June 1 2006 12:00 AM
As golf’s popularity explodes, thanks in no small part to “superstar” players like Tiger Woods, more and more golfers are realizing that they’d love the convenience and luxury of practicing at their own home. But backyard putting greens are not only a handy way to practice. They also make attractive landscape features and raise housing values – by as much as $30,000.

According to a 1999 study, plenty of golfers can afford this luxury – over 17.3 million golfers in the United States earn more than $75,000 a year. As more of these golf enthusiasts desire backyard putting greens, the need for landscape contractors experienced with this type of installation increases. Installing putting greens separates you from the competition, but it also generates significant additional revenue for your business.

If there was ever a perfect place for synthetic turf, a backyard putting green is it. Once installed, artificial greens are nearly maintenance free, and they’ve come a long way since the cringe-worthy Astroturf of the 1960s. Surfaces are now almost indistinguishable from real grass at any distance, and balls react almost identically to synthetic turf as they do to the real thing. Now, even many professional golfers choose to install synthetic greens to practice on at their own homes.

Show Me the Green
Of course, the real issue here is money – can adding synthetic turf installation to your business increase your profits? The answer here is absolutely yes.

Photo courtesy: All Pro Putting Greens

Most synthetic turf companies report a significant sales increase over the past few years – on average, 25-40%. Some are claiming even more: Manufacturer All Pro Putting Greens of Ringgold, Georgia, boasts a 163% sales increase in January 2006, compared to January 2005. “Last year, in the Atlanta, Georgia area, we had two contractors installing an average of one green a month,” Chris Heptinstall, president of All Pro Putting Greens says. “Now, we have 20 contractors installing an average of two greens a week.”

Chris Scott, director of marketing for VersaSport in Wichita, Kansas, estimates that synthetic turf installers are looking at a 35-45% profit margin; Chris Heptinstall, the owner of All Pro Putting Greens, estimates a 50-60% profit margin. And that’s just for the green.

Almost no one who wants a backyard green only wants a backyard green. “I’d say about 95% of customers want additional landscaping done at the same time,” says Derek Jones of HTA Companies, Inc., of Lansing, Michigan, one of All Pro Putting Greens’ licensed distributors. Not only will you be profiting from the putting green installation, you can up-sell your other services, like installing irrigation, plantings, hardscaping, lighting, or even a water feature!

Just as important, installing synthetic greens doesn’t mean investing in a bunch of expensive additional equipment. Most likely, the equipment you already own is ideal for the job – synthetic greens have almost the exact same base preparation as a brick-paver patio.

If you also maintain the property, Heptinstall suggests offering maintenance for the synthetic green you’ve installed as another service for your client. Certain types of greens require an infill which can blow away in wind or wash away in rain and may need to be reapplied periodically. Additionally, the vibrations from running a plate compactor over a green can keep the infill from hardening so the green stays soft.

Finally, in a market where you as a professional can find yourself competing against a guy with a pick-up and a lawn mower, offering additional services is a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition. You may charge more than that other person to maintain a lawn, but you also have a lot more to offer.

The Truth About Turf
There are two main types of synthetic turf – nylon and polypropylene. Which one you install depends on how your client intends to use the turf –for putting, chipping, receiving distance shots, etc. – and what their budget is.

Photo courtesy: All Pro Putting Greens

Polypropylene is a type of plastic, and is generally a little less expensive than nylon, but requires a little more maintenance. Polypropylene fibers can’t stand up on their own. To make them stand upright and to prevent them from becoming matted down, you have to brush in an infill, usually sand or coal slag.

Polyproylene turf may also require occasional “rolling” with a lawn roller. This curls the tops of the polypropylene fibers back into the infill to give the ball a smoother roll, free of oscillations.

The lower cost of polypropylene can make it a good choice for covering a large area. Additionally, the infill makes it ideally suited to receive long-distance shots – the sand helps disperse the force of the impact to prevent the ball from bouncing.

Nylon turf tends to have a slightly higher cost, but requires virtually no maintenance, as it needs zero to minimal sand fill. Heat-set during the manufacturing process, nylon turf resists becoming matted by springing back to its original upright position. However, in spite of this, over time, it can become compacted, irreparably increasing the speed of the ball roll.

Nylon turf is at less risk for UV damage than polypropylene and makes an excellent putting surface, which is maintained easily by blowing or sweeping debris away. However, putting is all a nylon turf is good for. If you chip to a nylon putting surface, the fibers can make the ball bounce.

Keith Thykeson is a PGA professional instructor for a California country club, and also runs Pioneer Golf of Thousand Oaks, California, a synthetic greens installation company. He specializes in nylon turf manufactured by Synthetic Turf International of Jupiter, Florida. This turf is unusual because it uses an infill to prevent matting, offering a best-of-both-worlds solution to the nylon vs. polypropylene dilemma.

Installation Basics
Every manufacturer offers its own instructions for green installation, but there are a few elements that are the same across the board. If you currently install pavers, you probably already have most of the necessary skills. Additionally, if you are a PLANET-certified exterior landscape technician (CLT-E) and chose installation as your specialty module, you’ve been certified to prepare sub-bases almost identical to a synthetic green sub-base.

It’s suggested that you choose a location with good drainage – don’t place a green where water tends to pool. Spray a weed control product and remove any existing vegetation, then put down a weed barrier cloth.

Next, evenly spread decomposed granite or crushed fines (1/4”-minus in size) over the area. This will be your sub-base. Compact the fines with a plate compactor and try to get the surface as smooth as possible. Your sub-base should be about four inches in depth when you’re done.

Photo courtesy: All Pro Putting Greens

Drill out holes approximately four inches in diameter for the cups, and use a hand-tamper to drive the sleeves into the holes until they are flush with the surface of the sub-base. Then, maneuver your turf over the base. If you’re using more than one roll of turf, you should seam them together with commercial-strength outdoor adhesive.

Trim the edges of the green to the desired shape, and cut away the turf material from over the holes. Secure the turf to the base around the edges with six-inch galvanized landscaping nails. Now you’re ready for the final step – the infill.

Fill a lawn drop spreader with your infill material and spread it evenly across the green, then brush it into the fibers with a stiff-bristled broom. Always try to brush against the grain, and don’t apply too much infill at any one time without first brushing it in.

Then – voilá. Your client is putting his heart out, and you’ve just made several thousand dollars profit.

Avoiding Bogies
There are several potential problems you could run into when installing synthetic greens. Water is as much a hazard when installing a green as golfing on one. Both the turf and the infill material need to stay dry during the entire infill process. If water is present, the infill will clump together and won’t be able to get between the fibers of the turf to properly fill the green. On average, installing a green takes a crew of two to three men one to three days. This means you’ll need one to three rain-free days for a good installation.

The other problem you could have is the location of water or gas lines in your client’s yard. No important lines should be located under the green in case there’s ever a problem with the lines and your client needs to get to them. They won’t be too happy if they need to go down through their putting green to fix a leak. Any lines beneath your green location should be rerouted.

Heptinstall says that another challenge is remembering not to cut corners. One of his contractors once installed a $10,000 green, but used a less expensive adhesive than the one recommended to seam the rolls of turf together. After about six months, the seam separated, and the customer was not happy. The contractor had to rip the green out and replace it using the proper materials, which ate up all of the contractor’s profits and turned it into a break-even job. And all to save ten bucks on a quart of adhesive. “Cutting corners is just not worth it,” Heptinstall warns.

If you avoid these pitfalls, you can’t go wrong adding synthetic greens installation to your menu of services. Because the popularity of golf continues to rise, and because they use equipment you probably already have, putting greens installation can really help you score a financial hole-in-one.