For most golfers, the idea of a personal putting green is understandably attractive. There's the opportunity to putt a few balls without having to change out of your dressing gown or hire a caddy, the chance to hone opponent-beating skills at home and perhaps even the means to raise neighbour envy to a gratifying level of green. While the technical and financial demands of real grass greens remain prohibitive for most homeowners, developments such as Jumeirah Golf Estates, where the high end villa gardens come complete with their own artificial putting greens, are driving an interest in this less demanding alternative.
Jonathan McNally, a golf course project manager who worked on the Jumeirah development, said that more landscapers and garden specialists in the UAE are now able to oblige. "The maintenance of grass greens requires a lot of work and the use of large machinery that probably wouldn't [fit into] the garden. Then you have the hire of the machinery, fertiliser and considerable water costs to consider," he says. But McNally added that while the real stuff is a "definite no-no", artificial greens lend themselves well to a residential situation.
Peter Harradine, a golf course architect for Harradine Golf, who has worked on some of the UAE's finest courses, including Jebel Ali, The Creek and Abu Dhabi National, agrees. "I cringe at artificial grass, although there are some good ones out there. But the main thing with a real putting green is the maintenance," he explains. "Course grass is about 3mm high and it is cut twice a day as it grows fast. I don't see many real putting greens in gardens as this is a transitional country and investing in a proper one is expensive."
Thankfully, artificial grass has come a long way since Astroturf. Jennifer Lalani, the operations manager of Green People, a synthetic lawn specialist, says that playing on their product is comparable to PGA-approved turf. "Our putting green comes in a stimp speed [the speed of a golf course putting green] of approximately 9-10, which is the same performance as a natural green," she says. "Also, for a hot climate like the UAE, our greens are environmentally friendly, and the fibre is lead-free, recyclable and weather-resistant," she notes. As the lawn is the same colour as natural grass, Lalani says it is easy to blend with natural surroundings and landscaped gardens.
Integrating an artificial turf into a garden filled with natural plants need not be difficult, explains Dana Haroun, a senior horticulturalist at the engineering and management consultancy, Mott MacDonald. She recently designed a putting green for a Dubai home, incorporating different textures - plants as well as a stone pathway - to create an elegant focal point in the garden. "There are some really simple and beautiful ways to incorporate your putting green into your garden design," she says. "Tucked away to the side of a real lawn and surrounded by lush plants, it can give the golfer a 'secret garden' feeling. A stone path leading to it adds a sense of journey." Alternatively, for golfers who don't feel the need to use putting time as an escape from the family, she suggests placing the green in view of the rest of the garden for a more inclusive, family-oriented feeling. "That way, mum or dad can practice chipping skills and keep an eye on the kids."
When planning the design of the putting green, it's important to consider the existing space, she adds. Is your garden formal? Is it composed of square or rectangular areas, or is the layout more organic and "wild"? "Not all putting greens have to be kidney-shaped or curvy. If the other elements are circular then go with this - the same stands true for linear gardens." The ability of the golfer should also play a part in determining the shape - beginners should choose a flat area, while the more experienced can go for something with gradients.
Choosing the right plants is another way to successfully "frame" the green in your back yard while ensuring that the area isn't encroached upon by unwanted shrubbery. John Balderstone of Desert Group suggests low-growing plants and shrubs and trees that won't extend outward too much. "People want an area they can chip onto and making sure there's enough clearance between the green and the plants will allow for the full space to be used. A golf purist would say I'm crazy, but another option is to multi-function the space: a green can also be used as a lawn area, a space to connect the villa with the outdoors."