Playing from the rough: five top tips

Adding two or three shots to your round every time you go in the rough? Follow our guide to cut out those unnecessary strokes


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Playing from the rough isn't rocket science

Typical British weather – a mixture of incessant downpours and sunny spells – lead to a fast growth of rough and therefore problems for most golfers. Escaping from the rough is often a matter of degrees. To what degree you want to get yourself back in play and what degree of loft you should use to achieve it.

How deep is your ball in the rough and where is it in relation to giving you a reasonable chance to salvage your par (or nett par)? Should you throw caution to the wind and try to hack the ball as far as possible towards the green at the risk of finding even more trouble? Or should you perhaps take the cautious approach – get back on the fairway and start again from a better lie?

Two of the toughest shots from the rough are the 50 yard pitch from deep rough and the chip from deep rough. For instructional advice follow the links or check out our Toughest Shots series.

Playing from the rough is a case of balancing the risk with the likely rewards – or penalties. If, indeed, you’re lucky enough to find your ball in deep rough you have to consider if your have the right tools and the right technique to get your game back on track at one stroke or take your punishment, find the fairway and maybe drop only one or two shots in the process.

Very often inexperienced players will try to get away with using a club ill-suited for the purpose. It’s all very well opting for a 4- or 5-iron for a shot of 150-160 yards from a good lie, but not when it’s that the kind of distance you have to carry when facing a poor lie in rough grass.If, indeed, you’re lucky enough to find your ball in deep rough you have to consider if your have the right tools and the right technique to get your game back on track at one stroke or take your punishment, find the fairway and maybe drop only one or two shots in the process.

1. Use a lofted club

If the ball is buried deep in wet, clinging grass, take a club that has plenty of loft and is heavy enough to help cut through to the bottom of the ball – a pitching wedge of sand iron is often the best for this in your bag.

2. Find that fairway

Take the least amount of trouble out of the equation by aiming towards the most direct route to the short grass of the fairway. And remember, a ball played from heavy rough never carries as far as you think it might. So even if it means playing out sideways or even backwards it’s often a better option than trying to propel the ball over too much rough.

3. Open the clubface

Open the clubface – making allowance for the clubface to close or shut as it makes contact with the grass – and re-grip firmly. Position the ball toward the back of your stance and make a steep angle of attack as you strike down towards the bottom of the ball.

4. In medium rough risk a high-loft wood or hybrid

There are occasions when the rough is spindly but not so heavy, in which case you can often risk a high-loft wood or hybrid club but, again, slightly open the clubface before re-gripping and allow for a right to left flight as the club closes toward impact.

5. It’s deep, don’t lose sleep or weep 

Remember if it’s deep, don’t lose sleep or weep over what might have been. Take your punishment and get back into play as soon as you can.

Want anymore tips? Check out our  instructional guides to Golf’s Toughest Shots or our top Golf Practice Drills    

Originally published May 2006, updated May 2013.

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Hi all. I'm having trouble playing shots out of rough grass. It's a poor part of my game and has caused me to lose many strokes. I think some of it might be due to my club selection but also my technique. I usually hit either a 3 wood (for light rough) or a 4/5 iron (deeper rough). I always try to get maximum distance towards the flag but my dad suggests I just play a sensible recovery shot back onto the fairway. I've been finding myself scuffing or topping the ball and taking 2-3 shots to get back on the fairway. I find it hard to get the ball up out of the long grass.
Any suggestions please?

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 00:28

Take your Dads advice out of heavy rough - just try to put the ball back in play.

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 00:41

Take a run up!

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 06:59

If it's really thick rough, make sure the most amount of club you take is an 8 or 9 Iron.

Put the ball slightly back in you stance and make sure you hit down.

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 07:37

Thick rough is always a wedge - never ever longer than a 9 iron. Only rescue club I ever tried that went through thick rough was a Makser AS40 - so heavy it would go through a brick wall.
Medium rough could be a rescue.
Light rough a lofted fairway - 5 or even 7.
Always play the ball towards back of the stance. This ensures more height when it comes out, but in particular that you strike the ball before the clubhead starts to get dragged (and slowed down) by the grass.

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 08:04

I go with with Alex in very deep deep rough always go with one less club than you think you can use eg if you think tou can get out with a 8 use a 9.

In deep greenside rough do not try to hit the ball just aim to dig out a big wadge of grass with the ball in it starting about two inches behind the ball, same as an explosion shot in the bunker.

Most players overestimate their abilty to hit good shots out of deep rough. If you are looking for distance the ideal club is a 7 wood (particularly one with a rounded sole) or if you carry one a rescue club around 22*.

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 08:16

Dave j., Take your punishment like a man, just make sure you play your next shot from the short stuff, don't try to be too greedy.

If you really must go for distance then use a 5 wood and grip down the grip 1 1/2 inch and treat the club like a 7i but only in medium rough,

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 10:01

It all depends on the depth of the rough, I have a 'ROUGHOMETER' in my head, on a scale from 1-5, 1 is almost no rough, ball sitting up and 5 is when the ball is burried. I choose my shot accordingly. My grip gets tighter as I go up the 'ROUGHOMETER' as well. One of the important things to remember is to take the club back more steeply on the backswing to ensure you come down on top of the ball more, for heavier rough. One thing I've found is that my club tends to open in the rough, I've always been told that the rough makes your club close, but I don't find this, anyone else found this as well.

Posted: 15/05/2006 at 12:45

Evan, I don't worry about the clubhead closing or opening while hitting from the rough. Other than getting it out onto the fairway, I really don't ask for more. However, I agree on heavy rough, my clubhead tend to open rather than close.

Posted: 16/05/2006 at 04:56

I find that when I play shots in the rough from around the green the clubhead opens, causing pushed shots. Anyone else find this.

Posted: 18/05/2006 at 12:45

i play the ball from the centre instead of just forward, i hold on tight and allow a little for the club to open in my aim. Dont be too greedy, i wouldn't take much more than an 8i from heavy rough!

Posted: 18/05/2006 at 18:26

The biggest advice I can give is not to rush in - weigh up the ball's lie fully before committing to a club/shot. Nothing worse than going for the glorious 5 wood distance shot and topping it 10 yds or burying the ball. As has been said - take you medicine and just get the ball out if it's entangled in thick rough and use a committed stroke - often the psychological effect of seeing your ball in a crappy lie leads to a half-hearted attempt at extricating it then the total look of bewilderment which really you've brought on yourself! I am that golfer!

Posted: 18/05/2006 at 19:14

be agressive throught the ball and lash through it as the club head wont get tangled as it will rip through the grass.

Posted: 19/05/2006 at 10:31

Of course depending on the lushness and wetness and length of grass, the shot does vary, but I saw a John Daly tip on TGC That I have used with some success.
Completely the opposite to what I would naturally do, swing slow and long, and just get the clubhead travelling through at an even rhythmic pace. Sounds daft but I've tried it several times and been amazed how well the ball comes out. I must add this is for an escape shot or say a 50yd shot to the green, not trying to lots of length, just a consistent shot.

Posted: 20/05/2006 at 12:21

i didnt really read everone elses replys but you say you hit a 3 wood out of light rough. I read something in another post about using a 5 wood instead and placing it more back in your stance and striking it like an iron, n its true i tried it and it goes really really well. Try it next time youll be suprised

Posted: 20/05/2006 at 22:31

My home course is dreadful for deep rough, and after yesterdays outing in the rain, I'd recommend using a lob wedge to the nearest point on the fairway!

Posted: 24/05/2006 at 17:34

Yeah, the rough on my home course is so bad you have to contract out a JCB to get it out!

Posted: 25/05/2006 at 00:15

I struggle out of even fairly light rough at times. If the rough is above the top of the ball just get it back on the fairway, you can always play a good approach and still get par, and a bogey isn't a nightmare for most either. Don't be a hero, like I used to be and try and go over some trees when in thick rough. I shot a 10 the other day after trying to clear some trees from the rough, lesson learnt.

Posted: 25/05/2006 at 12:19

9 wood

Posted: 25/07/2006 at 10:55

if youre in thick grass atleast a foot, coming over the top is the easiest way to get the ball out.

Posted: 25/07/2006 at 11:44

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