If you have traveled eastbound on U.S. Highway 8 between Forest Lake and Chisago City any time during spring and autumn the past five years, chances are you have noticed an offer to get some golf balls for a great price at the roadside corner of 270th Street.
A hand-drawn sign notes that the balls are there and available for $5 per dozen. They are stacked and nestled in egg cartons.
No one stands or sits by the merchandise at the corner stand, like you might find if children were selling cold lemonade in front of a home somewhere on a hot afternoon.
Golfers and other bargain shoppers that may stop for these golf balls are encouraged and expected to be honest and honorable by leaving money in a canister for every dozen they take. Every dollar goes to support charities like Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based program that aids people seeking recovery from drug addiction, and Union Gospel Mission, which provides meals, shelter and other services at sites in St. Paul for homeless families and individuals.
These are causes that are strongly supported by Jerry Neumann, an area resident and golfer who has cleaned and packaged more than 400 dozen of the golf balls over the years for purchase and enjoyment by other players of the game.
Neumann has brought most of the balls to his home for washing from the Falcon Ridge Golf Course in Stacy, where he makes time for playing nine holes usually three times per week each season.
Of the stray golf balls that he takes from the course after any given round, he discards any ball that is damaged beyond “gently used” before grouping about $10 worth of balls in each egg carton. Within every dozen, he includes one premier ball, such as a Titleist or Callaway, that may retail for about $4 by itself.
The other balls that Neumann packages in each used set are still quality goods.
“I try not to put anything in there that I wouldn’t want to play with,” he said.
He arrived at the idea to combine his favorite sport with a desire to raise awareness and support for charitable causes after a sermon from a pastor at Eagle Brook Church, where Neumann volunteers by directing traffic in the large lots before weekly services. He says he learned that world hunger relief organizations such as Feed My Starving Children provide nutrition to less fortunate families in other nations for less than 50 cents per meal.
Soon, when he was picking up another golfer’s forgotten ball from beneath a tree or out of a sand trap or water hazard, he had an idea.
“I was finding meals,” he said.
Recently, he has received large amounts of inventory from other golfers. Since the start of this season, he accepted one 5-gallon bucket full of balls from another parking volunteer at Eagle Brook, and he was happy to get a similar bucket from a client at his office in Wyoming, where Neumann is a financial adviser for Edward Jones.
Those extra buckets added nearly 700 golf balls to the growing number that he has washed and packaged for sale to others at his corner on Highway 8. He intends to continue the process as long as his unknown customers keep being honest about leaving that $5 bill for every carton full of $10 in balls they stop and grab.
Occasionally, when comparing the dozens of balls that he has stacked on the side of the road with the money he collects, Neumann knows that some people give more than $5 for a set of 12.
“I get such a kick out of it when I find a $10 bill. It’s fun,” he said.