Without a doubt, the expectations for playing conditions on golf courses are higher than ever. We have reached a point where the pursuit of perfection often extends throughout the entire golf course – where demands are being made for conditions that allow golfers to experience a consistent and predictable lie wherever their ball ends up, even in the rough.
When your ball lands in the rough, it was most likely not the intended outcome. When good shots are not executed, should there be an expectation of predictable and consistent results? Most would agree that there should be healthy, mostly weed-free grass in the rough and a golfer should be able to locate and advance their ball. However, the lie in the rough after a wayward shot on the first hole does not necessarily have to be identical to the lie received later in the round when an attempt to cut the corner on a dogleg does not work out as planned.
Beyond the philosophical debate of whether the rough should produce consistent lies is the issue of increased maintenance costs associated with delivering these conditions. Improving consistency requires significant investments in increased mowing, plant protectant applications and other inputs. It must be remembered that nearly every golf course is working with resource limitations in some capacity. Dedicating more resources to maintaining the rough, which typically occupies the largest acreage of a golf course, will require a budget increase or making sacrifices in other areas.
Along with the playability and cost factors, there are also basic issues of feasibility to consider when more-consistent rough is desired. Many courses do not have sprinklers in the rough, which means that during dry weather there will inevitably be inconsistency as the grass dries out. Even if courses do have irrigation coverage in the rough, they need to be careful that trying to keep the rough uniform doesn’t cause them to overwater the fairway and green areas nearby. Not every course can selectively water their rough and priority in irrigation planning should be given to the closely mown surfaces.
Rough areas also occupy some very challenging growing environments. There are often trees, roots and heavily shaded areas in the rough. Surface drainage is commonly directed to flow off the tees, fairways and greens into the rough, which can lead to wet spots. Because of the diverse and challenging growing environments in the rough, and because courses typically try to control spending in the rough, there is often a mix of grasses present that performs differently under various conditions. The end result is going to be some level of inconsistency. Trying to make the grass population in the rough more consistent, whether through a slow transition or by eliminating the existing turf and starting over, can certainly be undertaken. However, there are costs associated with these improvement projects, as well as short-term impacts on playing conditions and aesthetics during the process. Are the costs worth the benefits?
Desires for consistency are a tall order to fill when it comes to rough areas. In the end, expectations must be based on the available resources. Consistently being able to locate and advance an errant shot in the rough should be a given. Whether the ball is sitting perfectly or has to be hacked out of a thick, lush patch of turf – well, that is up to the golf gods to decide.