There's an old saying in golf that you drive for show but putt for dough, so it's no surprise that the top pros — and lesser mortals, as well — spend a lot of time practicing their putting. And the easiest way to get in a lot of time working on your short game is to have your very own practice green.
Don't take our word for it. Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer of all time and, later, a famed golf course designer, still practices on a synthetic-grass green that he installed at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. [source: Nicklaus.com].
And Phil Mickelson Jr., winner of more than 40 tournaments and four major championships on the PGA tour, developed his remarkable skills from an early age on a 40-yard (36.5-meter) golf hole that his father spent 10 months fashioning in the family's southern California backyard, which included a green built to exacting U.S. Golf Association specifications [source: Leonard].
But even if your dream in life is just to break 90 for 18 holes, having a personal golf green is a luxury that makes life more enjoyable. As Kansas City Star writer Stacy Downs once put it: "Where else but on your own backyard green can you stroll out in a bathrobe and putt barefoot, day or night?"
You might think that installing and maintaining a practice green in your backyard is a fool's errand, given the grueling work that your local country club's groundskeepers have to put into keeping the greens nice. But while it is true that natural grass requires elaborate care, you can get around that problem these days by putting in a synthetic grass surface that doesn't require as much maintenance.
Be forewarned, though: Creating a putting green in your backyard tends to be a bit more expensive than, say, hanging a basketball hoop on the garage. You could spend a few hundred dollars on a do-it-yourself green that's just big enough to practice close-in putts, or upward of $30,000 for a 2,400-square-foot (223-square-meter) area with multiple holes, sand traps and lights for night practice, as a suburban Pittsburgh couple did in 2008 [source: McKay].
However, you can minimize costs if you're willing to serve as your own architect and laborer and not set your goals unreasonably high. We'll give you some tips on how to build your own backyard golf green, including what materials and tools you'll need. But first, let's talk about why synthetic grass may be better than the real stuff.
Artificial vs. Natural
There are purists who'll insist upon having a natural grass practice green in their backyard. And it seems like a good cheap solution, since you can buy a 5-pound (2.2-kilogram) sack of grass seed specially developed for golf courses for under $60 [source: Amazon].
But as University of Arkansas turf-grass expert Aaron Patton points out, using real grass requires the right conditions — including ample sun exposure, air flow that is not blocked by nearby buildings and good drainage. Additionally, you'll have to pick a type of grass that's suited to your climate zone, and spend a lot of time maintaining it — including mowing it four times a week to achieve the designed height of no more than one-fourth of an inch, weekly fertilizing, and judiciously watering the turf when it shows the purplish color that is a sign of drought stress. And you may have to use pesticides to protect your grass. All that may cost you about $375 a year in upkeep, not counting the many hours you'll invest in labor [source: Patton].
You can eliminate all of those worries by going with a synthetic surface. If you're thinking that it's going to resemble an indoor-outdoor carpet, guess again. The latest-generation synthetic surfaces are textured to look and perform pretty much like real grass, and they don't require much upkeep, other than occasionally cleaning the surface with a leaf blower [source: Downs].
Synthetic surfaces can be pricey, if you hire a company to build a green for you — one outfit, Tour Greens, estimates a price of $15 to $25 per square foot, depending upon the grade of material and the size of the installation. But if you're willing to build your own green, you can buy rolls of synthetic grass for between $1.50 and $4.50 per square foot, depending upon quality, and install it yourself. Make sure you pick a style designed to simulate a putting green's close-cropped surface, which will have tightly curled fibers instead of straight ones [source: Abkowitz].
How to Build Your Practice Green
Here's a list of the tools and materials you'll need:
- Synthetic grass
- Road base
- Crusher dust
- A turf cutter (optional)
- Landscape fabric (optional)
- Rubber panels (optional)
- A rake and hoe
- A vibrating-plate compactor
- Post-hole digger
- Weed-mat pins
- Utility knife
- Set-out paint
- Golf cup
- Drawing materials: graph paper, a pencil, ruler and compass.
- Tape measure
First, measure your yard, decide where you're going to put your green, and then draw a diagram of the project, so that you can plan what you're going to build. Some turf supply companies have mapping and planning programs on their Web sites, which you can use also [source: Smith].
Next, use paint to mark the area. Then, remove the existing grass, either using a turf cutter or a rake and a hoe [source: Smith]. Once you've got the space cleared down to the soil, it's time to add the road base, a coarse material that'll lie beneath the green. Use a rake to spread it out evenly, so that all the hollows are filled. Then use the vibrating-plate compactor to smash down the base really well. Add the crusher dust, and then compact it, too [source: Better Homes and Gardens].
Alternately, if you don't want to use road base, you can use a rake to sculpt the existing bare soil, and then cover it with a material called landscape fabric and rubber panels that you can buy from your artificial turf supplier. This method allows you to create contours that duplicate the breaks on holes from the actual golf course where you play [source: Smith].
Now it's time to dig the hole for your golf cup. A post-hole digger is the ideal tool for making a nice, neat hole. You may want to put more than one hole on your green, depending upon the size, so that a friend can practice at the same time.
Then, lay down the sheet of synthetic grass. Get a friend to help you as you pull the turf taut, and then fix it in place by hammering in the weed-mat pins. As you work your way around the edges, use the utility knife to trim away any excess grass. You want to leave a small amount — about a foot and a half — extending past the edge of the green, so that you can form a slope. Cut small slits along the slope, if necessary, to get the grass sheet to conform to the contour.
Add some sand to the synthetic grass and rake it in. The extra weight will help secure the grass, and it'll also make the surface behave more like real grass when you putt a ball across it. Finally, insert your cup or cups and the flag sticks, and you're ready to putt [source: Better Homes and Gardens].
Author's Note: How to Build a Backyard Golf Green
I've been to a driving range and putted a golf ball on a practice green, but I never really took up the sport of golf in earnest. When I was young, I liked sports that involved aerobic exertion and team competition, and didn't require the precise mechanics that are required for a good golf swing. I also didn't like the idea of having to wear a pair of shoes with spikes on the bottoms, out of a deep-seated fear that I'd accidentally step on my own feet. Over the years, though, I've gotten to know a few golf devotees, and I'm starting to get a sense of why they love the game so much. It's a game whose rituals provide a sense of order, and whose pace allows a person to contemplate the experience as it unfolds.
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