How We Built A Large, Adjustable Break Putting Mat
I have owned plenty of types of putting mats over the years. Usually they are small, cheap, and allow you to hit 6 footers mostly flat on the ground until a ramp of foam at the end allows the ball to drop into a circle of emptiness that can be considered a hole. The biggest problem with those putting mats is that it never feels like you’re hitting an actual putt on a real live green.
When I first was finally able to check out David Roesch’s indoor learning center for this winter, besides the three net set-up with a couple simulators, by far the most impressive thing I saw there was this large putting mat frame that allows you to adjust the amount of break. So my brother-in-law and I decided to make a version of that ourselves.
Because of the fakeness of most mats, we want a mat that has the feel of an actual putting green and allows us to hit different types of putts in a basement or garage. With our finished product, we can hit full putts over 10 feet (and of course shorter as well). We have aluminum holes that make the sound you expect when making a putt on a course. We have enough width where we can hit from various places and it doesn’t feel like the same fake putt over and over. We also have fake turf that’s by far the best I’ve ever used.
There are more than a few of these types of these large adjustable mats out there that you can buy around or over the $10k price point. The one we built ended up costing $1,152.63. It isn’t cheap cheap, but as you’ll see in the list of costs at the bottom, a large chunk of that is from reusable tools. Our next version of this will cost much less.
The goal with this post is to tell people what we did, what we learned, what we’ll do differently in our next version, and convince others to build their own.
The first step is to figure out the dimensions of the mat. This mostly depends on size of the empty floor you have available. For us, we were able to clean a 14×6 foot rectangle of space in the basement.
Thoughts on sizing: 6 feet wide is pretty comfortable. We’re able to stand on either side of the hole and hit a putt without being uncomfortably close to the hole or the edge of the mat. This is great because I’m standing about the same place as I would be if we were on a practice green hitting between holes. Going down to 5 feet wide – or maybe even 4 feet wide – is a possibility.
That said, bigger is better. For our dimensions, we ended up stretching as far as we could within the space. I think our initial guess was 12×5, but after moving around some things Mike had in the basement, we were able stretch the dimensions. Remember, this mat isn’t going to be moving. It’s heavy, we’re not looking to bring it with us when we travel, and there’s really no downside to making it as big as possible.
Finally, we decided to have only two holes on the mat in a symmetrical way. Each is in the center of the 6′ width where the back of the hole is 20″ from the end. We decided on 20″ just because, so don’t feel like it needs to be closer or further away. We thought of adding a couple more holes to add more options, like on the low side of the mat, but the 6 foot width is enough to let us hit varying shorter putts so the single hole on each side is more than good enough.
With the dimensions figured out, the next step is to build the frame. This was the biggest part of the build and the one that caused a couple unforeseen issues down the line. Next time, we’ll know how to get it right the first time, and likewise for people reading, don’t feel bad if you make mistakes too.
I mentioned above that we’re not looking to move the putting mat, but at some point, we might want to. Therefore, we decided to make the frame in two identical pieces, each 6’x7′, and connect them in the middle using bolts.
Here’s a final picture of the first half of the frame. Hopefully this picture is big enough so that you can get a sense of how we constructed it. Three of the outer edges have two long 2x4s screwed together, and the edge closest to us in the picture has a single 2×4 because this is where the two halves of the frame will be connected to each other.
To build this first half, we did the math to determine the number and the lengths of the 2x4s that build the of the frame, making sure to keep in mind that 2x4s are 1.5 inches thick which clearly will affect the lengths. This step will depend on the exact dimensions of your frame. If you look at the corners, there’s a bit of a zipper connection between the edges. Cool, but not important enough to make a difference in the overall structure.
Here’s a picture of Mike staring into the distance with the cross boards all fitted. If you look at the corners, you’ll see the metal braces we used. Those are to make sure we don’t have the corners wobbling, and also to try to get the frame as close to a true rectangle as possible.
To test if the frame is rectangular enough, we measured diagonally from corner to opposite corner, like measuring the hypotenuse of a right triangle. If the two lengths are dead even, then it’s a perfect rectangle. For us, ours were an inch and a half different which was definitely good enough.
Each of the parallel cross braces are about 14 inches apart – we eyeballed it using pencil marks and were a little bit off. This will be addressed int he plywood section below, because we learned later that their spacing is actually quite important.
The final step of making the frame is the mini cross braces between parallel braces. As a result of cutting down our long 2x4s, we were left over with a bunch of scraps that we cut again to fit as the cross braces. Again, these lengths don’t have to be exact. A little long or a little short is good enough as long as you and screw them in. Here’s a picture of me screwing them in with the Bucks playing in the background.
After making a mirror copy of the half, we bolted the two halves together using 6 5/16″ diameter, 6″ long bolts. We drilled holes for the bolt, slid it through, used washer on the far side and a washer and a nut near the head of the bolt and tightened it as much as possible. Again, the size and the number of bolts you use isn’t overly important, so if you want to use ones with bigger diameter, go for it.
After the connection, here’s a final landscape picture of the frame. Clearly looking good.
On the next version, we’ll do a couple things differently. One main thing we can consider is to make each frame section smaller. If we ever want to move the mat, we’ll have a hard time getting it up the basement stairs. The frames are heavy, and we’ll have to be really careful not to run it into the walls. So next time we’ll want to make sure to have at least 3 sections.
- Get a miter saw. At first, we went with a jigsaw because we figured that would be good enough since we’re only cutting 2x4s into smaller pieces. We were able to do that, but it was annoying, inexact, and required a lot of elbow grease. For the second half, we got a cheap miter saw that was incredibly easy to use and resulted in much cleaner cuts. Don’t feel like you need to spend a bunch of money on an expensive one, at least for this project. Also, check with others, because a lot of times a friend or relative has one themselves that you can borrow.
- For those who are new to this (like us), screws are numbered based on their width and length. We ended up using some of size 6, 8, and 10 in various lengths such as 1.5″, 2″, and 3″ depending on how much wood we had to go through.
- Drill pilot holes before the screws.
- Don’t feel scared about having to make sure the screws are dead straight. When screwing the shorter braces, we needed to screw some of them in at an angle and that worked just fine.
- One thing to note is that the frame may not be perfectly level if your floor isn’t as well. The floor we have isn’t dead flat and therefore our frame matches these contours. This isn’t a huge issue so long as the surface you are building on is at least relatively level.
- It took us one whole Saturday to build the first half (including a trip to buy materials). The second half went a lot faster but still took several hours. Which means, the more you practice the better you get. Who knew?
After finishing the frame, we moved on to putting plywood on top.
The first part is figuring out how much plywood we need, and what size we should have the pieces cut. The dimensions of our mat are 14×6, and the standard dimensions of uncut plywood are 4’x8′. This means we’re had to some cutting to get the plywood dimensions to fit. Since we want the two halves to be identical, we went with 4 identical pieces of 3/4″ plywood cut into 6’x3.5′ sections. They did the cutting for us at the Home Depot we went to, so the only thing to make sure of is that you have some sort of vehicle that can carry the sections. Our Subaru Outback was just big enough.
When picking out the plywood, we knew we wanted the 3/4″ size, but we didn’t know what kind. They had a very smooth, very sturdy kind for ~$55 a piece, or the standard, sometimes warpy plywood of 3/4″ for ~$25. We went with the cheaper ones since we figured once we screwed down the edges the warp would go away. That is indeed what happened, but next time we’d probably go with the more expensive and sturdier plywood just to eliminate the warp factor.
Before putting the plywood on top the frame, we flipped the frame over. When screwing the 2x4s, we had pushed them down onto the floor, making the “floor side” more level than the top side, so we thought flipping the frame would result in a flatter putting surface.
To attach the plywood to the frame, we laid the pieces of plywood down on top of the frame and went around the outside of the entire frame using 1.5″ screws. The amount of screws isn’t too important as long as the plywood is stable and secure when walking on it. After that, we screwed the plywood to the horizontal braces in the middle of the frame. This is where our big problem came.
Two of the plywood seams ended up right on top of a horizontal brace, but each side had one piece of plywood whose edge we weren’t able to screw right into a horizontal brace. Had we thought of this, we could have made sure that the horizontal braces lined up exactly with the edges of the plywood. We noticed right away that stepping on the seams of the plywood that didn’t have a horizontal brace resulted in a depression. That’s the last thing we wanted.
To fix this, we tried two things. First, we got 4 more sections of 1/2″ plywood, this time a 6’x4′ section, and a 6’x3′ section. We got smaller pieces because we wanted to make sure the seams weren’t in the same place and result in the same issue. We screwed them on in the same way and unfortunately could still notice a tiny depression. This meant we had to flip the entire frame over to add more 2×4 braces where the initial pieces of plywood met to make sure we could screw the edges of each piece of plywood directly into a brace.
The whole device was so heavy by this point we needed three people to lift it up and to make sure the thing didn’t slip and smash us or the farm of putters Mike has collected in the basement. I didn’t take a picture of what it looked like when we had it flipped and filled in the frame with the required braces, unfortunately. But overall we were just putting them where we could see the two boards connecting. This allowed us to screw the plywood tighter when we flipped it over again.
The main point – make sure that the edges of the plywood sections all have 2×4 braces directly underneath them. This can lead to some trickier math based on the size of the frame. For example, if we have a 15’x7′ frame, we might want three sub-frames of 5’x7′. But because the plywood comes in 8’4′ pieces, there’s a little geometry going on to make sure you get the most out of each piece of plywood. Again, any sort of dimensions are fine, just make sure they’re braced.
The Car Jacks
The big part of the mat is that we want to be able to change the amount of break – you’re not going to find completely flat putts all the time, and we also don’t want to have the mat stuck with the same initial break we might have set it for.
To do this, we used car jacks on one side of the mat that we’re able to raise and lower depending on how much break we want. Since the mat is 14′ long with a hole on each side, this means that we can have putts that break both directions depending on which side we’re putting to.
We got $25 car jacks. Get the cheapest options out there. We’re not relying on these to be able to life up a car, and so the least expensive option is more than good enough.
Next, we bought these metal braces online. They have a single hole on each side, and they’re incredibly sturdy. All you’re looking for here is a strong brace. So if you find ones with three smaller holes, go ahead and use those instead.
Finally, we needed a bolt that fits the hole in the brace and is long enough to go through two of the 2x4s that are side by side. For us, that a 3/4″ wide bolt that’s 4 inches long. Add two washers and a nut, and you’re good to go.
We drilled the holes for the braces when we had the frame upside down (after adding the 2x4s to the required place between the two plywood sections) which ended up being a good way to do that. We wanted the braces to be level with the plywood on top of the frame, and since it was upside down, we were able to mark where we wanted to drill the hole with the top of the brace flat on the ground. We also would have been able to specify this if it was the correct way facing up, but this turned out easier.
Also, it was easier to tighten the nut and bolt with the frame upside down, otherwise we’d have had to hold it up while someone reached underneath to blindly tighten the screws.
Below are the pictures of what it looked like when drilling the holes, and what the final look of the car jacks.
One more note. We started with only planning on using 3 car jacks and braces. Two of them were near the edge of the frame, somewhat close to the end, and the other would be directly in the middle.
The problem that came up was that we weren’t able to create a hole for the nut in the dead center of the connection because that’s where the two parallel braces went across and connected the two halves. Because of that, we had to move the brace to one side as close to the center as we could get. We noticed, however, that there was a tiny bit of wobble because the non-braced half wasn’t firmly held. Because of that, we added a 4th brace and car jack to ensure it’s steady all over.
Cutting the Holes
This step was a little funky for us. What we ended up doing was measuring where we wanted the hole, taking a pencil and drawing the circle for where it should be, taking a sizable drill bit and drilling a bunch of holes in that circle. Then we used the jigsaw to get as close to the penciled edge as possible, routinely checking to see if the aluminum hole fit. It usually didn’t. So we carefully used either the jigsaw, and sometimes sandpaper, to try to create just enough room for the hole to slide in.
This took forever. There’s clearly a better way to do that. I’m guessing there are 4 1/4″ blades that we’ll find soon that can do the trick, but sometimes, we need to be a little hacky.
In the end it worked out, since the holes were just wide enough to hold the cup so we didn’t have to glue or tape it to keep it from falling through. And the jagged edges from the jigsaw weren’t important because we were able to cut holes in the turf (see below) more precisely so we can’t see the edges of the plywood hole.
Like I mentioned in the intro, I’ve tried so many mats that don’t roll the same on each putt. I’ve even had a 15 foot mat with so much grain that I literally couldn’t miss because the grain went right to the center hole.
For us, we used Synlawn because that was recommended, and it’s by far the best I’ve ever hit from. That said, it’s probably because it’s decently expensive (the most expensive part of the project) that I’ve never tried it before. There are other types of turf out there that would be good to test, but Synlawn is a great way to go.
We got a 15’x7′ roll of the turf just to ensure that we had enough to cover the frame, which ended up giving me a long strip a foot wide that I use at my own apartment because the mat lives in Mike’s basement.
To cut it, we lined up one of the edges of our roll to the 14 foot side. Then we started on the edges of the 6′ width. We were given a tip that cutting the bottom is way easier than the top, which is absolutely the case.
After the two ends, we did the other sides.
To cut the holes, we first tried slicing them from the top and getting closer and closer to the edges. We realized that was pretty dumb, and decided to crank up the car jacks so I was able to slide under and draw a circle along the edges of the holes. After that, we cut the bottom of the grass just inside that circle. After most of that was gone, we rolled the mat back in its position and carefully finished the cut to the appropriate size.
And like that, we were done, and it only took me two times to make the first putt.
I kept all the receipts from Home Depot, so I went through and here’s the list of what we bought, including tools we won’t have to pay for when we make version 2.0.
And don’t feel bad about forgetting something and having to go back to whatever hardware store you’re using. We ended up having to go at least 7 times, once to only get 5 more screws cause we ran out of the 3″ ones.
- Jigsaw, useful when trimming plywood and cutting the holes : $44.97
- Miter saw, for cutting the 2x4s: $89.00
- 2 safety glasses x $15.97: $31.94
- 2 sets of leather gloves x $4.98: $9.96
- Utility knife: $15.81
- Big drill bit for lift angle irons: $24.28
- Wrench for big bolt: $26.38
- Sandpaper: $8.54
- 24 96″ 2×4 x $2.84: $68.16
- 1 14′ 2×4 unused: $6.09
- 4 3/4″ plywood x $23.38: $93.52
- 4 1/4″ plywood x $19.52: $78.08
- 8 6″ quarter braces x $2.68: $21.44
- Various screws of different widths and lengths: $39.10
- 3 scissor car jacks x $25.98: $77.94
- 3 braces for car jacks: $48.84
- Bolts, nuts, washers for car jack angle irons: $14.25
- Bolts, nuts, washers for connecting the two halves: $17.13
- 2 aluminum 4″ cups x $17.01 + $18.18 shipping: $53.20
- 15’x7′ Synlawn putting turf + shipping: $470.00
Alright, get to it. If you only get so far as to have a frame with plywood on top, you can always use it as a dance table.
Thinking of building one of these for my simulator. Where did you get the brace for the jacks? Also would you make any changes after having it for a few years?
Braces were from a Home Depot. Sturdy and able to screw them into the wood. We had to screw the middle one a couple inches off-center because we can’t screw in the brace at the point the two halves of the mat came together. Luckily that connection was strong enough it doesn’t wobble.
Biggest change would be to change the dimensions. This one is 14′ x 6′, with two halves at 7′ x 6′. Making a new one, I’d want it more in the range of 12’x8′, with three sections of 4’x8′. Longer putts aren’t exactly needed. Not because of wobble or bad turf, but because on a mat like this, I’m wanting to practice makes that I need to make.
Other part of different dimensions is being able to practice shorter putts with different angles. The bump from 6′ to 8′ would allow for greater changes. It would also allow more holes. This has one on each end, but 12′ x 8′, I could put three perside to get uphill and downhill short putts rather than the current mostly flat.
Finally, the three sections rather than two makes it easier to move if needed. We built this in a basement and with the smallest side being 7′, I don’t know how that’s going to get up the stairs if needed. A 4′ edge that’s lighter can be moved much more easily.