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Fairways to Heaven

Backyard Golf Course Owners Find There's No Place Like Home
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 2)

"It's not a cheap process," says Bookspan. "Think about what you're getting. It's a putting green, like the one they have at your country club. Say you build a USGA-spec green that would cost you $30,000. It's going to cost you 10 to 15 [thousand dollars] a year to maintain, so you pay for it again every two or three years. A Tour True green might cost 35 [thousand dollars] to install, but the maintenance is only going to run two to three hundred dollars a month."

But how does it putt? "When you consider the people who are buying these greens, who could afford real grass, and know what real grass rolls like, there are no drawbacks," claims Bookspan, who counts among his clients professional golfers Paul Azinger, John Huston and Larry Mize, as well as famed teaching pro Jim McLean. Golf club manufacturers such as Titleist, Callaway and Karsten use True Turf greens in their test facilities, as do several golf schools. Even golf fanatic and basketball superstar Michael Jordan has one at his house.

Paul Shok, an orthodontist from Meadville, Pennsylvania, swears by his synthetic green, which he installed five years ago and still uses three or four times a week. "I belong to a country club in my hometown, but I also belong to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. There's a tremendous discrepancy between the speed of the greens, so if I know I'm going to Firestone, I can make my green faster, and if I'm going to play here, I can make it slower. If I get on my green and give it half an hour or 45 minutes, it makes a significant difference when I'm out on the course."

Once you decide which green you want, the next step is figuring how big to make it. Your options depend on the size of your lot and the lay of the available land. Peter Fazio estimates that you need at least two and a half acres per hole, if you have a fairly square lot. An irregular piece of land may require substantially more. Hollander recommends three to four acres for a full-sized hole, and a minimum of 50 acres for a traditional nine-hole spread.

Riley Stottern, owner of Golf Greens of America, knows quite a bit about private golf courses. As superintendent for Wynn's Shadow Creek, he oversaw construction of the nation's premier personal golf project. Sensing a trend, he went out on his own. "We tried to do it on a mass-produced basis, installing USGA greens. There's a lot of golfers out there, and we thought that people could have a green, just like they have a tennis court, but you've got to have the land and the money." Stottern estimates that one par-3 hole will run about $40,000 to construct.

To cut back on expense and space, you can use a green for more than one hole and build fewer holes than on a regular course. Recall-ing work he did in Wyoming, Stottern says, "People in the Jackson area who had 20 to 30 acres would put in a par 3, usually one green and a fairway. We would try to put in two auxiliary tees so you could play it three different ways. Go around three times and you've played nine holes."

These types of compromises are far more popular, and often more realistic, than installing a regulation course. While only a handful of individuals maintain true courses on their property, there are a surprising number of "mini-courses," many designed by prominent architects. Robert Trent Jones II, one of the world's best-known golf course design firms, has done several projects for home owners, including the nine-hole course for Dennis Washington in Canada. Another project was done for Thomas Proulx, co-founder of computer software manufacturer Intuit. According to Steve Schroeder, vice president of operations at Jones, "The Proulxs have an extended practice hole with some greens that allow you to play all the different kinds of shots you would normally play."

Schroeder notes that one of the firm's most famous clients does not even own his own home. This was the case when Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed and installed a presidential putting green. "Bobby knows President Clinton, and Clinton's a big golf nut, and they were playing golf one day and Clinton was saying he couldn't ever get to practice his short game. That was the part of his game that was weak, and Bobby said, 'Well, you know there used to be a putting green at the White House.' It wasn't a big one, but it was there, and Clinton thought about it, and that's where the idea came from." Jones put in a new green on the site of the former one, and now the president can practice his putting in between meetings with heads of state.

Will the new green improve the president's short game? According to Shok, practicing at home makes a real difference, especially for someone with as hectic a schedule as Clinton's. "The most significant thing for me is those five-, six- and seven-footers," Shok says. "It's very convenient, and for those putts I have to make, it gives me a lot of confidence. You don't have to get in the car and go anywhere, and it's great when you get home from work and have 15 or 20 minutes before you have to take the kids here or there."

Using a famed architect like Jones, Morrish or Fazio will add both prestige and expense to your project. In normal circumstances, according to Schroeder, the firm's fee will be 10 percent of the roughly $250,000 it cost to design and build each hole. A nice nine-holer of your own will run $2 million to $2.5 million, before fees or main-tenance.

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