My day (and night) at the backyard golf hole of a man who builds backyard golf holes
An overlooked aspect of any great backyard golf hole is the backyard itself. As obvious as that may seem, I fully realize this as I’m white-knuckling a golf cart that keeps climbing through the semi-wilderness behind Michael Lehrer’s Armonk, N.Y. home. Lehrer is leading this unexpected safari while bubbling with a mix of energy and pride -- “You’re going to love this!” -- and when we finally reach our destination unscathed, I’m happy to unclench and examine the surroundings.
“How much land do you have?” I ask after adjusting to being on solid footing and possibly, the new altitude.
“I have enough for what I do,” Lehrer responds with a smirk.
What he does is build backyard golf holes as the president and founder of Home Green Advantage. And his property is part showroom, part personal playground, and all spectacular. Our trek has taken us to the highest point of his land and now we’re looking straight down at a picturesque par 3.
“Hit a few balls!” he says.
Don’t mind if I do.
Funny enough, Lehrer didn't have any vision of creating this beautiful practice facility when he bought the land in 1992. Although, practice isn’t really the right word because 99 percent of his golf takes place at “Armonk Links.” Lehrer only plays the occasional round of golf now, but he didn’t play at all when he moved here. After being convinced to give the game a try by a friend, though, he had an idea to turn his backyard into a golfer’s paradise, and he estimates he's hit millions of shots since. The outdoor project also wound up entirely changing his career.
Lehrer estimates he's installed some 700 synthetic greens since quitting his day job as an accountant in 1995, mostly in the Westchester/Greenwich area. In fact, his property is perfectly located for his business since it straddles those two wealthy neighborhoods that are home to many of Wall Street's heavy hitters. And for a fraction of their net worth, they can also do plenty of heavy hitting in their yards. Lehrer won’t disclose his entire client list, but in addition to some of today's titans of industry and finance he’s built greens for the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Ahmad Rashad.
"If people see me, they're going with me," Lehrer confidently says of his designs. "There's no doubt."
I'm certainly a believer. And he doesn't just do backyard greens. Lehrer does rooftop greens, office greens (he built the one in Golf Digest's former headquarters in Wilton, Conn.), promotional greens and even floating greens, like the fun 19th hole he constructed for GlenArbour Golf Club. Here's a Facebook Live I did with Lehrer in which he gave a tour of his backyard and explained his methods and pricing:
Lehrer only has two backyard greens (Yes, this is kind of like saying someone only has two private jets), but with nine sets of tees, technically, he can play 18 different holes. It's that type of variety -- one that's only possible by the impact turf he uses and a green design that can take shots from all different angles -- that is a staple in Lehrer's work.
If possible, Lehrer's setup is even cooler under the lights. Yes, I came back at night to check it out. And yes, he might have to start charging me rent now that I know this golf oasis is so close to my house.
Of course, for most of the population, these green playpens make for expensive toys. Lehrer says he won't do a project for less than $5,000, which will get you something on the neighborhood of 300 square feet. The bigger of his two greens is about 10 times that size and price, and he's done a couple greens in the 11,000-12,000 square-foot range that all in -- depending on location and how much land has to be moved -- could cost around $250,000.
Lehrer took me to one of these giant greens he recently completed in Greenwich for billionaire Charles S. Cohen, a real estate developer and movie producer. The project took a month to complete and involved -- among other materials -- 150 tons of crushed rock and stone dust for the foundation and 25 tons of sand for the bunkers. I’ve never been much of an outdoorsman, but I’d live full-time in a tent if I were allowed to set one up on this tranquil utopia.
“This puts my setup to shame, huh?” Lehrer says.
I assure Lehrer that it doesn’t. Considering my backyard has all the square footage of a compact parking space, Lehrer’s setup still seems like the eighth wonder of the world. And it turns out, technically, he doesn't even need to be in his yard to enjoy it. With portable turf mats on his deck, Lehrer just has to open a sliding door and take a few steps outside to hit golf balls. This gave new meaning to the phrase “hitting driver off the deck,” when Lehrer declared it was time to turn his backyard golf hole into a backyard driving range.
“Let's hit some balls up there!” he says, pointing at the high point where we had driven to earlier.
“Can we do that?” I ask.
“Gee, let me ask the owner,” he replies.
Yeah, I could get used to this. And now I definitely need a bigger backyard.