I hadn’t played golf in three weeks. I hadn’t even touched a club.
Between adding “part-time first grade teacher” to my resume and spending most of my working hours trying to track down if and how golfers around the country could play (in Maryland, we cannot), I really didn’t have the time to even think about my game. Then, on a weekend afternoon, I had that eureka moment. If I can’t go to my golf club to play, I could bring the golf club to me. I could build a backyard course.
It’s been a long time since I beat wiffle golf balls in my parents’ backyard with my Odyssey Blackspin wedge and a Northwestern Golf 1-iron. I would hit ball after ball to a cup I planted in the ground on a flat piece of property. Sometimes I would hit the wedge too hard, and the balls would sail into the canopy of a tall tree on the other side of the yard. I thinned a lot of choke-down 1-irons. I didn’t have the imagination — or, frankly, the skill set — back then to concoct my own course.
Twenty-some years later, I did.
My backyard is about half the size of my parents’, but it has character. The side of the yard has a clear corridor to play down and back, with a community association-installed-and-maintained white picket fence at the front. My yard slopes down from left to right as I look down on it from my deck. The last 7 feet or so of the property is raised up on its own small ridge, sloping down into the main part of the lawn.
The wheels began moving. I went outside and started scouting some potential holes and tees. I would have to use various combinations of both to make however many holes the course would have. The hole locations had to be accessible from different parts of my yard, going over or around some trees while avoiding the tallest ones. From the picket fence to the back fence is about 36 yards, but could I make a hole that long? What tee locations would offer the best angles to these holes? I figured out five hole locations I liked and five tees.
Then, I needed supplies. I needed cups, ideally with flags to give it a real golf course feel (and maybe look good on Instagram). I needed a hitting mat I could carry with me around the course because the lawn was kind of muddy in spots.
I decided I wanted to play with foam practice balls because a few of the holes would be close to the house and didn’t want to risk it. Foam balls also don’t travel as long as real golf balls, meaning the course would essentially double in length by using them. With anything non-essential taking an understandably long time to get from Amazon, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. They had cup-flag combos for under $15 each (normally $20), foam golf balls for under $15 for a dozen (so I could also have a driving range of sorts) and a 1′ by 2′ hitting mat for under $25. I bought all four cups they had at my local store, as well the balls and mat, and I went to pick them up. They did a contactless pick-up, where they came out to my car and put everything in it. I was on my way.
I used a garden shovel to dig out the holes, first using the shape of the cup to create an outline of what I’d need to dig. I put the flags in the ground.
Some five or six hours after I first thought of the idea, I had built a home golf course for under $100.
I’ve played a few rounds on the course, and the best I’ve shot is 13. My daughter had her first golf swings in the backyard. My son has gotten the golf bug, hitting balls with his US Kids Golf Yardclub, which is a great first club for a beginner. My wife hit a golf shot for the first time in 5 or 6 years. It’s been fun to play together as a family and not have to worry about holding up anyone or getting judged. With our backyard flood lights, we can play night golf, too.
Whenever we get back toward a sense of normal, I’ll go back to playing my normal golf club. It’s inevitable. But I’m going to keep the backyard course set up. It’ll be a fun way to play quickly with friends, have a few beers, catch up and kick back. It’s not perfect, but it’s everything I need.