A Little Off The Top And Clean Up The Sides, Please! May 27, 2014 By Larry Gilhuly

Naturalized roughs are a great way for golf facilities to achieve greater economic and environmental sustainability, but homeowners adjacent to courses often find natural areas objectionable. A mower pass or two to separate naturalized areas from directly contacting residential lawns may be your answer.

The maintenance of ever-growing grass on a golf course is very much like hair atop a person’s head. Hair (as I have been told by those that have it) requires regular maintenance, ranging from high-end salons to clip-and-snip barber shops. But what happens when golf courses are surrounded by homes and every homeowner wants perfectly mowed turf next to their highly maintained backyards? More importantly, what if a new “barber” arrives and wants to change the look of a golf course while keeping economic sustainability in mind for the owner? This happened recently at one golf facility with a very simple idea.

Oakbrook Country Club was built in the 1960s as part of a golf course development in Lakewood, Wash. Virtually every hole has homes lining the fairways and roughs, and even the greens have their fair share of neighbors. Since the time of construction, roughs have been mowed to the edge of the lot lines where out-of-bounds markers are found. However, this changed approximately three years ago when new owners decided that one of the best ways to achieve economic and environmental sustainability was to selectively remove regular maintenance for out-of-play areas. In other words, they decided to try the historically unpopular and seldom successful “natural” maintenance approach on holes with nearby homes.

At first glance, this idea was met with resistance as homeowners did not want to lose their perceived property value because of tall grass and the occasional weed directly next to their well-maintained backyards. However, Superintendent Steve Newman and the owners of the RMG Club at Oakbrook stood their ground with one minor mowing operation that literally changed everything. As can be noted in the photo, Mr. Newman simply started mowing the rough immediately next to the property owners with the rough mower. These two passes seemed to instantly eliminate most of the grumbling from homeowners due to:

  • The separation of the 1 to 2-inch tall grass next to residential flower beds and lawns. This now provides the well-maintained turf look many homeowners prefer.
  • The near elimination of golfers in backyards. The privacy that is desired by those living on a golf course is enhanced when severe rough is added. As with bunkers and other hazards, players simply avoid the areas and far fewer shots go into these locations. Also, if a ball goes into these areas it is often very difficult to find and completely stops shots that may otherwise be bound to the reach course perimeters. Peace and quiet is always a highly sought after commodity for homeowners, even those along golf courses. 

    This unique and simple method to address a need to keep costs down by reducing maintenance in out-of-play areas is not new and is utilized on many golf courses. However, it is seldom seen at courses within housing developments due to frequent complaints from homeowners. If you happen to be one of those with multiple homes on your site and you wish to minimize the needless hours of maintaining roughs that are basically out of play, you may wish to try this approach. For those of us with the ongoing need to “clean up the sides” due to a lack of top growth, this idea makes perfect sense.

    Source: Larry Gilhuly (

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