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Fun and Games

This summer, consider doing what these Marinites have done and bring the park to your yard.

Sure, it’s fun to hop in the car and meet your friends at the golf course, bocce court or skate park. But wouldn’t it sometimes also be nice if you could stay home and have them come to you? That was the idea behind three Marin families’ decisions to create outdoor spaces on their properties. They wanted places where people could gather, engage in a particular sport, and simply hang out. They did it mostly because they loved the sport themselves. But in the spirit of “If you build it, they will come,” their friends — and their kids’ friends — have been more than happy to join the fun.

Let It Roll

Jennifer and Kyle Klopfer and their two teenage boys are an athletic family. They ski, snowboard, kayak, paddleboard, cycle and play water polo and volleyball. So when they decided to update their Strawberry backyard, one of their first thoughts — naturally — was adding a place to play.

The concept for that place came, in a circuitous way, from a former presidental candidate. When the Klopfers first moved into their home in 2012, the lower part of the yard contained a horseshoe pit — which, a realtor told them, was there because previous owners had hosted a political dinner for the candidate and installed the pit in his honor. “That got us thinking, ‘It would be fun to play bocce here too,’ ” Jennifer says.

The family loved the idea of having a game that several different generations could play. But rather than building it out of sight — like the former horseshoe area — the Klopfers chose to build their bocce court on the back patio. The family hangs out there constantly, and for a good reason: it has a postcard-worthy view of Richardson Bay, San Francisco, Alcatraz and Belvedere.

The Klopfers hired Mill Valley’s Integrated Design Studio to redesign the entire patio area, turning it into a sleek, minimalist space with a bocce court along the back perimeter. Then, Van Midde & Son Concrete and Monarch Gardens, both of San Rafael, arrived to do the work.

The process was far more arduous than one might think. The 10-by-45-foot court (half the length of regulation size) was “quite complicated,” Jennifer says. Workers installed extensive drainage beneath the court; painstakingly made sure the playing surface was level; poured concrete benches at the ends; and placed decomposed granite on the court itself.

The work, which began in July last year, was finished on December 29 — just in time for the Klopfers’ New Year’s Eve party. They invited roughly 60 of their friends, most of them delighted to find that the court had inset lighting and glow-in-the-dark balls for nighttime play. People lined up for a game, including Jennifer, her husband and their boys, and, she adds, “we’ve been playing pretty much every day since.”

Take Flight

When Kirsten Neff’s son A.J. came to her six years ago and told her he and his next-door-neighbor friend, Dalton Scheiner, were going to build a half-pipe with their dads, Kirsten thought, “How great, a father-son project. This is going to be really cute.” Both boys were avid BMX and SMX (scooter motocross) riders and wanted a place to perfect their skills.

But when a huge lumber truck filled with construction materials arrived at the Neffs’ Novato home, Kirsten started to realize the scope of the project. A.J., who was 11 at the time, and his friend had decided to build a half-pipe 16 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 13 feet high. It would even have a few rooms built into the base.

Dalton’s dad, Don, a contractor and co-owner of Sausalito Construction, drew up the plans. And the Neffs, who also have two older daughters, spent $12,000 on materials, including a special surface called Skatelite for the half-pipe itself. Every weekend for six months, the two boys and their dads, along with Dalton’s sister, Kendal, worked on the mini skate park until it was completed.

The result? A perfect spot for doing backflips, 180s and 50-50 grinds tucked in the corner of the Neffs’ two-acre park-like lot. They even have a built-in audience, a corral of horses (in the Scheiners’ yard) a few feet away.

As soon as the structure was complete, A.J. and Dalton started using it about three hours a day. Their friends arrived in droves — as many as 40 at a time. Well-known SMX riders who learned of the half-pipe stopped by to take a spin on it. And Thrasher magazine shot video there.

In order to keep everyone safe, the Neffs set down a few rules. “Everyone has to wear a helmet,” says Kirsten, “and I started printing up liability forms that all the parents had to sign.” In six years, they haven’t had an injury.

Even though A.J.’s using it a little less now that he’s older, Kirsten’s still thrilled they built it. “I wanted a place that would draw the kids’ friends, where they could have a sense of freedom outdoors and be in their own world and yet I could keep an eye on them,” she says. “In a lot of ways, it’s been even better than a pool.”

Take a Swing

When Larkspur residents Leah and Chad Solter started thinking about replacing their water-hungry front yard seven years ago, Chad floated an unusual idea: how about installing a putting green? They couldn’t put one in the backyard. They already had a pool there. But the idea had some appeal: both Chad and Leah are regular golfers and members of the Meadow Club and StoneTree Golf Club.

Leah, however, wasn’t convinced. “I thought, ‘Oh, God, that sounds so cheesy,’ ” she says. “My dad even made a joke about how we’d have a windmill in the front of our house and we’d have our own miniature golf course.”

Chad kept after her for a year, though, finally convincing her it would be fun for their two children, both in elementary school at the time. Of course the “kid” who might benefit most was Chad, a scratch player and a modest man who only reluctantly admits he’s won the StoneTree club championship three times.

After Leah relented, Chad found Back Nine Greens, a company that specializes in installing artificial turf. The company came over and for roughly $8,000 installed two putting greens in less than a week. One of the greens has five holes. The other has two. They’re bifurcated by the home’s walkway, which Chad calls “our natural hazard.”

Chad made sure the greens were tough enough that even a scratch player would enjoy them, requesting undulating surfaces. Across the driveway is also a 4-by-4-foot chipping area, where the Solters now practice chipping onto the greens.

If the Solters worried about what their neighbors would think, they shouldn’t have. By placing a putting green on their front lawn, they instantly made their house the most popular on the block. The Solters now leave a basket of putters on their porch and balls in the holes, and it’s not unusual for them to pull into their driveway and find friends golfing in the yard.

As for their kids? Well, Dad was right. The Solters’ 16-year-old son, Evan, recently switched from playing baseball to playing on the Redwood High golf team. “He doesn’t leave for school in the morning without grabbing a putter and putting,” Leah says.

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