THE NEW YORK TIMES: For Ardent Golfers, Home Putting Greens
Oh, to be on your own golf course now that spring is here. Fantasy? Not exactly. Behind the picket fence surrounding a Colonial style house here is a golf green, complete with teeing area, sand trap and fairway, all of it the work of a company called Home Green Advantage in Armonk. Since opening for business in 1997 Home Green Advantage has installed about 17 home putting greens, Michael Lehrer, the company's founder and president, reported. "We were pretty successful from the beginning," Mr. Lehrer said. "Although starting up costs for construction equipment, materials and salaries were more than I envisioned, by 1997 we started to make money. The business has been very well received. However, I'm not ready to say that personal golf greens will replace the swimming pools in popularity. But they can co-exist in harmony if the homeowner doesn't mind a water hazard." One of Mr. Lehrer's clients, Mr. Rabinowitz is an ardent golfer. "The first time I saw a personal golf green at a friend's house, I was hooked," he said. "My wife and I love golf. She's a better player than I am, but now that I have the opportunity to practice my short game at home, I have no excuse. I hope it will help me bring my score down. The golf green is also a great way to introduce kids to golf. Our two girls, 7 1/2 and 8 1/2, are already putting." The construction for the green, Mr. Rabinowitz said, was relatively painless process. "What I liked about it is that Michael was totally involved in every detail. He was very careful in preserving the natural beauty of the site, blending it into the area. We inaugurated our course on the last Sunday in March, which was and unusually hot, beautiful day. Five of our friends came over and we hit balls for a couple of hours and had a ball." As for Mr. Lehrer, his interest in golf started when he discovered a bag of golf clubs with hickory shafts. "I found them in my mother's basement," he said. "Nobody wanted them, so I took them, and they formed the nucleus of a collection which eventually grew to 500 wooden-shafted clubs. I was still a student at Scarsdale High at the time and an avid collector of baseball cards, football cards, all sports mementos. I did some caddying, but I didn't think much of golf as a sport. Baseball and Basketball were more my style." Mr. Lehrer, 39, graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in accounting. "I joined a big auditing firm that had a number of big media companies as clients. I traveled extensively for them until I opened my own practice two years later." Mr. Lehrer spent 10 years in his practice in Larchmont, where his clients included many foundations and nonprofit organizations. "It was complex work, very intricate, and for a long time I enjoyed it. I also started playing a lot of golf, mostly with clients, and I was terrible. With golf, the harder you try, the worse you become." But Mr. Lehrer was hooked on golf. "I love the game," he said. "As a sport that has its roots planted in Westchester, it has always been popular here, but a couple of years ago, its popularity started soaring as more people started taking up golf. I saw a new business opportunity and went for it. I started an apparel company called Fairway to Heaven to manufacture golf clothes specifically for younger golfers. Our line did well at the Buick Classic and at the P.G.A. tournament. Last year at Winged Foot's signature hole, the 10 hole on the west course." A few years back, in an attempt to improve his game, Mr. Lehrer decided to build a practice golf green behind his house in Armonk. " I followed the detailed instructions set down in the U.S.G.A. manual," he said. "It's a very exacting process calling for specific materials and construction methods. It was also very hard work. I started with a pick and shovel, then rented a backhoe and hired a construction crew." Six months later and $20,000 lighter, Mr. Lehrer had a 100-yard golf course, which ran along the top of a cliff over a ravine and along a stream and cost a fortune to maintain. " It had to be mowed once a day and watered frequently. One day day without water and it's gone," he said. " I figured it cost $7,000 a year just to maintain one green, so I started looking for an alternative turf that had the properties of real grass," he said. "For example, it can be steamrolled to flatten it out, and the pile is one and a half inches high, like real blades of grass." Before construction, Mr. Lehrer surveys the land, its grades and elevations. He has four employees. "We design the green to fit the topography of the site," he said. "When the plan is in place, we take out all the organic matter and put in six inches of road base material, which is steamrolled and followed by a layer of crushed stone dust that smoothes the synthetic turf and it keep its shape. After the synthetic turf is laid, we cut anywhere from three to five holes in it." The greens range from the very small at 40 yards from tee to green to the larger ones at 140, with an average of 100 yards. The finished green is virtually maintenance free, and is "realistic and practical alternative to a bentgrass green that offers the speed, ball-holding ability, contour and true roll of a natural green," Mr. Lehrer said. The cost of a personal golf green ranges from $5,000 for a bare-bones green to more than $50,000 one with all the amenities. "Such an installation would be large, 170 yards with a tee area, benches, ball washers, two sand traps and an irrigation system for the fairway area, which is planted with real grass," Mr. Lehrer explained. "But either one enables a golfer to practice his or her short game, which is how golfers improve their scores."