How to DIY A Stone-Bordered Backyard Putting Green (on the CHEAP!)by Dave Nastalski
- Putting Green – $1000 (less without the plastic panels)
- Fringe Turf – $500
- Landscape spikes and U-Staples – $27
- Landscape Fabric – $50
- 3/4″ Rock – $40
- Screening Rock – $40
Total – $1657
- Stone Pavers, Caps + Construction Adhesive ~ $318 (Still under 2k!)
- Rental Equipment ~ $250
If you’ve ever requested a quote from a company to build a backyard putting green, you’re probably shaking your head at us. Especially because most golf putting green estimates list the materials at 3-4k alone! The truth is, everything is negotiable. Even materials. And when you DIY, you not only save a bunch of cheddar, but you also have the satisfaction of building it yourself!
The few quotes WE received to build a backyard putting green for the business were over $6,000, not including any type of landscaping or stone surround. We were shaking OUR heads saying NO WAY! So, taking our can-do attitude with us, we set out to build one ourselves. And we built it on a budget of both time AND money. If you’re sitting here thinking there’s no possible way I could do this, we’d urge you to read on. It’s deceptively easy, even for a first time DIYer. And in no time at all, you’ll be able to practice your putting like never before!
Below, we’ve laid out the steps we took (*along with some AWESOME insider tips) from ground breaking to holing the first downhill left to right 14-footer. And with a little grit, lots of sweat, and a passion for golf, you too can put your very own putting green in your backyard. And now you can get it done for less than that end-of-year bonus check! Your spouse will thank us later. Maybe….
STEP 1: Site Selection and Sketch Layout
Decide where you’d like for your green to be, and how much space to devote to it. We’re currently rehabbing the entire backyard (more DIY fun!), and wanted the putting green to be pretty central to all the action. Ultimately, the flatter the terrain to start, the easier it will be to level it to slope. Unfortunately, the spot that made the most sense for us had over a 5% slope to it. So that meant moving lots of dirt. The max slope you’re looking for is about 1-2% for drainage. Want to calculate how much slope you have in your spot? Check out this awesome guide from SFGate.
We then rough-sketched our layout against our other landscaping in the backyard (which was pretty minimal), and made sure it made sense. We then got carried away and added plans for a fireplace / TV, patio, and firepit/sitting area. We can dream too!
STEP 2: Purchase putting green and fringe turf
We purchased the putting green from a local manufacturer a few years back for about $1000. It was an indoor model with paneling, but found out it was rated for outdoor use as well. SCORE! *Insider tip: ask if they have any floor samples and offer to pay cash and pick it up yourself. By negotiating this way, we received over $1000 off the asking price. In the end, the turf is the most expensive part of the project, but is still a very negotiable component. We chose a putting green that came with plastic base panels. You can build a backyard putting green WITH or WITHOUT plastic base panels. If you build it without, you will save even more money on the putting green itself, but you must add a 3″ layer of screening rock on top of the base stone (~$20-$30) if you go this route. You must also ensure that it is COMPLETELY level. Any small bumps will be visible in the putting green turf after the install.
We purchased the fringe turf from Synthetic Grass Warehouse. We found this to be the best quality turf with very good pricing. They were unbelievably helpful, accommodating and informative– ask for Sara and tell her we referred you!
STEP 3: Surface Prep
PLEASE DON’T SKIP THIS STEP! If you’ve got a full bed of grass you’re planning on replacing with the green, renting a sod cutter makes this process go a lot faster (~$60 for 4 hours at the Home Depot) than digging it out by hand. Because we were on a budget, we opted to dig by hand. Blisters were abundant. Our green is 14′ x 8′ and we planned for about 20″ of fringe around the perimeter, underneath of which would be a stone retaining wall with caps to give the green a nice structure. Typically, you’ll want to extend your fringe about two feet around around the green. This gave us a total surface area of roughly 216 sq.ft. (18’X12′) to prep. We made the early mistake of prepping only the surface area for the green itself and not the fringe (as you’ll see later in the post). This made the project take a bit longer than it should have.
You’ll want to completely remove anything green from your putting green surface area. *Insider tip: spray the area with a weed killer, wait about a week to see if anything new pops up, and spray it again.
During the excavation, continuously measure for level as you tamp the surface. I used a simple two-foot long hand-level along the way. Having a 4′ or 5′ level would have been nice, but not necessary. We were forced to add massive amounts of fill dirt to the west end of the green (we mentioned our original 5% slope earlier didn’t we?) to achieve the 1% slope for drainage.
STEP 4: Rock Base – 6″ min
We made the mistake of buying the first 10 or so of these by the bag at Home Depot. If you visit your local rock / mulch yard, you can get a whole ton of 3/4″ base layer rock for about $40 bucks. (That’s $2000 lbs) If we would have purchased the whole lot from Home Depot, it would have cost $160! This rock creates the base layer and helps to compact the soil beneath it. Add layers of 2″ at a time, and tamp in between. You can also rent a plate compacter to do this job for you. Looking back, it may have been worth the few extra bucks to rent some power tools!
Make sure to have a fully-tamped minimum 6″ layer of rock as your base order to provide a solid foundation for your putting green. Don’t skimp on this! Its crucial to have a solid footing to prevent washout!!!
Make sure to wet the surface after tamping and leveling to allow for greater compaction and settling.
STEP 5: Size Check and dig the paver track
We assembled the putting green to get a feel for the sizing and perimeter requirements.
When we excavated the area for the putting green, we didn’t factor in the fringe area. (When we began the dig, we never planned on having a fringe/stone surround.) But we learned quickly that the slope in the yard made it unavoidable, and it certainly gives the green quite a professional look (for not much extra money. ~$300 total) So, we had to measure and string out each side, mark, and dig out the perimeter in order to allow room for the pavers (and fringe).
The pavers needed a min base of 4″ gravel or stone (we used the same stone from before). So, the dig had to dive 4″ further than the level point with the putting green.
We used the level quite a bit during this phase. Not only did the block have to be level as it sat in the ground, but once the paver cap is on top of the retaining wall block, it too had to be level with the putting green (or sitting slightly below it for drainage, which you will see in a bit).
STEP 6: Stone Perimeter Install
We found the “section by section” method to work best. The dig was followed by a tamping of soil, then a 4″ pour of gravel, another hard tamping down, wetting, then placing the first stone block. We would then level the block longways. *Insider tip: if you’re off by a bit, use a rubber mallet to bang on one side and level it as needed. We would then place a stone cap on top of the wall block, and run the level from the stone cap to the putting green to make sure there was a slight upslope (approx 1%). This is to ensure proper drainage in the perimeter of the green and fringe area.
Notice the above and below photos. We wanted to make sure the slope of the block matched the slope of the putting green. It was our aim to achieve a 1% slope on this putting green. Use the level to verify the same amount of “bubble” rests slightly over the line on the paver block AND the putting green itself. Working our way around the green, we picked up on some time saving techniques such as digging and tamping many feet at a time in preparation of the stone base. Many late evenings were spent on the project and when the bugs came out, it would’ve been unbearable without those citronella tiki torches!
STEP 7: Adhere the Stone Caps
We used outdoor construction adhesive (3 bottles worth @ $6 each~ $18) to adhere the stone caps to the paver blocks. Make sure the area is clean and dry, and then use an “S” or zigzag pattern when you lay the adhesive to cover the most surface area.
Below, you can see that the stone caps sit a bit below the surface of the green. This was done for two reasons:
1. The putting green we used had a raised lip that needed to be cut with a jigsaw before the fringe came in. (This was because it was an indoor green originally) This raised edge added about 1/2″ to the surface height of the green.
2. You want to allow the green and fringe to drain away from the center, so leaving a slight downslope from the putting green to the top of the paver cap is a must.
STEP 8: Cut the lip
STEP 9: GEO-BARRIER
STEP 10: Stone Backfill for drainage and stability
Retaining walls need at least a 6″ wide layer of stone compacted directly against the border (from base to top) to ensure proper drainage and eliminate shifting in wet conditions. We used just about 1 ton of this 3/4″ rock all together on this project ($40)
Layer by layer, we added the gravel and backfill dirt to the edge of the green, stopping 2-3″ shy of the top threshold. This 2-3″ would be reserved for the final layer of screening (leveling) rock. Filling, leveling, and hand-tamping each layer (roughly 5x around the perimeter) in 100 degree heat wasn’t easy. Glad to have the extra help.
STEP 11: Screening Rock
*Insider Tip: purchase from the local rock / mulch yard. You can get a ton for about $40 just like the other 3/4″ stone. For our fringe area of ~ 100 sq. ft., we used a little less than 1 ton (2000 lbs) of screening rock at a depth of 2-3″. Screening rock provides a very flat and smooth surface for the fringe turf to rest on. (This is the same rock you would use as the “panel” layer if your putting green doesn’t have the black plastic panels).
This process took a few hours with two people working full force. We did about 1″ per hour around the green here. Insider tip: in between each layer, wet and tamp. This gives good compaction for housing your landscape spikes later on. If you try to tamp it all at the end, its tough to get to the compaction you need, and your landscape spikes (for the fringe turf) may not hold properly. In addition, the surface could dent or deform when people walk across it. One final wetting before the final cut of landscape fabric goes down.
STEP 12: Final Landscape Fabric
To keep the fringe turf neat and to provide a final layer of protection against weeds on our putting green fringe area, we installed one more cut of landscape fabric ($20) around the perimeter and secured it with stakes. *Insider tip: use non galvanized or uncoated stakes to allow for rust. That sounds counter-intuitive. However, when the stake rusts, it expands and tightens in its position.
STEP 13: Install Fringe Turf
This was the most difficult part to plan. We’d never installed artificial turf before, and did a BUNCH of research on best practices. Synthetic Grass Warehouse has some great videos on turf install, but we’ll give a quick snapshot of our best practices here:
- Lay the whole piece of turf out and decide which direction you’d like for the grain to run.
- Plan your cuts wisely. We chose to cut our longest sections from the turf FIRST to maximize the amount we’d have leftover to “play with” for the short sides should we mess something up. Next time, we’d cut the four “corners” to allow for easier seaming of the turf together. *Insider Tip: remember, always OVER order the sq footage of your turf by 10-15%. After we made our initial four cuts (two on the long sides and two on the short sides, we had very odd corner shapes to fit the turf into, cut, and seam. It turned out great, but would have been easier to follow the “four corner” method described above.
- When cutting, make sure to use a very sharp razor blade. And switch this razor blade after every section. *Insider Tip: ALWAYS cut from the back side of the turf!
- If you’re installing the turf around a putting green that has a stone border like ours, make sure to add a minimum of 1/2″ to your measurement for the side resting against the stone border before cutting. This is to allow “stuffing” or hiding of the cut edge along the exterior perimeter.
- Use kneepads. I didn’t, and felt like my knees were going to fall out the next day.
- Go SLOWLY and cut LONG (over) rather than short (under). It’s always better to have a little extra that you can trim later rather than cutting it short and ruining a whole slab of turf!
- *INSIDER TIP: BUY NON GALVANIZED (UN-COATED) 6″ LANDSCAPE SPIKES TO SECURE THE TURF to the base. ($.18 ea and we used about 150) This non-galvanized finish allows the spikes to rust, which gives a stronger hold in the rock base. Place the spikes every 6″ along the edge of your turf.
Heres a quick snapshot of the “tucking” technique we described earlier. Always tuck first, THEN drive your landscape spike about 1″ from the edge down into the rock base.After tucking the turf, separate the fibers and place your landscape spike roughly 1″ from the stone border. *Insider tip: spread the turf out around the spike with your fingers to reduce the amount of “trapping” the spike causes on the fibers of the grass. Nail it almost all the way in. Repeat this process until the entire piece of turf you’re working on is secured. Stretch it, work out any “bubbles,” then finish off all the nails completely.
Below is a photo of the seaming clip (provided by SGW) being driven into the turf. These clips are placed every 6″ along any seam and driven down all the way into the rock base. Again, make sure to spread the turf out from under the clip before driving all the way down in order to limit the amount of fiber trapping. This helps your seams look professional (unnoticeable).
STEP 14: Apply Infill
Infill adds some weight to the turf (keeping it in place), as well as helps to lift the grass fibers and resist wear from foot traffic. The turf we purchased called for 1-2 lbs / sq ft of premium infill. Our putting green required 4 bags @ $15 ea, so $60 total. SGW provided the sand and shipped it along with the turf. *Insider tip: Offer to pick up the turf / sand shipment from the freight carrier’s closest distribution center. This saved over $100 in freight fees!
We filled a jug and slowly worked our way around the green. After the sand is down, take a push broom and work it into the turf. Go against the grain to help stand the blades up and smooth the sand into the backing. You can also rent a “powerbroom” for this step, but we found that to be unnecessary.
STEP 15: Make your first putt, and enjoy!
And just like that, viola! Your homemade DIY backyard putting green is complete and you’re ready to practice your putting. Go strap on the Navigator Putting Aid and make more putts!
We’re off to stain that horrible fence, add some landscaping, and shoot our very first Dirty Larry Golf putting performance video! Stay tuned, DLG Fam!
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