I recently moved and the closest driving range is 45 minutes away now. I am debating buying a net and building a practice mat using outdoor carpet. I know hitting off a mat isn't like hitting off grass. Will I do more harm than good by practicing on a mat and not on grass?
Building practice mat
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In my completely amateur opinion, practicing off of a mat is better than no practice at all.
I hit off of a mat almost exclusively for practice due to no alternatives. At a driving range, it is misleading because you can hit good shots off of a mat that would not be good shots if it was grass. The biggest issue is hitting behind the ball. If you hit behind the ball on a mat, the club will slide over the mat and hit the ball with pretty good contact. If you hit behind the ball on grass, your club will make a divot behind the ball and you won't get good contact.
However, I've found that after enough practice, you can pretty much just feel if you've hit it right. And with an at-home practice facility, you can now practice as much as you want. You can even treat yourself to the nicest nets, mats, machines etc., and in the long run, you're still saving a lot compared to range fees.
You (not directed at anyone specifically) would be hard pressed to convince me that practicing in any form is worse than not praticing/playing at all. I will take any opportunity to swing a golf club and the day that we move into a house with a yard I will be setting up a mat and a net.
Although mats are not ideal I did see a good tip in golf digest a month ago which said that if you put a line of baking soda or talcum powder about an inch behind the ball (on the mat) perpendicular to the target line it will let you know when you have hit a shot fat. If you make solid contact the line will be in good shape. I am willing to bet you could also use tape or something like that with the same result.
Or you can lay down a hunk of cardboard behind the ball.