2004: New car or new green? Gimme the green

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play golf. I started whacking golf balls when I was 5 or 6 years old.

What’s more, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want a backyard green. As youngsters, we would bury tin cans in the ground and create the crudest of golf greens. To the neighbors, this probably was laughable. To us, it was the Masters.

Decades later, I have my own green. The essence of how I obtained my green came down to this: Did I want to buy a new car or a new green?

To the joy of my auto mechanic, I chose the green.

Backyard greens cost as much as cars. That’s the reality of the situation. Are they worth it? To golf fanatics, there is only one answer: Absolutely.

I will confine myself to synthetic greens, because the maintenance and care of a real green can be overwhelming. I have friends who have installed bentgrass or Bermudagrass greens, and one of two things invariably has happened: They abandoned their greens; or they hired people to tend them.

I spent a year looking at synthetic greens. I heard it all. I saw it all. I inspected dozens of materials for greens and fringes. I was alternately confused, bewildered and enlightened. Choosing a backyard green can be endlessly perplexing. So here is my best advice: Don’t believe anything that a dealer, contractor or installer has to say. It’s not that they are dishonest, but the pressures of a competitive marketplace have turned virtually all of them into supersalesmen. Badmouthing their rivals is a way of life with these companies.

Listen instead to the golfers who have owned backyard greens for a year or more. Seek out the customers, satisfied or not. Roll putts on their greens.

Make a list of attributes and deficiencies. Figure out which of the two choices in surface material, nylon or polypropylene, will best fit your needs and your lifestyle.

I chose polypropylene for my green. I accepted the necessity of periodic brooming and rolling. Why did I select this green? Because I liked the natural look. Because I liked the way it felt when I walked on it. Because I liked the quality and condition of the older greens I inspected.

If properly maintained, a polypropylene green looks and feels very much like a real green. However, if a poly green is neglected for a sustained period of time, it can look awful.

The surface of a polypropylene greens is filled with a sand mixture. Brooming and rolling insures a smooth putting surface. Once every few weeks, I run a broom lightly over the green. Then I roll it with a water-filled hand roller. The more I roll it, the faster it will get.

My initial objective was to create the fastest putting green in the United States. Then I figured out that a slower green would be better for putting practice. I want to learn to be more aggressive when putting, and I realized that a rollercoaster green might inhibit this goal.

My green currently rolls about 9.6 on the Stimpmeter. I am shooting for 10.5, where I plan on keeping the speed.

Other than listening to customers more than dealers, my primary advice is to find an expert installer with a golf background. The ability to communicate with the installer is crucial to the process of creating the perfect green.

Most golfers want too much undulation and slope. Whereas it might be entertaining to have Augusta National in your back yard, it probably will not do much for your putting stroke. A qualified installer will reinforce this loudly and clearly.

That being said, these greens are virtually unlimited in the types of slopes and grades that can be achieved. A well-planned green should contain a variety of straight putts plus left-to-right and right-to-left breakers.

Once I decided on polypropylene rather than nylon, I looked for the specific material and dealer to satisfy me. I selected SofTrak for the material because I had been impressed by SofTrak greens of various vintages. In addition to the smoothness of the surface, what I liked was the manner in which the greens matured. Properly maintained, these greens seem to look more and more like real grass after they have been in the ground a few years.

Brian Foster and Gary Wilder of United Sport Systems installed the green. Both are meticulous, and both are committed to golf. One of their upcoming projects: all the tees and greens at the new 18-hole Willow Pines project in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Willow Pines course was designed by Lucien Marton, and I was impressed by the willingness of USS to work closely with him. I knew what I wanted in my yard, and I knew it would be a tedious job because my walled-in back yard has accessibility problems. I sensed that Foster and Wilder would consider all my eccentric notions (they did).

It took four days to install what amounted to a short game practice area, including about 700 square feet of putting surface (35 feet is my longest putt) and 300 feet of fringe for chipping and pitching. The installation process for a synthetic green can take as long as a week, depending on the amount of excavation and shaping that need to be done in the yard.

The best greens, in my opinion, are the ones that contain a base (roughly 6 inches) of large rock covered by fine rock. This base is laid on top of dirt and not grass, so excavation is necessary to prepare the site. The artificial turf goes on top of this base.

Drainage is no problem. It actually is enhanced by the rock base. In rainy areas such as Florida, mildew is probably the biggest threat. Mildew, as experienced recently by touring pro John Cook on his polypropylene green, is easily removed with spray bleach.

Foster and Wilder were relentless in preparing my green. Wilder, a golf junkie, was forever explaining his quest to install a synthetic green as much as possible like a regulation U.S. Golf Association green.

Am I satisfied with my green? Yes, without question.

Can all golfers with a backyard do this?

Yes, but some will have to bypass the new car and choose the new green instead.

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