Where Are The Rough Mowers?

By Elliott L. Dowling, agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
May 28, 2014

Until the flush of growth of cool-season turf subsides, keeping up with rough mowing is difficult. Piles or rows of clippings left behind by a rough mower are a common sight this spring on golf courses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Recently, players may have noticed the rough on your course is thick, penal and growing like crazy. I’m sure many players have asked the question, “What happened to our rough mower, is it broken?”

Warm days and cool nights are ideal for cool-season turf growth, and wet weather throughout the region has further stimulated growth. Even in the absence of fertilizer, cool-season turf will grow at an accelerated rate during spring.

Golf courses mow fine turf areas more frequently than rough. Greens are typically cut six to seven days per week while tees and fairways are cut three or more times per week. Although you may see rough mowers out every day, the acreage of rough makes it nearly impossible to mow more than twice per week. Most golf courses cut rough at 2 to 3 inches, with 2.5 inches being the most common mowing height. With the current growth rate, grass cut at 2.5 inches can easily grow to 3.5 or 4 inches before a rough mower returns to the area.

Many golfers assume the fix to this problem is to lower the height of cut and increase the frequency of cuttings. This is easier said than done. The frequency of cutting is dictated by available employees and equipment. This time of year most golf facilities are cutting rough daily. However, it may take all week to get all the rough area mowed. For example, the rough to the left of number one fairway might be mowed every Monday. If your ball goes into that rough on Sunday the rough could have six days worth of growth. In other words, the grass is simply outgrowing the labor and equipment available to keep up with it. This just goes to show that the problem is not the height of cut but the frequency of cutting that is the limiting factor. 

Your superintendent sees the piles of clippings just like you do and they are not happy about it either. Those that can send blowers behind rough mowers to disperse piles do so, but not everyone has the resources to disperse clippings in this manner. The surge of spring growth in the rough will be over soon, replaced with the slower, steady growth brought forth by summer weather. However, some patience is required during spring as cool-season turf is growing at full tilt, while maintenance staffs are frantically trying to stay ahead of growth and finish preparing the course for summer.

The ultimate solution is to keep the ball in the fairway, but that is easier said than done.

Source: Elliott L. Dowling (edowling@usga.org

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