BUSINESS: Entrepreneur builds backyard putting greens
Michael Lehrer knows golf enthusiasts go to great lengths and expense to get the 18th hole.
"Golfer's spend $500 on one golf club, thousands on country club memberships and thousands on vacations to golf," said Lehrer, owner of Home Green Advantage, a business that builds private putting greens. "And they spend as much on lessons to improve their game. Why not for their own green, where they can practice whenever they want?" His natural and synthetic greens costs anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000. The Larchmont based CPA was struck with the idea that he could build a business out of building greens when neighbors started asking about the green perched on the hilly property behind his Armonk home. He only took up golf four years ago and diagnoses himself as addicted to the game. Hoping to improve his game, Lehrer built the natural green in his yard so he could swing at the ball after dinner. As it was being built, his neighbors looked on with interest. "I built one for my neighbor, who then told a friend ... who told a friend ... the word-of-mouth has been tremendous," Lehrer said. "There's definitely a market for this. In this area alone, there are 10,000 members of country clubs who gross over $250,000 a year." The idea might not work as well in less affluent regions in the country, but here the market is proving itself viable. Since, March, Lehrer has installed 10 greens, has staff of seven and is booked through much of the summer. "The first I heard about this was in the 1980's," said Bill Burbaum, spokesman with the National Golf Foundation, an industry market research and trade group in Jupiter, Fla. "The materials used in the synthetic ones can have the same texture and fell of the real thing. They're getting better and better with time." Although not as mainstream as swimming pools, at least not yet, personal putting greens are becoming more popular- just as golf in general is becoming more popular and accessible. Last year, 25 million people played golf at least once in the United States, up from 19.5 million ten years ago, according to the golf foundation. about half of those 25 million played 8 times or more. As for avid players- golfers who played 25 or more rounds last year- the number totaled 5 million last year. That's the magic number for Lehrer so far he's only gotten 10 of those 5 million, but he plans to make himself known to as many avid golfers as possible. He attends tournaments selling both greens and his line of golf apparel fairway to Heaven. He's done some advertising in niche publications and he's developed relationships with golf pros to help him market the idea. "Swimming pools and tennis courts are passe'" Lehrer says. The latest symbol status and achievement is a personal backyard golf green." His most elaborate job to date is a three-hole green 100 years in length in northern Westchester, complete with irrigation and lighting systems. The price tag, $75,000. But that's the exception a $20,000 green is more likely. And even more likely is a green from the $10,000-$15,000 range, where most people find it comparable to the cost of a swimming pool. A bare-bones putting green of 500 sq. ft can be had for $5,000. To save money, do without a sand trap which costs from $800-$1,000. The numbers may seem eye popping, but a lot of discretionary dollars flow into the industry. In 1994 golfers spent $16.3 billion on the game. About 5 billion of the total was used to buy clubs, apparel and golf items. The majority was spent green fees, range fees and carts. "Just as pools became fixtures in middle family homes, you may see more of these putting greens in backyards as the game continues to grow," Burbaum said.