How five golfers transformed their backyards into private playgrounds.

Facebook reminded me recently that it has been five years since I undertook the most ambitious landscaping project of my life. A mate, his trusty ute filled with crusher dust, some synthetic grass from Bunnings, a three-hour hire of a compactor from Kennards and a previously useless ‘rock garden’ blossomed into my very own private putting paradise.

Sure, it has spent much of the past five years being used as a basketball court but when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from popping down to the golf club, it once again came into its own. Suddenly, by hanging an old curtain behind the backboard at the northern end, I had my very own driving range. Right up until the point that some wayward shots convinced the wife that our windows were more valuable than the upkeep of my very average golf swing.

Social media was flooded during lockdowns with like-minded golf nuts manufacturing their own home-grown practice facility, while others saw it as the perfect excuse to take the plunge and put in the putting green they’d always dreamed of.

When Clive Mayhew and his wife pivoted from a Japanese bathhouse theme for their backyard in Mosman on Sydney’s north shore, the possibility of a putting green morphed into a complete golf wonderland. Constructed simultaneously with a spectacular home renovation, Mayhew called upon David Woods from Southwest Greens – who had built a small putting green at the Mayhews’ previous residence in Newport – and the result helped spawn a business opportunity all of its own.

A tech start-up guru who was the founding managing director of Netscape Navigator in Australia in the early 1990s, Mayhew’s putting green [below], bunker built to the same specifications as the Road Hole at St Andrews and simulator bay allows him to practise every part of his game. Yet he found his practice lacked purpose, so devised the Golf Challenge app to give his practice time – and that of anyone else who owns a mobile phone – a greater sense of fun and accountability.

“It all started from having a bunker, a putting green and a simulator and trying to do challenges myself rather than just going down there and wasting time,” says Mayhew, who hosted Blake Windred, Jordan Zunic and Grace Kim, among others, in a backyard Golf Challenge that can be watched on YouTube (search for: Golf Challenge TV Series).

“When you have that facility in your backyard, time just disappears and because I’m such a tinkerer my golf was actually getting worse. I thought, I’ve got to do something to justify this, and it evolved from there.”

Mark Anthony first fell in love with golf at Chirnside Park in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs 40 years ago and has been addicted ever since. After 25 years in the finance game, a redundancy package was followed by the pleasantly unexpected arrival of his daughter Zoe, the need to child-proof the backyard lending itself to a putting green installation.

A Japanese garden complete with pond and waterfall became impractical after Zoe’s birth almost three years ago and when she became mobile, Anthony called in Queensland-based company Supreme Greens last September to create a space for the whole family to enjoy [above].

“Zoe just loves coming out. I’ll roll a few putts and she’ll bring the ball back to me. She’ll pull the flagstick out and bring it to me, even though I don’t need it,” said Anthony, revealing that he has a special Scotty Cameron ‘My Girl’ putter stashed away for Zoe when the time is right.

“She gets a thrill out of it and having that Japanese Zen feel to it makes it really peaceful, really relaxing. While Zoe’s asleep I’ll put the lights on and come out here and roll putts for half an hour. My putting’s out of sight at the moment. It’s the best investment in my golf game I’ve made in my entire life.”

The backyard golf set-up [above] built by Hitech Synthetic hasn’t improved the game of Michael Arcuri, but it has proven to be a popular addition with other members of the family. Knowing her husband’s passion for the game, the original suggestion for a putting green on their western Sydney acreage came from Michael’s wife Dianna, that passion now passed on to their two eldest sons, Michael and Adrian.

“Through COVID, my boys started taking up golf and they’re going quite well actually,” Arcuri told Australian Golf Digest. “It’s a bit depressing really because their handicaps are already better than mine!”

In addition to the putting green that measures approximately 45 square metres with four holes to putt to, Hitech Synthetic installed a driving net and a bunker with a level of detail that Arcuri wasn’t expecting.

“Before Ed [McCann] put the sand in, he went as far as ringing Bankstown Golf Club and asking the type of sand they have in their bunkers and then put that sand in my bunker,” Arcuri says. “That’s where I told Ed that I play the majority of my golf so I thought that was a pretty exceptional service.”

Work and play

The backyard putting green installed by Southwest Greens at Wade Ormsby’s home in the Adelaide Hills four years ago took on greater significance in 2020. The two-time Hong Kong Open champion went almost six months without playing tournament golf between March and September but with his putting green and a new practice net courtesy of The Net Return, he was able to fashion a practice facility outside the back door.

“If you don’t practise and don’t swing you start losing speed, so I was very conscious of that,” revealed Ormsby, who has posted videos to Instagram playing flop shots from dirt lies over a brick wall to his green.

“Between pitching to the green, putting and using the net with my TrackMan set up, I was able to be self-sufficient at home. Once we’re allowed to home-quarantine in Australia, that’s when it’s going to be huge for me.”

With space to play pitch shots up to 30 metres in distance, Ormsby researched extensively synthetic putting greens that would give him realistic reactions to a range of short shots before going with Southwest Greens.

“I did my homework and worked out who did the best ones in terms of how they react to pitch shots and I knew Southwest Greens had done the one for Nike in Dallas. That was appealing to me,” Ormsby said.

“I didn’t want much slope in my green because so many backyard greens are almost impossible to putt on because of the amount of break. A little bit of turn is a lot. Too much and they turn into Magic Mountain and you don’t get much usable surface.”

Suffice to say it’s not all work in the Ormsby yard [above]: “I reckon I hit 60 per cent of putts on that green with a beer in my hand.”

Lawn porn

If you follow Marc Leishman on Instagram you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a landscaper who played golf. Such is Leishman’s love affair with his lawn that good mate Cameron Smith now suffers the same affliction, the pair obsessed with the cut and roll of their lawns in Virginia Beach and Florida, respectively.

Melburnian Simon Baxter is one of many who understands their fanaticism for front-yard foliage. Baxter transformed his non-descript front yard in Warragul [below] in Victoria’s West Gippsland region into a pure putting paradise in 2019. He contacted Lawn Solutions Australia and after extensive consultation went with a TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda grass that has now become the envy of his neighbourhood.

Already boasting an immaculate back lawn sourced directly from nearby Drouin Golf Club – “I laid 200 square metres in the backyard for all of maybe $400” – Baxter wanted to use his front lawn as a testing ground for his Get Grassed range of garden and lawn fertilisers that launched last November.

“I get a lot of pleasure from watching people walk past the front of our house and stop to touch it to check if it’s real,” Baxter said. “To me, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Recognising that synthetic turf is a sensible solution for those in challenging growing environments or without the time to devote to grooming their grass, Baxter insists that having a genuine putting-green quality lawn is not as unattainable as many may feel.

“If you’re a golfer serious about wanting to work on your game at home, it’s hard to beat the real thing,” says Baxter, whose lawn has spawned its own Instagram account and YouTube channel. “It does take time and maintenance, but that’s part of my hobby. It’s not just about the golf for me. It’s my time when I can be by myself and do something and there’s instant reward. It’s a therapeutic time for me as much as anything.

“Everyone makes it sound harder than it needs to be. We’re all about educating people to keep it simple.”

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