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Golf: Better than the Real Thing

James Y. Bartlett

It sounds like every golfer’s dream: Stroll out the back door to find a rolling swatch of manicured bent grass, perhaps with an adjoining bunker filled with siliconlike bleached sand. You could drop a few balls and putt and chip for hours to hone a short game that would be the envy of even Phil Mickelson (who, not coincidentally, had a backyard green at his boyhood home).

Well, wait just a second, says Lee Hetrick, executive director of the Golf Course Builders Association of America and a self-appointed dasher of golfers’ dreams. "For a green to grow and prosper, you have to pay attention—on a daily basis—to proper mowing, watering and drainage, and care and feeding of the root zone," says Hetrick. "You need to be able to deal with all kinds of diseases and problems. Maybe you can afford to install the thing, but what do you do if the green comes down with a nice case of fusarium, or pythium, or even some necrotic ring spot?"

Necrotic ring spot? No thank you. The nearly care-free alternative to turf grass is artificial turf, which has come a long way since its initial incarnation was installed in the Astrodome some four decades ago.

Putting Greens Direct, a division of Universal Turf, offers a variety of nylon and polypropylene carpets designed for puttering around in the backyard. The best surface for putting greens, the company says, are the tightly woven nylon turf carpets that run about 9.5 on the Stimpmeter—at least as quick as most country club greens. As for maintenance equipment, all you need is a leaf blower or a broom. The cost of site preparation, installation, and final landscaping depends on the complexity of the project, but plan on spending at least $5,000.

The composition of the base—as much as the turf—can affect how the green plays, especially if you want to practice lofting chip shots from 30 yards or more. Pitch shots can bounce off a green that has been laid over concrete as though they had landed on a cart path. Not even Phil Mickelson could learn much from that. For those who want to practice the longer shots, United Turf Industries offers the SofTrak Personal Putting Green system. The secret to SofTrak’s system is the underlying base: Two layers of crushed stone create a substrate that does not compact, drains quickly, and is softer than concrete. The green accepts lofted shots from as far away as 150 yards, and there is never a ball mark to fix.

SofTrak offers a polypropylene carpet with fibers just over an inch long. Once laid in place, the carpet is then top-dressed with a proprietary silicalike infill that holds the fibers in place without matting, helps accept lofted shots, and makes the carpet run up to 10 on the Stimp. The SofTrak green will need only an occasional touch-up with a weighted garden roller. As for the cost of a SofTrack system, one dealer says his typical 600-square-foot backyard green runs about $8,000 installed.

Both products have celebrity endorsers. Davis Love III loves his Putting Greens Direct backyard green, while Steve Flesch, Fred Couples, Mike Reid, and John Daly have installed SofTraks at home. And short-game wizard Phil Mickelson? He recently relocated from Scottsdale, Ariz., to a new home near San Diego. Probably so that he could be closer to his family home and its (natural) backyard green.

Putting Greens Direct, 866.743.4653, www.puttinggreensdirect.com; SofTrak, 877.694.7336, www.unitedturf.com

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