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How a mixture of sand and big investment created a line of backyard putting greens

September 23, 2023
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Illustration by Bruno Mangyoku

If you judge solely on the ubiquity of suburban mini-golf courses in America, it’s not complicated to slap some synthetic turf on a concrete pad and get a durable surface that handles foot traffic and offers a predictable roll.

But comparing that $12-and-a-clown’s-mouth experience to the synthetic golf landscapes Weston Weber builds for clients is like comparing a nine-hole muny with Pebble Beach. Weber’s Scottsdale-based Celebrity Greens specializes in building greens that not only produce a tour-quality roll on putts but accept iron and short-game shots like the real things. It’s why tour players like Jon Rahm, Max Homa and Gary Woodland call Weber for their home putting green installs.

“We build golf greens, not putting greens like a lot of our competitors do,” says Weber, who transitioned from pitching on artificial turf as an Oakland A’s farmhand to installing it in 1996. Weber built his first company, Southwest Greens, into the country’s largest installer of artificial grass before selling it in 2008 to a consortium of Atlanta-area businesspeople who included Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz. While Weber was sitting out a noncompete agreement, Southwest Greens got even bigger after being purchased by Shaw—a flooring company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Life in retirement began to bore Weber and his wife, Gina, and a steady flow of well-heeled friends kept pestering Weber about supervising their builds. In 2014, the Webers started Celebrity Greens to organize those requests. “The intention was to do a few high-end, luxury greens,” Gina says. “We figured word would get out, and we’d build a few of these things. Within a couple of months, we had an office in San Diego and an office in Denver.”

The Webers are managing the growth differently this time around, building relationships with high-end installers around the country with an emphasis on larger, more elaborate projects. Woodland’s new practice area is a recent example: The 2019 U.S. Open champion bought the lot next door to his suburban Kansas City home, and Weber transformed it into an 80-yard turfed space with three target greens and three bunkers. “We aspire to be the Navy SEALs of turf—the best trained, best equipped team,” Weber says. “With all the different sites, weather conditions and customer requirements, it’s like a puzzle coming up with the right design and materials.”

The average build covers about 3,000 square feet of turfed space, takes a week to complete and costs $15,000 to $20,000. “When we sculpt and build the undulation contours, we do a lot of that custom work with the customer right there,” Weber says. “It’s your chance to be your own course architect. You can decide where the cups go, what the severity of the slopes are, and know exactly what the ball is going to do before the grass goes on it.”

Weber’s own backyard in Scottsdale is a synthetic turf test kitchen, with different kinds of artificial grass and ever-changing green installations. “I’m always testing something, trying to raise the bar and make these greens look better, roll better and act more naturally,” says Weber, who has personally installed more than 5,000 greens. “I’ve been trying to perfect this for almost 30 years.”