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Backyard putting greens and their owners go overboard, but that's a good thing

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Are you telling me golfers aren't a passionate lot? Are you saying they're not crazy about their sport? Well, this just in: golfers aren't only passionate and crazy, they are deranged! Mad I tell you, and it is a beautiful thing. The proof is in the putting - so to speak - as in backyard putting greens. Diehard duffers will stop at nothing to have these synthetic surfaces installed behind the comfort of their own homes.

Or through their own homes, as was the case in for SofTrak green installer Mike O'Brien. O'Brien recently installed a SofTrak green in back of one of Philadelphia's historic row houses. Well, if you know-your -rows, then you know that you can't exactly go around these ancient edifices, since they are hooked to other row houses on either side.

The only way for O'Brien to get his heavy construction equipment to the backyard was through the house, begging the question, did O'Brien ask permission to play through? O'Brien's client was either single, divorced, now divorced, or married to an angel. In any event, other than a few dings here and there, everything worked out.

"It was a pain in the neck," says O'Brien. "There was over 10,000 pounds of material. He's well-to-do and belongs to a nice country club with difficult, breaking greens. He wanted to practice those types of putts so we built a fairly big slope on his green, which, because it's so small, makes for a pretty hard breaking putt. It's exactly what he wanted, including no longer having to mow his lawn."

Men will do anything to get out of yardwork, or to show their allegiance to something they believe in. Like Jonny Cash, in San Antonio. No, not Johnny Cash, but this Texan does front a country and western band with his brothers when he's not sinking putts on his Texas-shaped synthetic putting green. Cash's green is 900-square feet - if you can call something in the shape of the Lone Star state a square - and he's one of only a small handful of Texans to have rolled a putt from the panhandle to the hill country.

The great thing about synthetic putting greens these days is that they aren't just for putting anymore; a quality surface can now receive shots from a long iron as well as a flat blade! Rob Thomsen is an erstwhile attorney who became a SofTrak dealer after he got a SofTrak green for his home and fell in love with it and the business concept.

Think Hair Club, just green and on the ground (the synthetic part still applies.)

Thomsen built a behemoth green for a homeowner in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in bucolic Warrenton, Va. The green is a replica of a par 3 at The Robert Trent Jones Club where The Presidents Cup is played, and where the owner is a member. Not only does he have the replica green - complete with undulations and green shape that simulate the real deal - he also has a teeing area some 209 yards away and has been know to take 4-iron into it without thinking twice.

There aren't any long irons being wielded around Brad Ramer's backyard putting green outside of Atlanta, but you'd better bring your best chipping game and a fist full of dollars if you want to step on this stage. Every Wednesday night, Ramer hosts the SofTrak Golf Association's weekly tournament. Six cups and three teeing areas combine to form an 18-hole short track for the four-man teams.

Everyone "chips" in their playing fees, cracks open ice-cold beers, and game on! The official SGA score is kept on an electronic scoreboard mounted on Ramer's back patio. So far, the galleries are fairly thin, despite the amount of money that allegedly changes hands.

"The increase in technology with synthetic putting greens is amazing," says Jeff Gross, a SofTrak dealer with Artificial Turf Products in Charlotte. "These are not just turf on top of concrete. A number of pro's have these things in their back yards and they wouldn't putt on anything unless it was pretty close to the real deal."

PGA Tour players Fred Couples and Steve Flesch both sprung for SofTrak putting greens last year, and both say they wouldn't trade if for real bentgrass and a live-in superintendent. Boom Boom went on to average 1.751 putts per green in 2002, tying him with Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, and Vijay Singh on the PGA Tour and bettering Tiger Woods, Charles Howell III, and Rich Beem.

"My SofTrak putting green helps me improve my short game yet its fun for our entire family and it looks great in our yard," says Couples, who finished second at the Valero Texas Open last season. Couples also topped Phil Mickelson, Lee Trevino, and Arnold Palmer in a par-3 "shootout" this summer, a short-game performance that bagged him an extra $400,000.

Gross had a client in Charlotte who didn't have as much extra cash laying around to spend on a backyard green as Couples. In fact, Gross had to scrounge around for some used turf just to fit the project into her budget. Not only was Gross on a shoestring in terms of his costs, the woman wanted the green installed in one day as a surprise for her husband.

"I normally can't do these in day, but I told her I could do it," Gross says. "Well, wouldn't you know it was raining that day. So a buddy of mine and laid it out in my garage using a lean to with a canopy over it to keep it dry. We delivered it the next morning and installed it before he got home from a golf trip in Myrtle Beach. The guy drove up and it was the first thing we saw because it was behind the driveway. He was ecstatic."

Gross says that particular green was both his quickest project, and his strangest looking. Because the guy lived in a townhouse, the green had to be shoehorned into an awkward space.

"That thing was 20-feet long and only five feet wide," Gross says. "So he is probably deadly on the long straight putts, but he probably couldn't sink a sharp-breaker to save his life."

Maybe not. But this is one guy that Bob Barker doesn't want any part of.

For more information about SofTrak, call (800) 540-4899 or visit www.unitedturf.com

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • putting green in backyard

    james wrote on: Apr 2, 2005

    hello,im from ireland,and have my own landscaping business,just wondering if your company has dealers here,working an installing putting greens
    thanks james


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