Backyard putting greens

During the next five years, backyard putting greens will become as common as swimming pools and hot tubs, says Chris Heptinstall, owner of manufacturing firm All Pro Putting Greens in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

While backyard putting greens have been around at least 15 years, the need to conserve water and homeowners’ desire for low-maintenance landscapes are key drivers of their current popularity. Because almost all residential putting greens are synthetic, they require no watering, mowing, pesticides or fertilizers. Jeff Winter, owner of Bladerunners Lawn & Landscaping in Louisville, Kentucky, says his sales of synthetic lawns and greens increased 55 percent in 2007 compared with 2006, due largely to the record Southeast drought. Winter’s company installs backyard putting greens in several Southeastern states. Even though his mowing crew slowed down, “I was able to keep my guys busy and even had to hire some other people,” he says.

Heptinstall says his company’s October 2007 sales volume rose 49 percent compared with October 2006. He also attributes the increase to drought conditions and to contractors promoting synthetic greens in order to keep crews busy.

Paul Donhauser, executive vice president of the synthetic turf division of Enviable Greens in Palm Desert, California, where the economy revolves around “vacations, resorts and golf,” says his company began installing residential putting greens in the mid-1990s and has seen steady year-after-year growth since then. He says backyard putting greens offer a triple benefit: low maintenance, entertainment and aesthetic appeal. Golf courses are beautiful, and a lot of people want that look for their yards, Donhauser says.

“You can make a property look absolutely amazing,” he says. In California, where water restrictions have led many property owners to use rock rather than grass as a ground cover, synthetic greens allow them to reincorporate green space into their landscapes. Home builders are also having greens installed at spec houses in the hopes the additional amenity will make the homes seem more luxurious and attractive to buyers.

Add-on service
Synthetic golf greens are logical add-on offerings for landscape contractors because they already have the equipment and employees needed to install them, Heptinstall says. Building a backyard putting green also provides the opportunity to up-sell your landscaping services. “A contractor may sell a $5,000 green, but sell an additional $5,000 in landscaping and hardscaping around the green,” Heptinstall says.

Typical profit margins for putting greens are 50 percent to 60 percent, he says. For the homeowner, an average 12-foot-by-30-foot green costs about $4,400. That’s half the price of a same-size water feature, Heptinstall says, and is another reason for the popularity of backyard putting greens.

The base prep for synthetic turf is similar to the base prep for brick pavers. You have to remove soil, grade the area, install the sub-base and turf and dress the surface with a special infill material that makes the fibers stand up. While the process might seem familiar, Donhauser says it involves a lot of nuances and you shouldn’t expect to be able to do it without training.

Synthetic turf manufacturers and distributors offer installation training classes and seminars, usually for free. Heptinstall’s company provides online video classes and 24/7 technical support. He advises contractors to install a display green on their own property first so they become comfortable with the construction process. Winter recommends going to classes and getting hands-on experience by watching and helping a current installer.

Unexpected customers
Winter isn’t a golfer, but he’s installing two putting greens at his home. He’s like many of his potential clients in this respect. “You would really be surprised” at the types of homeowners who have putting greens, Heptinstall says. His company sold a 2,500-square-foot green to a contractor who installed it – at a cost of $34,000 – for a man who didn’t play golf, but wanted it to entertain his friends. Donhauser says a lot of his clients don’t golf either. They want putting greens for their grandchildren or visitors, or “just for fun.”

Winter says his customers are mainly women who purchase greens as anniversary or birthday gifts for their husbands. “That’s what surprised me,” he says.

Homeowners who do play golf and have backyard putting greens are usually intent on improving their game and say a putting green is the most effective training aid they own, Heptinstall says.

As for Winter, he says he enjoys looking out over the green, watching the flags flying in the breeze and being able to entertain guests. “They can go out there and putt around a little bit,” he says. “It’s an awesome product.”

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