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Living the Golfer's Dream: Your Own Backyard Putting Green

Golfers Dream

For many avid golfers, building and maintaining a backyard putting green is a dream come true. Successful, satisfying home greens take a lot of planning and care, but that doesn't stop golfers who live to play the game.

With the right start and follow through, you can enjoy a backyard putting green of your very own:

  1. Selecting a Site for Success
  2. Laying a Firm Foundation
  3. Choosing Your Green's Grass
  4. Feeding and Watering Putting Greens
  5. Mowing and Topdressing for Peak Performance

Selecting a Site for Success

Proper location is one of the most important elements of a home putting green. Sun, lay of the land, and air flow work together for optimal putting green health and performance. Choose a site with at least eight hours of direct sun each day and excellent air circulation, away from buildings and landscape plantings that provide too much shade or block air.

Contours of the surrounding landscape are as important as the final contours of the green itself. Avoid locations that lie low, as a well-draining, fast-drying green is essential to stability and performance.

Laying a Firm Foundation

Green construction at commercial golf courses is an extensive process. While home putting greens demand firm, stable foundations, they rarely require the same degree of work.

Commercial greens take a beating from almost continuous course traffic. United States Golf Association (USGA) guidelines for commercial greens1 recommend heavy-duty subsurface and root zone corrections that replace native soil with carefully composed, pre-mixed layers of gravel and other materials to ensure greens don't fail under the pressure. With the light traffic load of home putting greens, most typical backyard soils — with the exception of clay — provide excellent results, as is. Sandy loam soil is an ideal foundation for most backyard greens.2

Excellent drainage — below and above ground — is critical to the performance and longevity of a backyard green. The University of Arkansas recommends native soil putting greens utilize subsurface drainage tiles according to USGA guidelines, but spaced less than 10 feet apart.2 Surface drainage is equally important. Construct your green's foundation so the final contour is free of low areas, and surface water drains quickly in at least two directions. Attention to detail during construction encourages a dense, disease- and pest-resistant green.

Golf Course

Choosing Your Green's Grass

As with lawn grass, putting green grass should suit your region. Creeping bentgrass, a cool-season grass that thrives in northern climates, is widely considered the best for premium putting greens. The finely textured blades allow balls to roll easily, with less resistance, for smooth, fast play. The University of Arkansas recommends Pennington PennCross creeping bentgrass, long favored by golf turf professionals, for backyard putting greens.2 Late summer and early fall are prime times for creeping bentgrass green establishment.3

In hot southern climates, hybrid Bermudagrasses provide good performance for home greens. The stiff, upright leaves allow good ball movement; the ball moves across the cut tips, unimpeded by soft, bending blades. However, Bermudagrass greens usually play slower than bentgrass greens.4 Bermudagrass establishes best during late spring and early summer. Your local county extension office or turf professional can provide information on seeding rates for your area. Local sod producers can also provide guidance on locally-adapted Bermudagrass varieties.

Ball Before the Hole

Feeding and Watering Putting Greens

Fertilize your green based on its grass type. The University of Arkansas recommends feeding creeping bentgrass greens four times per year: twice in spring and twice in fall. Feed greens on or around May 1 and June 1, at a rate of 1/2 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per feeding. In fall, fertilize on or around September 15 and November 15, at a rate of 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per feeding.2

To calculate actual nitrogen in any fertilizer product, multiply the bag's weight by its nitrogen percentage — the first of the three numbers on the fertilizer label. For example, to calculate actual nitrogen in a 12-pound bag of Pennington UltraGreen Lawn Fertilizer 34-0-4, multiple 12 by .34. The bag contains 4.08 pounds of actual nitrogen.

Feed Bermudagrass greens weekly from April through September at the following rates:

  • April: 1/4 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
  • May: 3/8 to 1/2 pound of nitrogen per square feet.
  • June through August: 1/4 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per week.
  • September: 1/8 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.2

Encourage deep, healthy grass roots through deep, infrequent irrigation, as needed. Follow good watering practices, and water in the early morning hours to reduce water loss to evaporation and reduce the risk of disease. Let your green tip you off to when it needs water: When footprints fail to spring back up or grass takes on a blue-purple cast, it's time.

Putter

Mowing and Topdressing for Peak Performance

Commercial courses mow greens daily (several times per day during tournaments) to keep them at ultra-low heights.5 Mow your home green four to six times per week to a height of 5/32 to 1/4 inch for optimal conditions.2 Use a reel mower designed specifically for greens; normal lawn mowers can't mow low enough. Greens mowers are available in manual and motorized models.

Topdress your home green with screened native soil or sand to improve green speed and discourage thatch. Golf courses often topdress at three-week intervals, but you only have to do so at least twice per year — once in early May and again in late September. For native soil putting greens, top with a 1/8-inch layer of the same soil used in your green's foundation.6 Go over the surface with a standard push broom, and work the topdressing down into the turf to keep your green firm, fast and smooth.

Building and maintaining a home putting green takes time, resources and commitment, but it pays off in enjoyment — and an improved short game. Pennington Seed is committed to growing the best grass seed possible and helping you fulfill your backyard dreams.

Pennington is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.

UltraGreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

Sources:

1. United States Golf Association, “USGA Recommendations for a Method of Putting Green Construction," 2004.

2. Patton, Aaron, “Building a Backyard Putting Green," University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

3. Vavrek, Bob, “Bentgrass Putting Green Establishment," USGA Greens Section Record," October 1999.

4. Foy, John H., “Bentgrass or Bermudagrass Greens – What Is Right for Florida?," USGA Green Section Record, February 1988.

5. Steeves, Susan A., “Putting Green Speed is All in Grass Management," Purdue University, June 2007

6. Rieke, Paul E., “Effective Greens Topdressing Depends on Approach," Grounds Maintenance.

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