THE JOURNAL NEWS: "Back Yard Full Of Birdies And Bogeys"
The sign next to Michael Lehrer's driveway reads, "I only golf on days that end in a 'Y.' " For Lehrer, that's not much of an undertaking.
In the back yard of his Armonk home, Lehrer, the president and founder of Home Green Advantage, has not only a natural green and a synthetic green, but also a half-dozen different tee boxes. The longest shot is some 130 yards. Disregard the house for a moment, and you feel like you could be at a private club. Home Green Advantage founder Michael Lehrer has built more than 200 greens, including this one in the back yard of his Armonk home.
Therein lies the genius of Lehrer's burgeoning business — your basic suburban back yard can be transformed into a par-3 or, in some cases, a full-sized par-4.
Is it purely an extravagance for the ultra-wealthy? Not necessarily.
Lehrer says he can build you a synthetic chipping and putting green for $5,000. Granted, some of his clients have hired him for projects that have cost six figures, but when you're talking about an actual golf hole, complete with a fairway, bunkers, even water hazards, the price seems to make sense.
An avid sports collector who didn't start playing golf until 1992, Lehrer was still working as an accountant when he built his first green — in his back yard — in 1995. Then came the idea for a business.
"I said, 'Why can't people do this?' he said. "They have pools and tennis courts. This isn't that different."
Well, one part was. Maintenance of a natural putting green is rather time-consuming, so Lehrer began to look into synthetic surfaces, many of which are now almost indistinguishable from the real thing. He donated one of the first synthetic greens he built to the Metropolitan Golf Association, and soon after, the MGA began to send him his first clients.
After building five greens in 1996 and 12 greens the next year, Lehrer did projects at more than 50 homes in 2003.
He's built greens for CEOs and for celebrities like Greenwich, Conn., resident Ahmad Rashad, but perhaps the real sign he's arrived is this: He's in the midst of a project at the New Jersey home of Rees Jones, the celebrated golf course architect.
Lehrer obviously is doing something right. There's no need for Michael Lehrer's 13-year-old daughter, Allison, to leave home to play golf. She can simply go out to the back yard.
"Now that so many people are doing it, it's nice to stand above the crowd," Lehrer said of the various competitors who have begun cropping up around the country. "No one has any creativity, and I'm probably still less expensive."
An example of that creativity is how Lehrer utilizes space. Take the Purchase home of Joey Low, for example. With one green and tees from 230, 150, 120 and 90 yards away, Low essentially can play four different holes.
"It's definitely nice, and for the kids, you can just see them getting better and better," Low said. "I just wish I used it more.
" So popular is Low's backyard setup that he came home one day to find one of his neighbors, Knicks forward Kurt Thomas, out playing with Low's son. And as Low said, the maintenance on a synthetic surface is minimal, requiring little more than a leaf blower to clear the green.
Of the more than 200 greens Lehrer has built, 75 percent have been "impact greens" like Low's, meaning they are receptive to long approach shots. The rest are basic chipping and putting greens, a few rooftop greens he's built in Manhattan, and a handful of natural greens like the one he has in his own back yard. He's also built a few indoor greens, such as the one at Chelsea Piers Golf Club in Manhattan and the one at Golf Digest's new headquarters in Wilton, Conn.
The more time passes, the busier Lehrer gets. And yet, he still loves what he does. Not only that, he has it down to a science. He's taken classes on agronomy and studied various synthetic surfaces. Eight years removed from his days as simply an adventurous CPA, Lehrer looks out at his own backyard green and laments the months it took him to build it.
"I probably could have done it in a week knowing what I know now," he said.