Putting green just out the back door

'It really looks nice next to the fish pond,' one homeowner says


Ken Barnes installed a synthetic putting green behind his Cockeysville home last year to improve his game and to give his grandchildren something else to do when they visit his house.

"It really looks nice next to the fish pond," said Barnes, 79. "I kept seeing these putting greens in the golf magazines and started shopping around."

Home putting greens are yet another high-end option available to homeowners looking to add niche landscaping to their real estate. They allow golfers such as Barnes to sharpen their game while bringing the course closer to home.

Costs can range from $1,100 to more than $4,500 depending on the size and scope of the putting green. Some homeowners can pay much more - Barnes, for example, said he spent almost $16,000 after paying to grade the back yard and add a chipping green. The greens can be professionally installed or homeowners can buy a kit and do it themselves. Experts said most greens can be installed in about a day or two. The greens figure to make most golf fans happy but the return value on the real estate investment is likely to be no more than 40 percent of the cost, according to one appraiser.

With more 60 million golfers in the world and 30,000 golf courses, some manufacturers believe there is plenty of money in the home putting green business.

Once found behind the homes of pro golfers, the greens have emerged as a niche product for the property owner who loves to golf and can afford the extra amenity at their home.

Several companies have entered the business recently to capitalize on what they believe is a growing market.

The owners of Golf Greens "Fore" U began a Maryland division last year. Several senior adult communities have added the greens and some builders are offering them as options on new homes. Nicole Pilon of All Pro Putting Greens in Ringgold, Ga., said the company's business grew 260 percent last year. All Pro has sold more than 4,000 of the greens since starting the business in 1996.

Executives at Ryland Homes' Baltimore division said they are considering adding the option to their next model home.

"We expect to see an interest in it in the future because there are so many golfers," said Earl Robinson, Ryland's vice president of sales and marketing.

Marion Mullan has been in the landscaping business for 20 years. Her Baltimore company, Mullan Nurseries, began installing residential putting greens in 1999. During the past year, her sales have increased 30 percent.

"I started looking for a drought-resistant business," Mullan said. "The greens fit in great. They have the same base as a patio."

The greens are made from a synthetic material with sand rolled in to strengthen the fibers, Mullan said. The more sand, the faster the grain.

"People want to make their home more like a resort so they don't have to go anywhere," Mullan said. "They put value back into their home and also have more family time."

Some putting green builders said customers should be careful when deciding to add the feature. The project shouldn't be entered into lightly, said Matt McHugh, owner of MCQ Sports Scapes in Forest Hill, who compared building a backyard green to constructing a basketball court or adding an expensive pond out back.

"If they have the money and they can do it, it can be something nice," McHugh said. "But it's a massive project."

Gopal Ahluwali, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders, said the organization has seen an increased demand from new-home buyers in landscaping. Ahluwali said he expects to see more putting greens emerge behind homes simply because homeowners are doing so many more things in their yards than ever before.

"It's a big thing with the consumer," Ahluwali said of landscaping spending and the demands of buyers. "People are spending a lot on landscaping and it has become a big business for builders."

While salespeople insist a putting green can add value to homes, most real estate experts said buyers of the landscaping should do so because they want to enjoy the game.

"I've been in the business 15 years and, from my experience, the greens are quaint but they don't really contribute a whole lot of value," said Michael Thomas of Thomas Appraisers in Annapolis.

"This is because it has a very specialized appeal. It's similar to a swimming pool, where you would only get a 30 to 40 percent return."

Eric Macey, a putting green owner and northern Anne Arundel County resident, has had his green for one year. So far, he's loving it.

"I like to play golf; we can relax with the kids at home and use it when we have parties," Macey said.

"I'm pleased with it. It gives you an escape."

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