While much of the grass at Chambers Bay is turning brown this week, in at least one South Hill backyard it’s always green.
That’s where you’re likely to find 16-year-old Joshua Lackey golfing on his own synthetic putting green. But that’s only when’s he not playing in a junior golf tournament, practicing with the Rogers High School golf team or gardening.
Inspired by the U.S. Open, Joshua recently combined all of his interests and gave a series of public seminars on installing backyard putting greens.
KEEPING UP WITH JOSHUA
Golf consumes the home that Joshua shares with parents Chad and Lauri on a quiet suburban street. The family has a busy schedule frequent flying throughout the U.S. so Joshua can play in golf tournaments.
Shortly after he wrapped up a March 19 putting green seminar at the Lakewood Library, Joshua and his parents were on a red-eye to Tampa, Florida, for a junior tournament. In May, Joshua competed in the Washington Open and last year competed in the Northwest Open.
At home, he helps Lauri design and maintain the family’s backyard garden. Both mother and son are master gardeners. Joshua became Pierce County’s youngest when he completed the program at age 15.
It’s all quite an impressive list of accomplishments for a kid whose parents were told when he was 21/2 that he’d never be able to hear, speak or otherwise communicate.
Joshua was born with e nlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome. The root causes of the condition and even some aspects of the vestibular aqueduct itself, a canal responsible for sending sound and motion sensations from the ear to the brain, are not fully understood by science.
But it took a while for his parents to learn that Joshua was deaf. Unbeknownst to them, Joshua had taught himself how to read lips.
“We just thought he was ignoring us when he had his back to us,” Lauri said.
Chad and Lauri were told that Joshua would never function in the hearing or deaf worlds because he had passed the period of language acquisition.
But Joshua, not one one to turn down a challenge, did acquire language and even learned to speak vocally.
Though he is fluent in sign language and uses a hearing aid in his right ear, he mostly reads lips to understand others.
Still, there are challenges, especially on the golf course.
“If someone has a bad score, they’ll look down and away when they say it. I can’t lip read them,” Joshua said. The condition also affects balance. Joshua has had extensive physical therapy.
Joshua picked up the gardening bug from Lauri. Already a master gardener, she inspired Joshua to pursue the WSU-administered program that trains volunteers to become community educators.
“It was fun because it was something I could do with my mom,” Joshua said.
The family’s putting green doesn’t consume their backyard. “We didn’t want to take up the whole backyard,” Chad said.
A nearby basketball court is at least twice as big. But the rest of the yard is a combination of lawn, flower beds, vegetable gardens and mini-orchard.
A small Gravenstein apple tree grows near the putting green. Joshua grafted the tree himself. He has designed much of the garden and maintains it.
But not all of it.
“I don’t like weeding, so I leave that to Mom. But I like pruning,” he said.
A compact vegetable garden holds celery, asparagus, tomatoes and more. Nearby are raspberry, blackberry and blueberry patches.
THE BACK FIVE
The Lackeys installed the green when Joshua was 14 and beginning to golf on a daily basis. Though the putting green was a gift from Laurie to Chad, Joshua uses it more often than Chad.
Convenience is the primary reason to have a backyard putting green, Joshua said.
He can use it when the mood strikes. Or if time is an issue, he might use the green for only 10 minutes. The family’s home course, Linden Golf & Country Club, is 15 minutes away.
The putting green is 15 by 20 feet and has five holes. Joshua uses it primarily to practice five-foot putts.
“The game of golf starts with the hole, not the tee,” Chad said.
The green is flat except for one corner with a hole where it gradually rises three inches, providing an extra challenge.
There are a few drawbacks to having a putting a green amidst a thriving garden, Lauri said.
“They used to chip over the sunflowers and decapitate them,” she said of Josh and Chad.
“It was awesome,” Josh said.
“Now I grow strawberries,” Lauri said.
Another casualty was a decorative exterior light.
“Everybody in our development has one except for us,” Lauri said.
Lauri, it turns out, is not a golfer.
“Why would I go out on a course searching for a silly ball when I search for things around the house all the time?” she asked.
CONSTRUCTING A GREEN
Initially the Lackeys were quoted $21,000 by a local contractor to build the green. That’s when the family chose a DYI approach.
“It’s way cheaper to do it on your own,” Joshua said.
They went with a kit from Starpro Turf and Greens.
The first decision any future putting green owner must make is whether to use synthetic (such as AstroTurf) or natural (living grass). The decision to go synthetic was a no-brainer, Joshua said.
While the installation costs for synthetic may be higher than natural, it’s cheaper in the long run. Real grass needs good drainage, irrigation, air movement and sunlight.
And, “You have to cut the grass five times a week,” Lauri said.
“With a $20,000 mower,” Joshua added.
As golfers know, putting grass is dense, short and precisely cut in order to speed balls accurately to their holes. It takes professional-level knowledge and a lot of work to get turf to that level and keep it there, the Lackeys said.
But Joshua doesn’t discriminate. He covered both styles in the seminars he gave at public libraries and at the Spring Fair in Puyallup.
“I would love to have (a natural green),” he said. “I just don’t want to take care of it.”
Even master gardeners have their limits.