Jim Chin is a popular guy in Ardsley. “You’re the guy with the golf course in your backyard,” people exclaim when they see him. Well, not exactly, Chin tells them, “It’s only one hole.”
Nonetheless, Chin, whose green is visible from Heatherdell Road, is the envy of many in golf-obsessed Westchester County, but he is only one of hundreds in the region to have had a custom golf green with tee boxes installed on his property by Michael Lehrer of Home Green Advantage. Chin made provisions for the golf hole on his acre of land when his new house was being constructed and the property landscaped in 1999.
“First of all, I like to play golf,” said Chin, who hits full courses about 70 times per year. “I knew that if I had a 70-yard lob shot it would improve my short game, which is the key to golf. It allows me to practice and improve my skills. It has helped me improve.
“I enjoy going out for an hour to hit 60 balls from the tee box to the green and then work on my putting. It’s a great way to keep up my swing.”
Just like having a tennis court or a basketball hoop a forehand or a jump shot away, golf can be just a chip shot a way from your patio. For as little as $5,000 you can have a putting green and for most projects — though prices vary based on things like accessibility to land, scope of the project, the amount of excavation, etc. — Lehrer’s work typically costs under $20,000 for a full hole.
Lehrer, a 1977 Scarsdale High School graduate, was a CPA who in the early ‘90s became a golf fanatic himself. Taking a page from “Field of Dreams,” where the main character constructed a baseball field on his farm, Lehrer made a golfer’s dream come true doing all of the dirty work himself and put a hole on his property in Armonk (he now has two). It didn’t take long for Lehrer to become an icon within his own neighborhood and soon there were requests for Lehrer to do similar projects in other’s backyards.
Two years later in 1995, Lehrer had perfected his craft and traded his adding machine and tax forms for a shovel and a steamroller to found Home Green Advantage.
“It’s such a departure from being a CPA,” Lehrer said. “I gave that up for a shovel. I just thought there would be a great demand for it. I thought optimistically and by word of mouth it keeps growing. For a minimum of $5,000 you can really do something to improve your golf game, plus have something aesthetically pleasing in your backyard.”
According to Home Green’s website, there are many advantages: practice in the privacy of your own home, low maintenance, enhanced property value, professional quality, look and feel of real grass, beautiful landscaping, indoor or outdoor installation, no watering, mowing or environmentally unfriendly chemicals, ability to practice more often and lower your score. Plus, you can play in bad weather and 24 hours a day.
Chin was not only overwhelmed by the initial product, but he’s been pleased to see it stand the test of time, with a yearly maintenance contract for upkeep. “It’s held up excellently,” Chin said. “I have it serviced once per year. Michael will clean the surface, roll it, and put down a little sod. I also have two traps so he’ll add some sand. It’s great. There’s no issue with renovation or repairs. It’s just maintenance.”
Dr. Stephen Nicholas of Scarsdale and Lehrer go way back. The two played basketball together at Scarsdale and Nicholas was Lehrer’s catcher on the baseball team. They reunited when Lehrer added his magic tough to Nicholas’s backyard.
“I’ve known him a long time,” Nicholas said. “I looked at someone else’s green and was in awe and asked who did it. I had to have one for myself, especially when I found out it was Michael. He was there and attentive the whole time. He understands the game and how the ball bounces and how the ball should roll.” Nicholas hasn’t seen too much improvement on his game, but the green has become a focal point for his family, which includes his wife and five children.
“We have five kids and I’ll be watching them and they’re in the sand trap with a shovel and a pail and I’m on the greens putting,” Nicholas said. “One day I saw one of my sons putting on his shirt and he said he was going to hit some balls with my putter. Of course he went and took the new balls from my closet. It’s just a great time.”
“It changes the way you approach golf,” Nicholas said. “It allows the kids to love the game without dragging them somewhere for one or two hours. Instead you go out to hit for 10-15 minutes and an hour or two later you realize how long you’ve been out there.”
While one family member is hitting, the other sit on the deck chatting and spending quality time together until it’s time for supper, kind of the way kids used to grow up playing pick-up baseball.
“I never imagined I would have something like this,” Nicholas said. “We had some dead space in the backyard and a tree that had died that had to be taken down. I don’t like taking trees down, but that opened up the backyard.” On their street alone, Lehrer has actually installed enough greens that neighbors could probably play 18 holes.
Steve Rakoff is highly considering having Lehrer do some work in his yard. After all, the high-end builder and property renovator from Precision Development Inc. has been referring his clients to Home Green and it’s about time he got to reap the rewards of a personal golf paradise.
“We started talking about it,” Rakoff said. “My kids are getting older and starting to play so it’s great for them to get out there. It’s that or a trampoline and this one is safer.”
Home Green has installed over 350 greens over the last 13 years. One project Lehrer worked on last month was a surprise birthday present from a wife to her husband. The gift consisted of a green and a pair of tee boxes, and soon enough the project grew to include a sand trap at the golfer’s request. The whole thing was expected to take about a week and a half, weather permitting.
Home Green is as close to the real thing as you’re going to get, according to those who have chosen Lehrer’s company.
“His surface is the most natural,” Rakoff said. “It’s the green speed and actually the way the ball rolls. Some surfaces feel like you’re playing golf on a carpet, but his is like the real thing that’s like playing on a golf course. It’s very well received. If I’m building or renovating for someone I know likes golf I’ll suggest it.
Lehrer uses a synthetic surface that is as close as possible to simulating a real green, and most greens will have multiple holes to give golfers different options to shoot for when driving, chipping, or putting.
A compacted 6-inch stone surface makes for a firm base. On top is an inch-thick layer of fine stone dust, which when smoothed resembles concrete. This foundation drains water well and has the same undulations as the end result will have. Lehrer rolls a basketball on the surface, which mocks the same path a golf ball will later take on the soon-to-be-installed synthetic turf, which has a sand and rubber mix. Unlike a turf playing field used by professional sports teams and high schools, the turf with the sand/rubber mix is also compacted by a 2- or 3-ton flat roller. A synthetic collar and edge that is slightly higher than the green is added to serve as a buffer between the green and the real grass in the back yard.
Depending on the space available and the topography, Lehrer will custom design the project to fit well with the surroundings, while also taking into consideration the needs of the homeowner. Lehrer almost instantly has an idea once he sees the backyard and it typically works out exactly as he envisions it.
“I became addicted to golf five years before in 1990,” Lehrer said. “I’ve seen so many courses that when I see a piece of land I immediately see how it can be done based on what needs to be cleared and the elevation. I can see where it starts and where I want it to go.”
Lehrer can put in anything from a small putting green to a 100-yard shot to a large green if you have the room. He will also put in multiple tee boxes at various distance and angles to take away the repetitive nature of always taking the same shot.
And it’s not just back yards that house Lehrer’s work - he can also put a green indoors, in courtyards and on rooftops, which he has done in New York City. From Montauk to Hawaii, Lehrer will travel any distance to install a green. In addition, Lehrer has installed tee lines for driving ranges at Old Oaks Country Club, Sleepy Hollow Country Club, Saucon Valley Country Club, Quaker Ridge Golf Club, Round Hill Club and Fairview County Club. He also put in the first green in Manhattan at Chelsea Piers.
It should be noted that, especially for those with neighbors within striking distance or those with narrow lots, only qualified golfers should be driving the ball, and only with a proper club for the distance. “You don’t want someone who can’t make the shot up there and you don’t’ want someone trying to whack the ball with a three-wood,” Lehrer said. What you don’t want to be doing is constantly yelling “Fore!”
Lehrer’s clients noted how passionate he is about his work and his product. “He has a passion for it, obviously,” Rakoff said. “He works with the topography and does it right. He makes it special, like you’re on a real course.
” “He gets down and dirty,” Nicholas said. “He’s not an executive in a jacket and tie. He’s got a shirt and jeans or shorts. He’s so dirty that you know he’s doing the work.”
Lehrer takes pride in his work. “Every job looks the way it does because I’m there,” Lehrer said. “I’m the salesman, the foreman and the installer of every project. Or can say I’m controlling, but I look at it as if it’s my own property.” Chin has referred Lehrer to several friends, who have since added their own home greens. The referral, Chin said, is the best compliment.
For those who can’t get to the golf course enough or for those who play often, but still want to get that advantage, home green’s product is fast becoming the hottest home “addition.”
“You can call it a luxury, but it really is an affordable luxury,” Rakoff said.