For most people, playing sports in the backyard has always been an enjoyable pastime. Whether it’s a basketball game with neighborhood friends, touch football on a Sunday afternoon or volleyball after a barbeque, the backyard plays host to sporting events of all kinds. However, I learned very quickly during my childhood that the backyard is not the best place to learn how to golf. Let’s just say my dad had an unfortunate run-in with one of my golf balls while I was practicing my chipping one day. While a proper game of golf may be impossible to play in the backyard, some skills may still be honed. Putting is one such skill that’s possible to practice in the backyard by installing and maintaining a putting green. While backyard putting greens are not for everyone, some diehard golfers have had success bringing a piece of the golf course to their own backyards.
A Challenging Project
Like I said, a backyard putting green is not for everyone. They can be labor intensive to create, expensive and time consuming to maintain. They require frequent mowing with specialized equipment, pesticide application and regular irrigation. According to turfgrass specialist Aaron Patton of the University of Arkansas, you probably should not try building one. Having said that, it’s a free country and it’s your backyard. If you’re up for the challenge and love the game of golf then this project might be for you.
Location, Location, Location
Your first step is to decide where you want to place your backyard putting green. Location is critical in determining if your putting green succeeds or fails. Make sure you select a spot in full sun with adequate air flow. Avoid locations surrounded by walls, fences or thick trees. Proper air flow and sunlight will not only help the grass achieve optimum growth, but will also help prevent molds and diseases that can devastate putting greens. Avoid low, depressed areas of your backyard that tend to gather water.
Next, determine the shape and layout of your putting green. You may want to design it after your favorite putting green at your local golf course. Take a garden hose, rope or string and lay it out in the desired shape and adjust it as needed. After you’ve created the outline, use spray paint to mark the perimeter of your putting green. Remove the existing sod from the area you’ve marked with spray paint. Sod cutters are available for rent from most equipment rental services.
Contouring and Drainage
While the United States Golf Association has strict standards for green construction, installing a backyard putting green is more flexible. You may use your existing soil for a base, or you may consult the USGA for soil materials to create your putting green. Most existing native soils will work as long as they are not too high in clay. Whatever soil material you decide on, it’s important that you install subsurface tile drains to ensure adequate drainage of the green. If you’re using native soil from your backyard, space the drains 10 feet apart or less. It’s also important to contour your green in a way that promotes quick surface drainage. Watch out for low areas or pockets where water could collect. Make sure water is able to drain off the green in more than one direction.
Selecting the Proper Grass Seed
Once you’ve completed the contouring and soil preparation, it’s time to decide what type of grass seed to plant. For folks living in the northern half of the United States, creeping bentgrass is the most common grass species for putting greens. For those of us living in the southern areas of the United States, bermudagrass is the standard. While creeping bentgrass makes an excellent putting green, it can quickly become a stubborn weed in the rest of your lawn. Be careful to keep it contained to its desired area. For putting greens, plant at a rate of 1 lb. per 1000 sq. feet. Contact us directly for more information about purchasing creeping bentgrass. Bermudagrass seed can be found here.
Once your putting green has grown in, it will need to be mowed at a length of 5/32 to ¼ of an inch, four or more times a week. The most practical way to do this is with a specialized reel mower. These mowers are available from most major lawn mower companies. On top of regular fertilization and irrigation, your backyard putting green will also need regular topdressing. This involves applying approximately 1/8 inch of sand on the surface of the putting green. Work the sand into the turf using a push broom. This should be done at least twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Don’t forget to aerate the green to help drainage and prevent compaction. Use reciprocating aerifiers if possible.
Source: Dr. Aaron Patton, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture