Neighbors tee-off on club after golf balls litter Rowayton coast
NORWALK — When dozens of golf balls washed up at Bayley Beach earlier this year, some people in Rowayton were perplexed and dismayed.
When they learned the source was golfers intentionally hitting balls from the Wee Burn Beach Club, some teed-off on the private club.
Some citizen detective work uncovered the source of the stray balls, and and a heated online debate erupted.
Timothy T. Szemplinski, Wee Burn assistant general manager and beach club manager, said the club has occasionally allowed members to hit golf balls from its porch overlooking Long Island Sound to a floating dock about 60 feet offshore.
“It’s something we’ve done very rarely, and as soon as it was brought to my attention that the neighbors were upset, we ceased immediately,” Szemplinksi said. “We are good neighbors to Rowayton and Bayley Beach. I even go down and rake a couple times a week. I do that as being a good neighbor because we all share the same sand.”
Wee Burn Country Club’s main facility is in Darien. The exclusive, private club was founded 120 years ago.
Szemplinksi said the club did not check into the legality of hitting the balls into Long Island Sound, and biodegradable, fish-friendly balls were not used. Szemplinksi said Wee Burn staff members were told to clean up the golf balls, which sink to the bottom, during low tide. He said some balls likely were carried by currents, which resulted in them washing up on Bayley Beach.
“As soon as it was brought to my attention as a problem, we immediately (stopped),” Szemlinksi said.
By that time it was too late — neighbors came out swinging. A full-blown debate ensued on Nextdoor Rowayton, a private social media site that requires that addresses in the neighborhood be verified before access is granted.
While most Nextdoor conversations are mundane, ranging from lost cats to where to find a good house painter, the Great Golf Ball Debate of 2016 was lively. A transcript of the Nextdoor Rowayton exchange, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, ran under the headline “Mystery Solved (how those golf balls end up in Bayley Beach).”
“It's just another case of noblesse oblige, except no one using Bailey wants golf balls washing up on the beach,” one user wrote. “Even one ball not picked up is too many.”
“How about Wee Burn just stops lobbing golf balls into the Long Island Sound,” another user wrote. “It's just not the right thing to do for so many many reasons.”
A third chimed in, “Ah the Good life … just poppin them out there with out a care in the world … I do say (I) have benefited by collecting them and giving them off to my son in law … so there is a happy side if you don't mind getting your feet a little wet. They get recycled at the golf range and he gets some extra practice.”
Though golf balls aren’t specifically mentioned in Connecticut’s littering laws, the Clean Water Act or the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 prohibit dumping plastics into U.S. waters. The materials golf balls are made of are prohibited and considered litter.
Researchers at the Danish Golf Union in Scotland have said it takes between 100 and 1,000 years for a golf ball to decompose naturally, and during that time can release toxic chemicals depending on the type of ball used. Researchers estimate 300 million balls are lost or discarded annually in the U.S. alone.
And while several Rowayton residents were outraged by the stray balls, others saw no harm in the activity.
“With all due respect, cleaning up a few golf balls is short work for some of the Summer Staff with a mask and a pair of flippers,” one commenter wrote. “I am also pretty sure these are not radioactive or toxic golf balls and are not permanently impacting the local ecosystem. Just because it offends your sensibilities doesn't necessarily mean it should be stopped nor does it mean that you speak for all residents.”
Another wrote, “I'm sure there are plenty who aren't worried about golf balls washing up at the beach. They might be more comfy to step on than jagged shells or muck.”