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Backyard greens woo golfers

Golf enthusiasts are flocking to Backyard Sports, an Orlando-based company specializing in personal practice greens.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002


Bill Holt swung his first golf club 40 years ago.

Last year, he walked into a golfer's dream.

Holt, who hits the links two or three times a week, bought a house late last year adjacent to one of the two 18-hole courses at The Eagles, a community in Northwest Hillsborough County. By spring, he also had a six-hole practice green in his back yard.

Excessive?

Maybe not.

Mick Ward, a sales representative for Backyard Sports, the Orlando-based company that installed Holt's practice green, says nearly half of his clients live in golfing communities.

"People who buy in golf course communities are very golf-oriented," Ward says. "Having their own practice facility that they can use whenever they want is important to them."

Holt uses his green as many as four times a week, and he often entertains his golfer friends there.

"This time of year it just feels great," Holt says.

Nearly half of the strokes in a round of golf are putts and short chip shots, so a convenient place to practice can really help a golfer's game.

"Since I've had the putting green I think my handicap's improved a stroke or two," Holt says.

These days, he has a handicap of about 11.

Holt has lived in Tampa his entire adult life. He moved to the area in 1964 from Indiana with his family. He was still in high school. He attended Florida Southern College on a baseball and basketball scholarship. After graduation, he got into golf.

"When you get out of college, unless you have designs on being a pro player, which I did not, golf is one of the games you can take up and still see your friends regularly and compete on whatever level," he says. "I fell in love with the game."

He's played on courses all over the United States and the Caribbean, including the legendary Pebble Beach course in California. He also enjoys Black Diamond just north of Brooksville and the courses at Innisbrook.

Holt's previous Tampa homes have been on the water. But he often saw practice greens behind homes along golf courses. He decided if he ever had a big enough yard, he would get his own green.

His 3,500-square-foot home sits on a 100- by 200-foot lot, giving him plenty of space for his fantasy.

About 200 square feet of open space is required for a practice green. Backyard Sports practice greens start at $2,500. A 240-square-foot putting green with three holes runs about $3,000, and a 400-square-foot putting and chipping green with four holes costs about $5,000.

Kerry Woodson, a retired minor and major league baseball player, co-founded Southwest Greens in Phoenix five years ago. He brought the company to Orlando in 2000, merging with Rhino Courts to establish Backyard Sports, a company that also installs at-home basketball, hockey, volleyball and racquetball courts.

According to the National Golf Foundation, Florida leads the nation in golf courses. The organization reports 15 percent of all golfers are permanent residents of a golf course community. Another 3 percent own a residence on a golf course they use as a vacation home or rent out as an investment property.

The popularity of the sport continues to grow. Since 1980, the number of golfers in the country has increased from 15-million to nearly 27-million. About 586-million rounds of golf were played in 2000.

Many professional golfers live in Florida, and Backyard Sports has installed practice greens for such tour players as Lee Janzen, Mark Calcavecchia, Rocco Mediate and Ty Tryon. The company also put in an 11,000-square-foot, 18-hole practice green for pop star and Orlando resident Justin Timberlake.

Ward began peddling the practice greens in Tampa in July.

Holt's was the company's first installation in the area. They're working on four more, including one in the back yard of the Tarpon Springs home of Jim Hearn, who founded Hungry Howie's.

Backyard Sports works with clients on the available space, budget and level of difficulty.

"Taking those things into consideration, we offer different designs that fit the landscape and the overall picture of their property," Ward says.

The green can be designed with tee boxes, chipping pads, rough, fringe, slopes, contours and sand bunkers.

"We don't do windmills or clowns," Ward jokes.

The greens are built with sand-filled polypropylene synthetic turf that simulates the feel of a real golf green. The grain and compaction of the surface controls the speed of the green.

"These greens will accept a pitch shot from up to 100 yards away and the ball will react exactly as it does on the golf course when it hits the green," Ward says.

The greens require little maintenance and come with an eight-year warranty. Every 60 days, they need to be flattened with a water-filled lawn roller. Weed killer keeps unwanted growth under control. The surfaces are UV-stabilized to keep them from fading under sunlight, Ward says. They're designed so in a big rain most of the water flows off the top in the desired direction and the rest percolates into the ground.

Terra cotta edging outlines the figure-eight shape of Holt's green, which has about 1,200 square feet of playing space and is integrated with a backyard pool. A yellow plastic chain typically found on practice greens discourages exploration by his two Labrador retrievers.

"The feel of it, the way a ball rolls on it is very, very much like a real green," Holt says. "Everything is very realistic."

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