Mow The Rough, Please!

By Derf Soller, agronomist, Northwest Region
June 7, 2012

Perfect growing conditions this spring have made it difficult for many courses to keep up with rough mowing. U.S. Open-like roughs are not much fun for the average golfer and can result in lost balls, slow play, and high scores.

The United States Golf Association is busily preparing for the upcoming 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. Like all Opens, the rough will undoubtedly play a key role in the championship. The staff at the Olympic Club are already spending many hours making certain the roughs are prepared appropriately for the best players in the world. However, it is good to remember that Olympic is the only course having The U.S. Open this year. In many recent visits throughout the Rocky Mountain Region, Kentucky bluegrass roughs, in particular, are growing exceptionally well – too well for the average golfer. There was very little spring weather throughout the region. We went immediately from winter into summer. Many superintendents and golf courses that were short on staff did all that they could to keep up with early golf course prep work. Mowing large areas of roughs, which typically does not kick in until later in the year, needed to be done earlier and everywhere on golf courses throughout the area. 

Growing conditions are perfect for Kentucky bluegrass roughs this time of year with cool nights in the 50’s and daytime temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s. As a result, during many recent visits it has been noted that golfers are requesting that the rough be mowed. Keeping up with mowing roughs this spring has been a difficult task with summer seasonal help having just recently returned to many courses. Courses that are now at full staffing levels should be able to catch up. However, if limited labor is preventing mowing roughs frequently enough to keep up with the rapid growth here are a couple of steps that can help you avoid roughs that are more appropriate for the U.S. Open than daily play. 

  • Lower the height of rough during this time of year. I would say for daily play, most golf courses should have their rough below 2” at this point in the season. Once the growth flush is over and the grass becomes a little wispier in areas, raising the height to 2¼” or so may be appropriate. Keeping the rough below 2” will reduce lost balls and reduce the number of stroke and distance penalties.  
  • If getting around the course more frequently is not an option, concentrate on mowing areas near fairway landing zones and putting green surrounds at least twice each week. Remember, the average golfer hits very few greens in regulation so these areas come into play frequently. Also concentrate available resources on those roughs that frequently come into play rather than trying to mow everything. This type of selective mowing can “stretch” your labor significantly. It will also go a long way toward increasing the enjoyment of the game for all golfers and improve pace of play at busy facilities.

The Northwest region of the USGA is available to make course visits to help review your maintenance programs.   Contact Larry Gilhuly, Director, (lgilhuly@usga.org) or Derf Soller, Agronomist (dsoller@usga.org) for more information or to schedule a visit.  Wendy Schwertfeger, Administrative Assistant may also be reached for information at:  208.732.0280 or at wendys@usga.org.

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