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Owners build putting greens to improve game, entertain

With a putting green just outside the door, it stands to reason that a straight line to the hole would become a less stressful part of the game. Not the case.

At least "not substantially" for Robert Zielinski of Buckeye Putting Greens and Bob McCafferty of Fort Thomas, who have artificial greens.

"I'd like to think my putting has improved, but I'm not positive," says Pete Van Curen, also of Fort Thomas, who faithfully tends a natural bent grass green in his front yard.

"My putting hasn't improved, but my short game overall has gotten better ... the chipping and bunker shots around the green," says Leo Melanson of Newburyport, Mass., who started the Web site in 1998 devoted to constructing and maintaining natural grass home putting greens.

Parties try putting

And though at least one of the homeowners involved tends to be a golf fanatic, it's not a backyard course requirement.

"It's definitely a draw for family parties. We're always out there doing a little putting. It's good cocktail-hour activity," says Van Curen of his four-hole natural green. "And the kids are starting to get more interested in it."

"The kids hang out back there and when they leave, the parents take over," says McCafferty of his green, lit at night.

Terry and Charlie Mack of Middletown say their synthetic green is a draw for friends and neighbors to their 2-year-old granddaughter.

"Everybody putts," says Zielinski. "You don't have to be a golfer."

But if you're enamored with a natural bent grass green instead of the no-care synthetic, get ready to put in some heavy-duty yard work the first year and diligent maintenance thereafter.

Van Curen's 40th birthday present to himself came to light when a tree died in the yard leaving him with a sunny, open area. He did his homework and picked the brain of Paul Hoar, golf course superintendent of Highland Country Club, then rented a bobcat, corralled relatives and put down 65 tons of sand and other materials to build the 20-by-50-foot, four-hole green to USGA specs.

Daily care required

Van Curen cuts the green daily, and has to cope with fertilization, fungicides, insecticides and aeration and has a special greens mower. And though the moles keep his pitchfork at the ready, he relishes the nightly putting time.

"It's a nice place for me to get away" just outside the front door, he says. A long approach shot area has been created, but he and his wife, Julie, have decided against a sand trap in deference to protecting their homes' windows.

"I thought he was crazy, at first," says Julie who does daily green checks. "But we have a lot of fun parties."

McCafferty, who lives nearby, has had his green about a year, though he constructed it mentally as a teenager living in this same house, then owned by his parents.

"I was about 14 when I looked out at the back corner and saw that flat spot out there and thought it was a perfect area for a putting green. Even then, I would trim the grass really short and make a hole myself putting a flag in a flower pot."

The area, about 18 by 35 feet and surrounded by a rock wall, was never fertile for growing grass - shaded by a stand of tall trees - but turned out to be ideal for a green, especially in the hot summer.

"I'd always dreamed about living on a golf course. This is as close as I think I'm ever going to get," he says.

Many families are turning to greens to replace hot tubs, basketball courts and swing sets, says Zielinski.

"I met a family at one of the outdoor shows debating whether to get a hot tub or an outdoor putting green. He finally said he'd rather see friends on his putting green than in his hot tub."


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