Have you ever looked into your backyard and imagined the possibilities? Not just taking care of those grassless patches or filling that hole you keep tripping in, but turning your backyard into something truly special? Or, if you don’t have a backyard, have you ever imagined having a really cool one and showing up all those jerks who are taking their backyards for granted? Well, for some guys, they did more than just imagine…
While real golf is environmentally unsound at best and states already reopening their golf courses need to take a long, hard look at themselves, mini-golf is one of the true, simple joys of a perfectly-buzzed summer afternoon. But now that most of us are stuck inside, those yearning to thwack a brightly-colored golf ball around a dinosaur-themed putt-putt course are left as frustrated as Adam Sandler was at that clown in Happy Gilmore.
But what if — and you may be able to guess where we’re going with this, assuming you read the title — we built mini-golf courses in our backyards? Here are five guys who did just that, from those who turned it into a business to those who just got real creative with a shovel and their mom’s old tin cans.
Camron Howell of PuttTek
If you’ve got the money and the space for something truly impressive, you can hire professionals to make you a backyard mini-golf course. One of those professional companies is PuttTek, a business built by competitive golfer Howell, PuttTek’s president and co-founder.
“I played high school golf and was a three-time state champion, then I went to college and played there,” Howell tells me. “I’ve also been in some U.S. amateurs, so I’ve played golf at many levels.” With that background and a deep love for the game, Howell started PuttTek in 2015 as a company solely focused on building backyard miniature golf courses. Howell sees PuttTek courses more like actual golf courses that have been shrunk down, rather than the more traditional putt-putt courses with clowns and windmills, which he says can be tiring and predictable after a while. “Those putt-putt courses rely a lot on ricochet, which means that you almost always get a one or a two because the ball ends up near the hole no matter what.” To solve that problem, Howell says his courses rely more on a rolling topography, which makes things more challenging and less predictable.
So what does it take to build a PuttTek course?
Most tend to cost $50,000 to $100,000, and Howell says they make three, six, nine, 12, 15 and 18-hole courses, depending upon the space people have, running about $7,500 per hole (he adds that his clientele “aren’t spending their last $30,000 on a backyard course — they have the money.”) They don’t take too long to build, either, as Howell says it takes about two days per hole — not bad considering that your whole yard gets dug up, reshaped with decomposed granite (which keeps the course dry and allows it to keep its shape), then topped with artificial turf.
Howell says that these courses are especially good for people who like to entertain, as the point of a backyard course like this isn’t to practice golf, but rather to have a game to play at home with friends and family. So they’re perfect for the social guy who loves golf and mini-golf, but doesn’t necessarily love being laughed at by a giant mechanical clown.
Scott Jones, Florida
But perhaps you’re more of a DIY guy, like the golf-loving Jones, who tells me that he’s “not handy in the least” but decided to convert his small backyard into a mini-golf course as a way to occupy himself during quarantine. “I’ve played golf all my life and I’d thought about doing this for a while, but once coronavirus hit, it became the perfect time to complete the Angel Country Club,” which Jones says is named for his recently deceased cat, who passed away during the course’s construction. Prior to this, Jones says he never went into his backyard except to mow the grass, so turning his space into a place to practice became a way to embrace what he has.
As for how Jones did this, he says it was very much a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of thing. “The guys at the PGA Tour recently did a story on this, and they asked me if I do these for other people, and I said, ‘Hell no! I wouldn’t know how to.’ I never wrote out a single plan or anything — it was all in my head.” Jones even tells me that when he started, he didn’t have any tools. “I got everything from Home Depot and Amazon — I had to buy a tamper to tamp down the grass, I had to buy shovels and I had to borrow a wheelbarrow. I didn’t have any of that stuff.”
He began by tamping town the grass and covering his yard in weed blocker, then he built a putting green and improvised from there, going bit-by-bit with each new delivery of artificial turf. Much of it was trial-and-error: “I also ordered three yards of sand, which I had dumped in my driveway. You don’t realize how much sand that is until you have it dumped in your driveway — it’s basically three pickup trucks full of sand. I kept grabbing a shovel full and going around the back of my house and dumping it — it was a lot.” He also says the 100-plus bags of mulch were no fun either.
Ultimately, Jones ended up with a versatile little course. “The way I did it, I can still use all 14 clubs in my bag. I have two chipping greens, a putting green, and I put a driving range net between two trees at the edge of the treeline, so you can’t really see it. So with that and a launch monitor, I can stand there and hit shots into the net and it tells me how far it went and everything else.”
All told, Jones says that the course only took a few weeks to build and cost him about $2,500 to $3,000, which was especially worth it since he’s now in his backyard nearly every day.
Erich “The Backyard Golfer” Leopold, Italy
While Jones’ project took less than a month, Leopold says that his course has been a labor of love for years. “It started with just a little plastic mat in the backyard, but that would get messed up in the rain, so eventually I switched to grass, and I planted bentgrass in my yard, which is the same grass used on many courses.” First, Leopold planted a square of two meters by two meters, and over the years, he’s expanded it more and more, also turning his project into a YouTube channel.
“I’m always improving it and making it better,” Leopold says. At present, his course consists of three holes, but he says they regularly rearrange things so that it never gets old. Not only that, but Leopold also uses several spaces for multiple purposes, so that he can get more holes than his space would otherwise permit. As far as cost, Leopold says that it’s tough to gauge how much he’s spent over the years, but he says it hasn’t really been that much — the biggest thing is getting the right kind of grass and a mower to cut it. In particular, you need a cylinder mower, which allows the grass to be cut much shorter — something Leopold does nearly every day. Still, he says it’s worth the trouble: “You do this because you love the game and you want to play the game, so it’s worth it.”
Ryan Ballengee, Maryland
Much like Jones, Golf News Net’s Ballengee was longing for the links during lockdown, so he decided to transform his backyard into a place to play some golf. Unlike Jones, however, Ballengee didn’t need to totally transform his space to get what he wanted out of it. Instead, he just needed to clean up his backyard and buy a few minor accessories.
“I originally looked at Amazon, but it would have been weeks to get what I needed due to the pandemic, so I went to Dick’s for convenience and did a curbside pickup at two locations near me,” Ballengee tells me. “All I got was some cups, flagsticks, some hitting mats and some foam balls so I don’t damage my house.” Like Leopold, Ballengee reuses a lot of his space, and with four cups and four hitting mats, he was able to make six holes in his backyard, which he says is about a third of an acre at most.
All told, Ballengee says the entire course cost him just $101.17.
Andy Huling, Alabama
“With quarantine, I needed something fun to do,” says Huling, a college student with a YouTube channel dedicated to sports. To occupy himself, Huling says he wanted to practice golf on his parents’ lawn, so he went on YouTube and found out how to mow his lawn properly, putting the mode on “one” for the putting green and “two” for the fairway. As for the holes, he didn’t even have to buy those. “I took cans of food that my mom gave me and she said I could use those for holes, so I used a spade to cut out holes for the cans, then I used a stick and an American flag for the flag. The only thing I did buy was a tank of gas for the mower, which only cost me like five bucks.”
All told, Huling got five holes out of his parents’ lawn, the last of which included hitting the ball over his parents’ house. Huling says that he’s a pretty experienced golfer, so that final hole “hasn’t been a problem yet, but I did have a close call with a window when I hit the ball into the side of the house.”
If he does end up knocking out a window, however, Huling’s homemade golf course would still cost him less than most other backyard courses, proving that just about anyone with a yard and a love of mini-golf can have some kind of backyard presence — whether they have 100 grand, or just a few empty tin cans from mom.