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I love marketing! Marketers are in the business of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse, metaphorically speaking of course. I first became aware of marketing techniques at a relatively young age. Mom always purchased Tide detergent in an attempt to clean the clothes of us four dirty little heathens (those grass stains on the knees are murder to get out). The box of Tide originally said, “Tide”. Later I noticed another box that added “New” next to Tide. What was new wasn’t specified, but it had to be better; it was new! Then it became “New and Improved”. Even better. From there it evolved into “New and Improved with Whiteners” and then “New and Improved with Whiteners and Bleach” and so on. Today there are so many varieties of Tide that the typical consumer needs to do some serious studying in order to choose the Tide made especially for them and their needs.

In recent years, the automobile manufacturers have gotten into some creative marketing; not just with their new cars (who ever heard of a “sexy” car?), but in the other ones; you know, the ones that aren’t new. I’ve always thought of cars that aren’t new as used cars, but the marketers figured out that “used cars” was a bit common, ordinary; vanilla. They needed something with pizzazz. Their first foray produced this; “previously driven” automobiles. Well, yes, I guess a used car would be previously driven; thus “used”. That moniker didn’t last long and morphed into pre-owned. Now they were on to something. It only worked if attached to luxury cars however (I never saw any ads for pre-owned Chevy’s or Fords). Pre-owned didn’t have the negative connotation of being driven for a lot of miles. It sounded so much better. “Yeah, I know it was owned by someone else, but they really didn’t drive it; much.” In many people’s minds, if given the choice between a “Certified, Pre-Owned Lexus” and a new Chevy Spark at a similar price, the choice was obvious. The marketers had done their jobs.

This brings me to my late teens and early twenties. During this period, my buddies and I were into golf. Being into golf for me wasn’t quite like others. I might golf once a week at the most and it qualified me for being passionate. There were a couple of issues with my golf game that were prohibitive; cost and the fact that I wasn’t very good. Was I lousy because I only played once a week, or did I only play once a week because I was lousy? A conundrum to be sure.

We played at the local town golf course and tried to get tee times that didn’t interfere with other golfers (so as not to be embarrassed while seen hacking up the course). The course was relatively inexpensive and in some cases the golf balls were as much of a financial outlay as greens fees. On the back nine, hole sixteen to be precise, there was a large pond planted firmly in the middle of the fairway, about a 250 yard drive from the tee box. There was no way around the pond that made sense, so you had to shoot over it. Most golfers would lie up in front of the small lake and with their second shot, hopefully be on the green in regulation. I said most golfers. I would be lucky to reach the pond in two shots, with my second shot often landing in the middle of the pond. This would force me to drop another ball in the drop zone for my fourth shot. This had a deleterious effect on my game, but even more so on my wallet.

At this point my golfing buddy, I use the term loosely, would be over to the side chuckling under his breath, but with enough volume that I couldn’t miss it. His laughter would lead me to become angry and this anger in turn would affect my next shot. With clenched teeth, I would reach back with the intent of killing the little white ball at my feet (my buddies face imagined on the ball next to Top-Flite). As the swing commenced, the muscles in my forearms grew as hard as blocks of wood and the resulting swing produced a pathetic click, as the head of the club skidded across the top of the ball and it trickled slowly along the grass and bounded into the pond about eight feet from the shore. It was close enough to the shore to see on the bottom, but not close enough to retrieve. The laughter was now at a volume that caused all the other golfers on the course to stop what they were doing and look our way. Two balls and four strokes later, I finally made it over the pond (barely) and onto the other side.

As we crossed the creek and headed to the fairway, I had an epiphany. I said to my partner, “Hey Vernon, I wonder how many balls there are at the bottom of that pond.” He replied, “You’ve seen the golfers around here. I’ll bet there are thousands.” “Let’s jump in and get them” I offered (in my younger years I was known as a “trash digger”, so this wasn’t out of  the realm of my normal behavior). He wasn’t sure about that and said, “Not in broad daylight. It has to be done after dark.” Not to be deterred I replied, “Let’s come back here tonight, after work. Ten o’clock should be perfect.”

After work we met up and headed to the golf course.  At first we were going to park along the road and walk in, but we realized that the local police made regular rounds driving through the park and decided it would be dangerous to leave ourselves that exposed. So we drove onto the golf course; down the fairway, over a hill, around trees and finally came to rest under a couple of large oak trees, hopefully out of sight and harms way. We couldn’t get our work clothes wet, so we stripped down to our underwear (did I mention being exposed earlier?) and began wading into the water. It was warm, due to the summer heat, and finding the balls wasn’t difficult at all. Wading through the water we could feel the mud with our toes and bare feet and it became obvious when stepping on a ball. Once we had “found” a ball or two we dove down and grabbed them with our hands, holding our breath long enough to surface with multiple balls. We then threw them onto the grass in the drop zone area.

After a couple of hours and hundreds of balls on the grass, we figured that we had enough for now (in my case, hundreds of balls might last a few rounds) and started to leave the water. All of a sudden we saw two headlights coming our way from an adjacent fairway. We crouched down in the water, up to our noses, and nuzzled up next to some tall grasses and cat-of-nine tails (a bullfrog gave us a look of disdain, which we returned in kind). Remaining frozen, our eyes followed the four-wheeled vehicle as it came our way and then eventually turned and drove off into the night. We recognized the vehicle as the one belonging to the groundskeeper. What was he doing on our golf course at this hour of the night? The nerve! We then scrambled out of the water, jumped back into our work clothes, loaded the golf balls into the trunk and drove quickly off of the course and onto the road. We would divvy up our treasure the next morning.

I was sitting on the back porch with some Windex, an old toothbrush, a dish towel and a box of golf balls as Dad got out of his pickup after a hard day at work. He stopped at the steps of the porch, watched me for a moment and said, “What are you doing son?” “Cleaning my golf balls” I replied. “You’ve got quite a few of them. Where did they come from?” Acting nonchalant I answered, “We got them at the golf course. In the pond across the fairway on hole sixteen.” Being a golfer himself, Dad was well aware of the golf eating pond on hole sixteen. He said, “Any good ones in there?” I proudly announced, “There are some Titleists, Pinnacles, Slazengers and a few Top-Flites. Some are as good as new, not a scratch on them.” This piqued Dad’s interest and as he began digging through the box and examining the ones that were cleaned, I realized that he would be the first to sample my “new, certified, previously driven, pre-owned” golf balls.