Four years ago, Justin Hoving posed a question to his “Papa.”

“What do you want to do today?”

“Well, we could hunt for golf balls,” Sycamore [Illinois] Lion Joe Woodward suggested. And so 7-year-old Justin and his grandfather walked along the fence that separates the Sycamore Park District baseball diamonds from the back nine of the golf course.

If a baseball came back there it would be a home run. But a golf ball means somebody hooked it, explains Woodward, a golfer. “And good luck jumping the fence.”

When the two had walked enough times to fill a 5-gallon bucket with balls, Justin had another question for his Papa.

“Now what?”

“Well, we could sell them,” Woodward suggested. Immediately, young Justin sat down and founded the business, “Justin and Papa—Golf Ball Rescuers,” naming himself president and his Papa as VP. In the garage they began to clean the balls and package them in egg cartons. And then Justin sold his first dozen.

“What are you going to do with the money?” the customer asked as he handed $3 to the new company president. Papa expected to hear that they were saving for Legos or a new Nerf gun. But that’s when everybody got a surprise.

“I’m going to give the money to the Lions to help kids get glasses,” replied Justin.

His company VP was proud.

No one, including the founders, would expect at that moment that US$3 would turn into US$3,500 for Lions, or that Justin, who is now 11, would still be rescuing balls with his Papa and hoping to hit the US$5,000 mark by summer’s end.

A good day walking the fence line might net them up to 30 balls, says Justin. A not-so-good day? Only a few balls, or maybe none. “But I still get to hang with Papa,” he says. “So it’s good.”

The two estimate that they have found about 1,000 balls over four years, and another 8,000 to 10,000 have been donated to their nonprofit. They’ve also been given a ball washer and stacks upon stacks of used egg cartons.

Some of the Sycamore golfers started keeping a “Justin’s bag” on their cart, tossing in any balls they’ve found, and a grounds keeper from another course called to say that he had a garbage can full of balls he had to pick up when he mowed. He’d be happy to donate them.

With the help of Justin’s grandma, Heather Woodward, better known as “GaGa,” they have cleaned all the balls that have come in, and separated them by brand. Most are priced at US$3 a dozen, but the most sought-after, the Titleist Pro V1s, go for $6 an 18-pack, and balls that are not fit for resale will be donated. Justin and Papa have also sold their rescued balls at a MD1J golf tournament and a Lions of Illinois Foundation tournament.

“I’m going to give the money to the Lions to help kids get glasses.”

Justin, who occasionally golfs with his Papa, still prefers video games to the game of golf, but more than either one he says likes to hunt for lost balls. Typically the guys will call out their best finds as they walk.

“Got a Pro V1!”

So, what makes this so much fun that Justin has remained committed to it four years running? “Well, first there’s hanging with my Papa. He’s cool,” he says. “And then there’s doing something good for somebody else. And I guess it’s exercise.”

His Papa laughs.