Duo finds, sells lost golf balls, gives proceeds to Humane Society

Davos, his owner Al Cooper and friend Dustene Barrett with a cooler full of golf balls Davos has found which they sell and donate the proceeds to the Humane Society from their backyard next to the Cedar Creek golf course in Albertville. Photo by Steve Palmer

Each time Al Cooper heads to the golf course to play a round of golf he can be fairly certain he’ll never have to buy another golf ball again.

That is as long as his best buddy and ball-hunting companion named Davos, a friendly Bernese mountain dog, keeps finding lost golf balls hidden in tall grass marshes or submerged in the shallow ponds of Cedar Creek Golf Course in Albertville.

The duo teamed up about five years ago when Cooper’s curious, gentle 7-year-old pet developed an uncanny sense for sniffing out thousands of homeless golf balls in what has become a daily mission for the twosome.

“Ever since he was a pup I started training him to look for golf balls, and he just became a natural at it,” said Cooper who lives next to Cedar Creek with his backyard just a few steps away from a gold mine of lost golf balls.

About three years ago, Al decided to put their hobby to good use.  He relied on the honor system and started selling golf balls found by Davos for 25 cents apiece out of a garbage can that sat near the back fence of his yard located near a set of tees.

“That went pretty well until somebody stole the whole garbage can full of balls one night,” Al recalled.  Undaunted and with a dog with a nose for finding golf balls, Al was soon back in business and now utilizes a cooler full of balls that he wheels back to the house each evening.

Al Cooper and Davos searching for golf balls.
Photo by Steve Palmer

Al first noticed the popular European Bernese mountain breed of dog resting near tables at ski resorts that he visited in Austria, and he thought he’d like to own one someday.  Al said the breed is known for guarding sheep at night, and they also work as good rescue dogs in the mountains.

“But you hardly see them in the states, and later, while I was recovering from cancer at home, my daughter called me one day telling me she saw an ad for some Bernese puppies for sale in Blaine so we went to take a look at them,” he noted.

“And that’s how we got Davos.  He was the runt of the litter but that was fine with me because an 80 pound dog living in the house is way better than 180 pounds.”  A bond formed, and Davos and Al have done a lot together.  Besides looking for golf balls, they’ve taken a few canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Wilderness area in northern Minnesota, plus Davos even enjoys going fishing according to Al.

“Before we went on our canoe trips Davos hated the water. If there was a puddle on the path, he’d walk around it,” Al said.  “But I got him to go swimming in the Boundary Waters, and now he has no problem wading into the shallow ponds at the golf course when looking for balls.”

Al introduced Davos to golf balls by playing a shell game of three Dixie cups with one ball resting under a cup.  “Each  time I mixed the cups around he’d knock over the right cup with his paw that had a Pro V 1 ball underneath it, and for getting it right, he’d get a treat,” Al commented.  Oddly, now when they’re out hunting golf balls Davos has retained the unexplained preference for bringing back Pro V 1s.

“I think he can tell by the smell of that ball brand, which must be different from others, and he remembers from the shell game we played,” Al explained. ”If he’s found another brand of ball and then comes across a Pro V 1, he’ll drop the ball out his mouth so he can pick up his favorite Pro V 1,” laughed Al.

Golfers like it, too, when they can buy high-quality golf balls like a Pro V 1 for just 25 cents.  “There’s some enterprising youth who live on the other side of the golf course who come over and buy my balls for 25 cents and then take them home and sell for a $1 each.

“I had a guy who once bought 40 balls and stashed $10 in the money pail.  I’ve had another guy tell me he’s bought back some of his own lost golf balls with his mark on them that Davos found,” said Al.  “Some golfers just donate money.  I have a man who has put $5 in the pail each week when he plays golf.”

Weather permitting, Al and Davos usually go out golf ball hunting later in the day when there are fewer golfers on the course.  “We especially like to look for balls on days after a tournament has been held when a lot of players were on the course,” Al commented.

Davos emerges from tall marsh grass on the Cedar Creek golf course after another successful ball hunting adventure. Photo by Steve Palmer

Davos has become quite a pro at finding lost golf balls, but he doesn’t like to be out much after 6:30 p.m. according to Al.  Nevertheless, he still gets a treat each time he finds a ball, jumps up on Al’s golf cart seat and drops it in the back basket.

Davos also likes to watch TV and bark at the dogs he sees, but last winter Al noticed his dog began to whimper and cry each time he saw the commercials for the prevention of cruelty to animals (ASPCA) come on showing neglected or abandoned dogs and cats.

“That gave me at the idea of donating the proceeds from golf balls found by Davos to the Humane Society in Golden Valley for the welfare of animals,” Al explained.  “I called them up and Davos went along with me to donate $100 for 400 balls that we sold.  We’ve been selling some of them during the past three years for golf-themed parties and added the money to the Humane Society collections,” he said.

Davos has quickly gained local canine celebrity status after earlier this summer when he appeared with Al on a KARE 11 TV station story about his exploits as a golf ball dog hunter.  The piece went viral and was on some other NBC affiliates around the country, the Golf Channel, Facebook and other Internet social media outlets.

“I think Davos is getting a bigger head on his shoulders. He likes all of the extra attention,” Al stated.  “I even got phone calls from viewers in New York, Montana and Washington, plus e-mails from people in Brazil, London and Portugal.”

Al says the people in charge at Cedar Creek at first were unsure about Davos’ ball hunting skills interfering with golfers.  “But they changed their opinion after the publicity Davos has brought to Cedar Creek, as some people are coming to play golf and wanting to see him in action,” Al added.

“I started playing golf about 10 years ago,” Al recalled.  “I don’t have a motorcycle anymore, but I have a golf cart now.  I’m still a lousy golfer, but Davos is a good retriever, and I’m hopeful that  what we’re doing will give other people ideas to do something for the Humane Society.”

“All of this has given us another idea about hosting a big ‘Golf for the Animals’ tournament to help benefit the Humane Society, and Davos will be the star,” said Al’s friend Dustene Barrett.  “We want to make it as big as we can, and the tournament will be held next year on Aug. 26 at Theodore Wirth Golf Course.  We’re going to take advantage of Davos’ stardom,” she noted.

Sometime this fall Al wants to set up a website to promote the event and asks that any volunteer with a computer programing background is welcome to help get the site built.  Anyone interested playing in the golf tournament or with sponsorships and pet remembrance opportunities can contact him at al@alcooper.com for more event details.

Al is a retired park ranger for the Three Rivers Park District and has always loved wildlife and has owned labrador dogs before Davos came into his life, and an immediate connection between them became quite real.

“He was a lifesaver for me emotionally when I was sick at home with cancer,” Al recalled.  “Davos has a dog tag that reads: ‘I rescued my dad.’”

For Al, he doesn’t have to be convinced that animals can have a special attachment with their owners and a place in their hearts or golf carts.