Behind the Mask: How Alex Brownfield Made a Miniature Golf Course at Home

Collage of Alex Brownfield and her mini-golf game

Photo courtesy of @graycedarhome

Whether she’s cutting down boards for her next build or shoveling dirt for a backyard refresh, Alex Brownfield is always making dust. The DIY enthusiast stays busy transforming her 1980s Atlanta home room by room, involving her kids in these projects to teach them valuable life lessons, and connecting with the DIY community through Instagram at @graycedarhome.

Alex and her kids teamed up to create a mini golf backyard game that earned her first place in the RZ Outdoor Challenge, put on by Makers Challenge Central.

How did you get started doing DIY projects?

I’ve been doing DIY projects ever since I was little. I started by going to my grandfather’s workshop and my mother’s sewing room, so it’s just kind of in my blood, I like to say.

I started my Instagram account — @graycedarhome — last April because I wanted to share the work I was doing around our house. We have a 1980s home, and it just needs a lot of work inside and outside. This past year a big part of my focus has been outside renovation, so the backyard mini golf game was just like a natural add-on.

Photo courtesy of @graycedarhome

Have you done DIY challenges like this before?

For the past three seasons, I’ve done the one-room challenge. Last spring, I did an art studio-themed makeover of my oldest daughter’s bedroom. The year prior, I did a big outdoor fire pit where I built a stone retaining wall. For that, I had to teach myself masonry, and I like to say I went to YouTube University to learn that. And then before that, I did my youngest daughter’s bedroom. I like flipping between outdoor and inside projects, but I love just doing a whole space and transforming it in a few weeks,

How did you come up with the idea of the mini-golf game for the RZ Outdoor Challenge?

Not to get sappy on you or anything, but my husband and I are high school sweethearts, and we met playing mini golf. That was his first job when we were in high school, and every night I would go and hang out with him at work, and we played mini golf. So, when I was thinking of the build and creating an addition to our home, I thought, “What better way to kind of take it back to our roots now that we’re putting down our roots?”

Can you take us through the steps to make your backyard mini golf course? What materials did you use?

I went to Home Depot and got a sheet of plywood, some pressure-treated boards, a lot of PVC pipes, and even the roll of green outdoor carpet. I came home and thought, “What design can I make out of that one sheet?” I came up with the L shape because I like how the little features can be changed and moved around to make it easier or harder, depending on your skill level. A lot of it was just freestyle trial and error — if we put the PVC pipe here, where will the ball come out, and how will it work? So, we just went on a whim, but it made it so much more fun. We wanted to make a fun course but then also have it so we can change it up and move obstacles or add obstacles along the way.

How long did it take you to build?

Probably six hours total. We did it over two days because it was so hot. We had a heat wave going through Atlanta, so we literally popped up some tents outside so we could work under them.

Photo courtesy of @graycedarhome

On your Instagram account, you talk a lot about working on these projects with your kids. How important is it to introduce your kids to woodworking projects?

It’s so important to me to have them involved in these builds and share this passion with my kids. That’s such a big part of my platform. I like to encourage other DIY-ers, woodworkers, and makers to do the same. Our kids are the next generation, and it’s so important to share these skills.

For me, I have three children, and depending on the project, I typically always have one working alongside me. My oldest daughter just had her 14th birthday, so this was one of her first builds to use some power tools. It was really cool to see. She’s also super creative, so it’s great to collaborate. She’d come up and say, “Hey, mom, what about this idea? What about doing this obstacle?” So that was great having her working with me on this project.

What has been the reaction from your friends, family, and social media followers about winning the RZ Outdoor Challenge with the Maker’s Challenge Central?

Everybody is asking when they can come play mini golf. The community has been so great on Instagram. Everybody has been super supportive and sending congrats messages and DMs. They’re thinking of how they can create some cool yard games in their backyard spaces to enjoy with their friends and family.

Have you been playing the mini golf game?

Yes! I still have yet to get a hole in one. I like to tell people it’s a par 3 with all the obstacles.

Why did you want to share your DIY projects through your Instagram account @graycedarhome?

My husband and I have three biological children, and we’re also foster parents. Our last child that we fostered, we had as a newborn from the hospital and raised her for the first year of her life. It was supposed to be an adoption case, and it didn’t work out. As you can imagine, raising a child that you thought you were going to welcome into your family and then it not working out, that was tough. After that, DIY really became an outlet for me. I had always been doing DIY, but now it’s become sort of a journey for me. I started waking up every day, showing up, and doing a project.

When I created @graycedarhome, I started from scratch. I had 0 followers. Over the past year, I’ve started sharing my journey and the healing from that experience and connecting with others. Now, a big part of my mission on this account is to inspire other people to pick up tools, learn new skills, and create. So that’s really been the progress of @graycedarhome; it started as a way for me to heal and create, and now it’s so much bigger than I could have imagined.

Photo courtesy of @graycedarhome

Of all the DIY projects you’ve done, which one has been your favorite?

I don’t know if I want to say I loved doing it the most, but the backyard patio project I mentioned earlier. It’s the project that taught me the most, and it was probably the most intense project I’ve ever done. I learned completely new skills like masonry and things like that, and it’s the project I get to enjoy the most. Every night I can go out, sit on the Adirondack chairs, and enjoy the fire, the fire pit, and the scenery. It’s definitely been the most rewarding project.

What projects are you working on now?

I will continue my backyard renovations projects, everything from landscaping to gardening and adding a few bigger pieces. Then in the fall and winter, I will be back indoors doing another one-room challenge and making over another space. So I’m really excited about that.

Photo courtesy of @graycedarhome

What’s your favorite RZ Mask for woodworking?

Definitely the pink tie-dye mask. That’s my favorite one. I have some solid color ones, like the M2 Mesh mask in black and gray, but the pink tie dye one is my go-to mask. That’s the one that’s in all my Instagram photos and videos. I absolutely love it. 

Check out Alex’s projects and connect with her on Instagram at @graycedarhome.