Caddies optional Golf: For some fans of the game, a backyard putting green is a dream come true. If you want to join the club, all it takes is money.

August 09, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff

You're a golf nut and you have this dream.

Lately, whenever you stare out at your back yard, instead of a tool shed and rusting grill and those tacky ceramic frogs you bought at a garage sale for two bucks each, you see a shimmering putting green, beckoning like the 18th hole at Augusta National.

If you only had this green, your reasoning goes, you could practice chipping and putting every evening and shave a dozen strokes off your handicap and join the PGA Tour and make lots of money and hang out with Tiger Woods and . . .

Friend, you should really get a grip.

But the part about having a putting green installed at your home - that can become a reality. And if you're serious about it, one person you might ring up is Stephen R. Gruber, president of Deer Valley Turf Farm in Street, a dot on the map in northern Harford County.

Deer Valley is one of a small number of area landscaping outfits hoping to carve a niche in what most landscape contractors call a limited market, mainly due to the expense and upkeep of private greens.

While the Landscape Contractors Association of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia has no figures on how many of its members do this sort of work, Gruber says Deer Valley installed seven home putting greens last year and hopes to put in another 20 this year.

For the golf fanatic, the benefits of having your own private green are enormous, says Gruber, 40, who is usually too busy with work to get out on the course himself.

"You can practice chipping and putting whenever you want, with your kids, your family, in the comfort and privacy of your own home," he says.

"And the 'short game' is where golf is won or lost. Our customers tell me their [golf] games have improved tremendously after getting their own greens."

Having a green installed next to those ceramic frogs isn't cheap, however.

Deer Valley charges $7,500 for a top-of-the-line, 1,000-square-foot bent-grass green made to United States Golf Association specifications.

A green of the same size using existing soil and requiring less excavation goes for $5,000. And if you want a couple of bunkers thrown in, tack on another $600.

Unless you want to be out there every morning in your jammies with a garden hose, the green will also need an irrigation system, which goes for around $1,000 and consists of pop-up sprinkler heads.

And figure on another $2,000-$3,000 a year for the green to be maintained professionally, which includes mowing it two to three times a week, applying fertilizer, weed-killers, insecticides and fungicides.

Still, for those who can afford this without hijacking a Brink's truck, a home putting green offers hours of outdoor pleasure.

To date, Gruber's masterpiece is a 3,400-square-foot, bent-grass green he installed at the Howard County home of Kevin McGovern, an orthopedic surgeon.

McGovern, 44, says he was never a golf nut, "although I'm becoming one now that I have a green."

He had the green installed because most of his 10 acres is open and grassy. And with tennis and racquetball courts and a number of sports fields already carved into the property, a putting green seemed like a natural fit.

"We decided we'd go whole hog and do it super nice," McGovern says of his green, which features three bunkers and lights for night play. "We have parties, and people bring their clubs and they play up there for hours."

While Deer Valley maintains the green and keeps it healthy, Dr. McGovern mows the green himself with a 30-year-old Jacobsen mower that cuts the grass to within a quarter of an inch high.

His three young kids love to use the green, and so does he, although his medical practice limits the time he devotes to chipping and putting.

Still, he says, "I practice a whole lot more here than I would if I didn't have a green."

There is a pause in the conversation, so you ask: Has his golf game improved since the green was installed nine months ago?

"Oh, absolutely," he says with a laugh. "I wouldn't have a golf game otherwise."

There must be something about surgeons and golf.

Michael McWilliams, president of Maxalea Nurseries in Idlewild, said his company recently installed a putting green in the home of a heart surgeon in Ruxton, who prefers to remain unidentified.

This was at the request of the surgeon's wife, who wanted to surprise her husband for his 50th birthday.

This green was a small, 100-square-foot job on a slope, with a bunker on the back side. He says Maxalea charged around $1,500 for the work, which took six hours to complete and which began the minute the surgeon pulled out of the driveway to go to work one morning.

Still, "At most, we get two, three calls a year" to install greens, said McWilliams. "And from those calls we'll put in maybe two greens."

The reason more golf fanatics don't install backyard greens, he says, is that the greens require constant care and are susceptible to so many of nature's ills.

"It's like maintaining roses - it's almost impossible," he says.

OK, fine. A real green's too pricey for you? The upkeep too daunting?

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