Golf Ball Retrievers: Rules and Key Features

golf ball retriever
Ah, the much-maligned golf ball retriever: The long pole, basically, with a scoop or claw on the end that some golfers carry and use to retrieve golf balls (from water, down embankments, anywhere they are hard to reach) — their own, or others that other golfers have lost.

Why much-maligned? There are a lot of golfers out there who look askance at golfers who carry a ball retriever. Oh, how gauche, they think. We say nonsense to that attitude! If you use a golf ball retriever, carry it and use it with pride.

Hey, golf is an expensive game. Don't give up a perfectly good golf ball just because you can't reach it. Whip out that golf ball retriever and grab it. Ball retrievers (along with their brothers, the golf ball pick-ups that fit onto your putter) also help golfers who have bad backs and/or bad knees ... and there are a lot of golfers who have bad backs and/or bad knees.

So if you want a golf ball retriever, get one, put it in your bag, and don't let any hoity-toities out there give you any guff about it.

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Let's take a look at ball retrievers in the Rules of Golf, plus some of the key features you'll want to pay attention to if you're shopping for one.

Are They Legal? Golf Ball Retrievers in the Rules

Yes, golf ball retrievers are legal under the Rules of Golf. You are not breaking any rule by carrying one or using one on the golf course. (The only exception to that would be if a golf tournament implemented a Condition of Competition banning them.)

Some golfers believe that golf ball retrievers carried in the golf bag count against a player's number of clubs. No, that is not true. A ball retriever in or on one's bag or in a pocket of the golf bag is no different than an umbrella. Neither counts as one of your 14 allowed golf clubs, not even if (as is sometimes mistakenly believed) they have a golf club-style grip on them.

Key Features to Consider When Shopping for a Ball Retriever

A few of the key features of golf ball retrievers that you'll want to consider if planning to buy one:

What is its full length? How long of a ball retriever works best for you might have something to do with the golf course you most often play. You'll probably have an idea of where your own mis-hits wind up, and where you find other lost golf balls, and, therefore, how long of a ball retriever you want to be able to reach the largest number of balls. There are ball retrievers on the market now that extend well out beyond 10 feet and even some approaching 20 feet, if that's what you want.

What length does it retract to? If you have room in your bag for a non-telescoping or only partially collapsible ball retriever to stick up out of the bag, fine. But maybe you don't have room. Or maybe you don't want other golfers to notice a big ol' ball retriever sticking up out of your bag. In those cases, look for golf ball retrievers that collapse down to the shortest lengths. Some on the market retract all the way down to less than two feet, and makers are getting better all the time at retracting them further.

How much does it weigh? If you are someone who walks and carries his golf bag, weight is a very important factor to consider. But even if you aren't, you'll want to think about how much golf ball retrievers weigh. When extending the retriever out to its full length, you don't want it to be too heavy for you to easily maneuver, especially if you are older or have arm, wrist or hand pain. There are many lightweight options on the market.

Those are the big three considerations. But there are plenty of other features to look at, too.

Is the grip a comfortable material and ergonomically designed? You wouldn't buy golf clubs with grips you hated, don't buy a golf ball retriever with a bad grip, either.

Does it have a rust-free or rust-resistant shaft? Does it come with accessories (such as a carabiner to attach to the exterior of your golf bag, or a cleaning brush)? Does it come with a replacement head or heads for the end?

If you've owned or used a golf ball retriever in the past, then you probably already have an idea of whether you prefer a claw-grip type of retriever on the end, or a scoop-type retriever for picking up your golf ball. That is something else to consider. If you don't know whether you prefer one style to the other, you might be able to find a retriever that provides both types of retrieving mechanisms that you can interchange to figure out what works best.

One more thing to look for: a ball-locking mechanism on a retriever's scoop-style ball picker. You don't want to grab a golf ball only to have it fall out of the scooper as you're trying to bring it back in. Some scoop-style retrievers have a manually operated ball-locking mechanism, on others it's automatic, and some don't have them.

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