Outdoor Putting Greens
A (Very) Brief History of the Backyard Putting Green
In one form or another, backyard outdoor putting greens have existed since the advent of golf. Yet, until recently, the prospect of having a practice space on one’s own property was greatly hampered by the cost and upkeep. As authentic putting green surfaces require daily mowing and treatment, only the most committed (and wealthy) golfers could enjoy their own putting greens. However, technological developments in artificial surfaces have significantly altered this trend in recent decades.
As the first major development in artificial turf, Astro Turf™, saw extensive application on baseball and football fields in the early 1960s. The possibility of a maintenance-free surface for training allowed the product to quickly make the jump to the golf world. Though the injuries that came to plague athletes performing on Astro Turf didn’t affect backyard golfers, it was immediately realized that the surface could not properly replicate the nuances of a real green. However, variants of Astro Turf can still be seen on many practice putting surfaces and driving ranges today.
College football was at the forefront of the next major development in artificial turf. The 1980s and early 1990s saw the implementation of a process involving artificial turf with padded backing laid on a concrete surface and then filled with sand. Much like Astro Turf, the surface proved to be an injury risk for athletes because of a slippery surface and a hard base, resulting in numerous career-ending knee ailments. When this process was tested for outdoor putting greens, it was realized that surface would harden over time, eventually becoming a very poor surface for chipping and pitching. Some companies attempted to counter this problem by substituting a coarser silica material, but these surfaces still lacked consistency and required upkeep to maintain proper density.
As the interest in golf continues to swell, the industry now finds itself on the cutting edge of synthetic surface development. The nylon and polyethylene fibers developed for today’s putting surfaces are able to replicate individual blades of grass with astounding realism. Additionally, the elimination of sand fill allows the putting greens to maintain consistency and performance. These fibers also guarantee longevity with minimal upkeep, even in the most inclement climates.
Unlike previous decades in which golf was the follower, the technologies currently utilized in the putting green industry are now finding applications in regular lawns, commercial developments and other sporting industries. More and more, the previously unattainable dream of having a realistic backyard putting green is becoming a viable reality.
A Source of Frustration
For many golfers trying to fit in a game or two per week between work and their other social obligations, inconsistent and undependable greens conditions can be frustrating.
“I mostly play in the mornings,” said Scott Lee, a former collegiate golfer working as a chemist in Salt Lake City, “And in the fall and spring those greens are like tundra that early in the day. Sometimes, it’s more like shooting pool than playing golf.”
Afternoon golfers experience similar aggravation, often having to play while dodging massive sprinkling arrays and eventually putting on waterlogged, marshy ground. In a game like golf, where consistency is everything, dealing with logistic annoyances can make the game a good deal less fun.
Scott initially heard of the advent of modern synthetic greens while researching synthetic residential lawns online and the idea intrigued him. “The things they can do with artificial grass these days are amazing,” said Scott, “I know there are courses around that have artificial putting greens near their pro shops, why not on the course too?”
Ease of play is only one concern. Salt Lake City, and indeed most of Utah, is a desert. Water conservation, while perhaps not the concern it may be in Southern California or Arizona, is still an important and galvanizing issue anywhere in the western United States.
“It takes a huge amount of water to maintain a golf course,” said Scott, “And I don’t think we’re far from seeing the first all-synthetic courses popping up. For now, it doesn’t seem far fetched that you could put together a course that’s part natural and part synthetic. Cut their water usage by twenty percent? Maybe even fifty percent?”
The idea of an all-synthetic golf course is not a new one, but seems closer now than ever before due largely to the advent of the modern era of artificial grasses. Enthusiasm for the idea has never been higher. “If someone built one,” said Scott, “I’d definitely play on it.”