Corvette on his front lawn. He glued golf balls all over it and adorned it with stickers with slogans such as “My Sin.”

“It’s an explosion of weirdness,” said Eugenia Manna Porello, a Moorestown oil painter who stopped to peek at the scene a few weeks ago.

“You see green grass, green grass, and then this. It couldn’t be more different,” said her husband, Eric Manna.

At first glance, Porello said, she thought Letts was exhibiting painted eggs, and she hoped to get some “artistic inspiration.”

The property “looks very abandoned and dirty, but it’s interesting,” she said. She was not in the market for golf balls or flea-market objects, but she did find the way Letts had placed chairs, tables, and other objects a mixed-media “artistic statement.”

Letts, who used to work for printing firms, also collects and restores motorcycles and cars, hunts pheasants, collects guns, goes fishing, cuts down trees, and does taxidermy.

Oh, and he is a Civil War reenactor. He has played soldier at Batsto and Gettysburg battle re-creations.

What he doesn’t seem to have time for anymore is golf.

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