The nuts and bolts of building a putting green

Good Growing Conditions

Newly built and seeded golf hole

It cannot be stressed enough, but the most critical part of building a putting green is to make sure the surrounding conditions are adequate for maintaining that green. No matter how well we have built our green, if the conditions for good growth of the turf are not there, then we have started by stacking the odds against us, and we will likely need to go to extreme lengths just to keep a mediocre turf cover. While there are golf courses that have installed large fans or underground cooling systems, it is usually because the surrounding conditions are far from perfect. Because a green is a living thing, only by providing optimum conditions for healthy growth will the turf be able to provide a perfect putting surface, and often weather or other conditions beyond our control will limit what we can expect from our turf . The most important aspects are good direct sunlight and air movement.

Traditional Green

Next, we have to determine how we want to build the green. This will be mostly related to budget, but remember the old adage "you get what you pay for". If the ground is gently sloping, preferably of sandy type soil, you might be able to simply remove the existing sod and seed the area. This is a very cheap method to get a putting green, and it has several issues that could cause concern. Firstly, the choice of seed over sod is significantly cheaper but on a native soil, you will have to contend with the weed seeds that will compete with the turf during growth. Secondly, you cannot guarantee good water infiltration unless you have tested the soil, and thirdly, you may have low areas which will trap water and create puddling.

Modified Green

Ideally, when building a putting green, we would like to mound the green so that it has good natural drainage and different levels of challenge due to the variety of slopes created on the putting surface. Then we would like to have a subsurface drainage to remove excess water from the rootzone. This will allow good gas exchange in the root system of the turf and reduce compaction issues, and disease problems while increasing green speed. Finally, when we are building a putting green, we would like to build the rootzone material (12 to 14 inches deep/30 to 35 centimeters) out of a consistent sandy material. We would like to test the material to make sure there are not too many fines or coarse granules and will usually import it from off-site.

USGA Specification green

At the end of the spectrum, if money is no object and we want a green that is guaranteed to be successful, we can look at building a putting green to USGA (United States Golf Association) specifications

Levelling gravel layer to build a USGA green
. The USGA has conducted a huge amount of research to find a system that would work in almost any climate on earth. They have very strict sand specifications for the rootzone. This is placed on top of a gravel layer. The gravel turns the green into a giant flower pot, where the capillary action will hold water in the rootzone to field capacity (the maximum the micropores can hold) before it drains into the gravel layer. However, in the event of a downpour, the soil still has extremely high infiltration rates (speed at which water can move through the soil) which allows for rapid drainage. Then below the gravel is a drainage network that removes excess water.

While a USGA green is expensive, it is the green of choice for courses who can afford it. And to be sure of success, it may be advisable in this case to contract that out to a builder with experience building these types of greens. That being said, very good turf has been grown in areas where the grass was simply cut short, and is perhaps more in keeping with the origins of the game, when the turf was being cut by sheep!

Once you have started on this path though, be warned, you will be looking to build bunkers and if you have the space your own tee deck. Remember, you don't have make this a do-it-yourself project, you can look at qualified contractors who have experience building all sorts of golf course features.

Backyard golf green
To look at pictures of the construction of one of the most elaborate backyard putting greens I have seen as well as construction photographs of the USGA green, bunker sod wall and tee deck, you need to visit the Kinipela Golf Club site...

Expectations and the natural turf backyard putting green. / Assessing the location for building using traditional methods / Building a back yard putting green the traditional way Part 1 / Part 2 / Build a modified green part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Build a USGA green, Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Going the contractor route, how to find good golf course contractors

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