August 03, 2001

On This Front Lawn, Puttin' Around Is The Whole Idea

WARWICK: Phil Hamling has turned his front yard into a golf course, replete with greens, tees and sand traps.

By Sal Interdonato
The Times Herald-Record


Traffic comes to a crawl occasionally on County Route 1 a mile east of Pine Island. People slow down to glance at the Hamling home. Some take pictures. Others drive up to the house.

Their question? How much are the greens fees?
Over the last 10 years Phil Hamling has converted his eight-acre front yard into a small golf course, which has four greens, four tees and a practice green.

"I enjoy looking at it," said Hamling, a 45-year-old lifetime Warwick resident. "It's therapeutic to me. I wake up in the morning, plop on the couch and gaze at it."

Hamling bought the property 21 years ago. Single at the time, Hamling had plans to build a home for a future family and not a practice golf course.

One day at Green Ridge Golf Club 10 years ago changed his life forever. Hamling had been dragged out to play golf by his younger brother, H. Craig Hamling. Hamling shot "a 150" for 18 holes. One of his shots was perfectly struck.

"I played horrible," Hamling said. "I had no control, touch or concept of the game. That one good shot made me think I need to learn how to putt and chip better."

Basic landscaping turned into a golf-designing journey. Hamling built a putting green a few strides from his front door. Some chip shots from a hill missed the green. Three broken windows later, a temporary green was constructed below the original practice green.

Hamling read the USGA's green construction guidelines and received some advice from Jim Laroe, Warwick Valley Country Club superintendent. He kept adding and adding to his course. He built two tees from the bottom up on a base of boulders.

Hamling estimated he works more than 1,000 hours each year on the grounds and has spent more than $200,000.

"He's done some amazing things with the property to make it very appealing to the eye," said Laroe, the superintendent at Warwick Valley Country Club. "He makes it tough on the rest of us. I would hate to be his neighbor."

A visitor can hardly walk around the grounds without stepping on a golf ball. Using his course, Hamling transformed himself into a better player immediately. He has won the Florida-Warwick Tuesday night men's league at Hickory Hills Golf Course with partner Ben Fassett three of the last eight years, including 2000.

"I really attributed my success early on to this place," Hamling said. "I'm unconscious around the green. I stink off the tee."

Hamling practices a few times a week at his home and invites friends over to play three or four times a month.

Hamling's creation is an escape from the work day. There are days when Hamling misses 20 balls in a row without connecting. There are also times when Hamling's first swing falls within inches of the pin.

Last spring signaled the near end of Hamling's journey. Bare dirt spots were finally gone. Grass covered the entire yard.

"I got this feeling that I was really done," Hamling said.

Well, not completely. Hamling plans to build a few more tee boxes. He also has to maintain the course, which takes more than eight hours to mow.

Area residents have named Hamling's front yard "Bedrock Golf Course."

"I was thinking more along the lines of Rock-On," Hamling said with a laugh.

Copyright 2001 Orange County Publications, a division of Ottaway Newspapers Inc., all rights reserved.