Tour Links 9’ Training Aid Putting Green

I love to putt, but hate the rain.
This was my thought about a year ago when I started researching artificial putting greens that I could use indoors when it was raining. Living in a home with hardwood floors has many advantages, but putting practice is not one of them unless you are going to see greens that stimp at about 90. After looking around the net it seemed like there were tens, if not hundreds of variations on the roll out, roll up type of putting carpets. I probably went through about ten of them before I just came to accept that putting on one of these greens could, at best, allow me to hit a ball to fight the putting withdrawals. These greens had many natural (unnatural?) breaks and rolls that just didn’t feel like grass. I don’t think “it’s better than nothing” is the rave review that a manufacturer seeks when they bring a product to market, but that’s how I felt.

What about Tour Links’ Greens?

During the course of surfing the putting green options on the web, I came across Tour Links. Right away, I could tell that these were different than the rolled up carpets sold by other vendors. Each one of their greens had a modular plastic base that could be assembled into a small green like the Dogbone green (HERE), or the larger 14’ x 20’ Professional series green (HERE). Go click those links. I’ll wait…

Don’t those look amazing? Sure the big one is expensive, but I always find it is good to have lofty goals in life. ;) You see in addition to wanting something to practice on inside, I have a large section of my backyard (not surprisingly about 14’ x 20’) that I often dream contains a putting green. Big putting green, Par Aide ball washer, benches, kegerator, and etc. I am sure that many of you can visualize a similar spot in your background where you could put a similar set-up. Based upon experience, this may not be something that you necessarily need to share with your spouse at this point.

Tour Links: The Best Kept Secret in the Golf Industry

When I became an official golf gear reviewer for mygolfspy.com, one of the first vendors I sought out was Tour Links. I was hoping to see if the green that I had imagined matched up with the actual product. After sending an email inquiry, I received a call from the President of Tour Links, Dave Barlow. Dave is actually the one that said that Tour Links may be the best kept secret in the golf industry. His explanation for this statement is based upon the fact that there greens are everywhere, but most average golfers don’t know who they are. Look at this list of clients listed on the Tour Links site:

American Express, Bobby Grace, Callaway, CNBC, CNN, Darren Clarke, Disney World Orlando, Ernie Els, ESPN, Geico Insurance, Golf Smith Super Stores, Hank Haney Teaching Academy, Jack Nicholas Jr, Jim McLean School of Golf, Kennedy Airport New York City, Mc Gregor, Mirage Putting Greens, Mizuno, Mutual of Omaha, New York City Department of Parks, Oceana Cruise Lines, PGA Tour, Ping, Pro Greens, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ryder Cup, Science and Motion, South West Greens, Synthetic Turf International, The First Tee, The Golf Channel National Amateur Championships, The White House, TOMI, Trump Towers, United States Army, United States House of Representatives office complex, University of Connecticut, University of Oregon, University of Washington, USGA, USS Alabama, & Wilson Golf

Impressive, huh? There is a reason that when you go to the Tour Links site, you are greeted with a glowing map of the world. This is a company with international distribution to big players both inside and outside of the golf industry. Hank Haney uses Tour Links greens in his Teaching Academies. I only know Mr. Haney from watching him on TV, but I get the feeling that he would not install a product at his academies if that product was not the best product available.

After researching Tour Links a bit more, I quickly realized that this company was much more than a maker of a few models of putting greens with a novel plastic base system. A tour through the Tour Links website will show the Standard and larger Professional greens that one could buy and install, but the Designer greens show that the folks at Tour Links can really make any style of green to fit any need. Perhaps the best representation of the level of customization can be found in the greens that they have made for mini golf (HERE). I don’t know about you, but I have never seen greens like those before, especially not all rolled up in a box at a local golf retailer.

So they look cool and are installed in a bunch of places, but how do they play?

After our conversation, Dave generously agreed to send me one of the Tour Links 9’ Training Aid greens to review. This green would serve as an excellent example of the Tour Links system because although it is not 14’x20’ :) , it is constructed of the same base materials and the same turf as the larger models. And so…

Review: Tour Links 9’ Training Aid Putting Green
Attached Image: monthly_03_2011/post-49-013269600 1300376730.jpg

Assembly

When box containing the green arrived, I immediately cut it open and began the assembly process. I had watched some of the videos and read the instructions on how to assemble the base pieces together. I expected a quick sliding together of the base pieces and then rolling out the carpet on top. This is exactly what I experienced. The base pieces just slide together. Some gentle pressure is required to get them fully integrated, but nothing more than a person or two could handle. In the sake of full disclosure, I did have help putting the base together. My seven-year-old daughter helped me open the boxes. In the whole process, only one tool was required. The cup is secured to the underside of the base using two screws. I think that the whole assembly process, including reading the directions and unpacking took maybe fifteen minutes.

Connecting Base Sections
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Adding the Cup
Attached Image: monthly_03_2011/post-49-009298500 1300376759.jpg
The actual putting surface does come rolled and it is suggested in the directions that exposure to sunlight for a period of time will help it to flatten out. Well it was dark when I put it together so this step had to be skipped. In spite of this, the green unrolled very flat. Really flat relevant to some of the other putting greens I have bought. I was able to roll balls right away without the surface resembling some type of rollercoaster. The only construction issue worth noting, and the source of the point deduction was that the green is cut just a touch long. In no way does this effect performance though. Perhaps when I can get the turf into the sun as directed, it will contract a bit and eliminate the millimeter or so overlap.

Adding the pin flag, the aiming string, and the platform to stand took no time once the main green was assembled.
Attached Image: monthly_03_2011/post-49-084499800 1300376741.jpg

Assembly Score: 19/20

Performance

I have put most of the points for this review in the performance category. Honestly, I am sick of using the cheap roll out greens as a way to hit balls, but not actually improve as a putter. I set up the standing platform all the way at the end of the putting green. Sure I could have started with three footers, but where is the glory in that? It is worth noting that you can move the platform to any point adjacent to the green and thus practice at any distance. The platform is very stable. I have the green and platform sitting on bare concrete in my garage. You can also stand on the putting surface without worry of damaging it. I have seen other greens where if you stand on the green and not the platform, the green can be damaged. Not the case with this Tour Links green. My comfortable putting position actually puts my feet on the intersection between the edge of the green and the platform. Zero problems with doing this. Initially I didn’t even realize that was the position of my feet.

The Training Aid is actually a green that is designed to help you improve as a putter and it comes with accessories to help you meet that goal. Two foam pads are included that can be placed under the turf to introduce breaks. An elastic string is suspended from one end to the other to show you the straight putting line. This line can also be adjusted to other locations if you are practicing putting with the breaks in. A plastic ruler shows you how far you are swinging to work on pace and also doubles as a way to put a line on your ball. One of the simplest, yet helpful accessories is the white sticker that you attach to the lip behind the cup. What this allows you to do is to check and see if your eyes are properly aligned over the target line. If the pin flag blocks the white sticker, you are correctly aligned over the line. Simple, instant feedback. Outstanding.

So with no small level of excitement my trusty Byron and I started firing yellow Z Stars at the cup. This green is smooth and quick. Even without rolling the turf out in the sun, it was nice and flat. I will get a stimp meter at some point, but I would estimate that it rolls at a 9 or maybe a touch faster.

So I am rolling and rolling putts and it became apparent that the putts were all breaking a bit right to left at the hole. I got a little less excited about the green at that point. The last thing that I needed was a green with a built-in break make be start pushing every putt right to compensate. Then in a moment of insight, I grabbed a level and checked the slope on the plastic base. Sure enough part of a bubble out. So then I moved the green out of the way and checked the garage floor. Low and behold, part of a bubble out. The green doesn’t have a break, my garage does.

In looking at the Tour Links Green, I realized that the plastic base on the green allowed me to do something with this practice green that I could not do with any of the others, level it. One quick trip to the hardware store and one $3 package of wooden door shims with about 10 minutes of trial and error with the level and I had a fully level, straight rolling practice green. Awesome.

Once I had the green set-up, I made a personal commitment to putt 20 balls a day on the green from about 8’ and to monitor the effect on my putting. About ten days in, I can safely say that this regimen and this green are making me a better putter. My stroke is more consistent and I feel like I can trust the feedback that I get when the ball goes left or right. Thanks to the Edel fitting chronicled in my other review, I know that I aim my current putter correctly. The string and other aids definitely help me making sure that the stroke sends the ball where I am aimed. I feel like I am being a bit over the top with praise here, but I have looked for quite a while for a green that would actually help me get better. This green is not a novelty item; it is a true training aid.

Performance Score: 60/60

If you are still not convinced, check the bottom of the page HERE for some videos from the Tour Links site showing the aspects of the green as a practice tool.

Value

As always I look at value as a combination of durability, longevity of use, and initial cost. In terms of durability, Tour Links offers manufacturer warranties on both the turf (3 years) and the base (5 years). I can’t see the base wearing out with 5 years of use indoors. Look at the photo below showing the underside’s construction. Maybe outdoors, but in reality, the base is very sturdy and should last well beyond that warranty. The turf, being the part that interacts with the putter and the ball, could wear faster, but it too is very high quality. I also bet that should your turf wear out before the base, you could order replacement turf from Tour Links. Longevity for me is related to durability. As long as I know that I am getting true rolls as I practice on the green, I will continue to use it. It was even a bit of a party game last weekend as some friends came over and we took turns seeing if we could make putts with the cup reducer in. It’s fun and I can see it being fun, and helpful, for at least the length of the warranty.

Underside of Base Section
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This brings us to cost. Some of you may have clicked on the link for the 14’x20’ green that I love, saw the $4248 price tag and maybe skipped the rest of the review. However, the 9’ Training Aid green is priced at $359 including shipping. The 7’ version is a little less expensive at $339 and the 13’ green a little more at $429. If all you want is a mat on the floor to putt indoors, or if carpet putting is plenty for you then obviously you are probably not interested in a $359 putting green. However, if you want to have a green at home that you can putt on and actually improve as a putter, the relationship to that price point changes. We are really only talking about the cost of a new driver or fancy putter here. I can say with confidence that this is by far the best quality and most useful home putting green that I have ever encountered.

Value Score: 20/20

Total Score: 99/100

Summary
Tour Links artificial putting greens are fantastic. These greens have applications ranging from an individuals home, to one of the preeminent instructors in the golf industry. The greens come in various prepackaged confirmations and also in seemingly infinite custom possibilities. Someday I’ll get that big green in the backyard, but until I do I am very happy putting and getting better at putting on my Training Aid green. Roll a few balls on a Tour Links green if you have the chance, but based upon how widespread the products of this “secret” company are in the market, you probably already have.
Attached Image: monthly_03_2011/post-49-013269600 1300376730.jpg

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