The third hole on your “obstacle course” is infamous for its nasty rough. Several players are rumored to have walked into this rough never to have been found again.
How often do you think about rough on a golf course before you tee off? I know the idea of rough seldom crosses my mind because I plan never to be in it. Usually I find myself up to my fetlocks within one or two holes, however, and I am struggling to get out. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the characteristics of the course’s rough before I started my round.
Course raters call the evaluation of rough “Rough and Recoverability.” I like that title; it sounds so positive. Raters judge the probability of missing the tee shot landing zone and the green, as well as the difficulty of recovering if a player misses either or both. The 3 main factors that affect a hole’s “R&R” rating are the difficulty of the green (see “Obstacle Course II: Green Target”), the type of grasses used in the rough, and the height of the rough. Personally, I believe that rough is a more difficult obstacle for women players because we do not have the arm or wrist strength that a man has to dig the ball out of heavy rough.
We should ask before we play what type of grass is found in the rough. The first type, cool season grasses, includes ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and poa annua. The second type, warm season, includes bermuda, zoysia, kikuyu, buffalo, and bentgrasses. Cool season grasses are not as tough and sticky as warm season, but they are often left at much higher lengths and are mowed less often than warm season grasses. For example, a one-inch high bermuda rough is considered the same difficulty as a two-inch high ryegrass rough. If you ask about the height and type of rough in the pro shop, you will know what you’re in for.
If the green is small or highly sloped so that it will not hold an approach shot easily, the player may very well land in the rough. Watch out also for rise and drop or mounds around the green. And what about the golf architects new pet feature – shaving green surrounds to keep the ball rolling off the green and into the rough?
In addition, rough is not necessarily composed of grass only. Other conditions such as sand dunes, waste areas, brush, hard pan, tree roots, rocks, desert, and even ice plant may lie in wait for the unsuspecting golfer, making rough even more difficult.
If you are at all skeptical about rough affecting the difficulty of a course, take the case of Del Paso Country Club as an example. In order to host the 2015 US Senior Men’s Open, Del Paso under USGA direction was required to narrow its fairways and raise the height of its rough. For a year before the event, players had to negotiate the extremely high and dense rough, an almost impossible task for most women players. Course raters did a temporary emergency rating. The normally 132 slope back tees became a 140 slope and the front tees went from a slope of 120 to 130 – significant differences.
Finally, rough is meant to be rough. Sometimes it may be more prudent to take our punishment and get out however we can rather than trying to pull off a Jordan Spieth or Lexi Thompson miracle shot. I know I am always happier on shorter grass. Mary is happy on any grass.