Rough: What you should know

Here's a handful of tips you need to know when faced with the rough. You might get more than you bargained for.

Peter Pringle
Fri, 12 Sep 2003
Rough: What you should know
Rough: What you should know
Even Tiger finds rough tough.

In the latest in our series of ‘What you should know’ about playing golf, we tackle the rough, how to avoid it and how to play from it. Thick grass and hay usually flanks the fairways but can also be found surrounding tees and greens – it’s a place to be avoided if you want to keep your scores down.

Rough description

When golf was first played – both the Scots and the Dutch still claim the right of invention – courses were layed on waste ground with holes in the earth identified by 18-inch sticks and rags. The next tee was usually within a club-length of the hole.

As the game became more sophisticated, special areas were set aside for holing out and tee space created nearby for longer shots with wet sand in buckets provided on which to perch the ball.

The well-trodden route between tee and green became known as fairway with the land alongside allowed to grow roughly and naturally – hence the term ‘rough.’

Today, these areas are given almost as much care as greens and tees to maintain consistency but even in the harshest conditions you rarely receive relief and have to play the ball as it lies.

Depth and difficulty

Rough appears in many types and conditions. Most courses in the UK and Ireland are bordered by lush grass and hay with weeds allowed to grow wild, the deeper your ball travels off line the more difficult the lie – if indeed you can find it.

Playing from rough demands both strength and finesse and not just a little technique as the grass can wrap itself around the clubhead reducing the loft and often driving the ball into even deeper trouble.

Rough: What you should know
Think 'sensible' from deep rough

Use your head

Making best use of the 15th club in your bag – your brain – is often the best policy. Using an iron or lofted fairway metal from the tee will often provide the straightest tee shot when deep rough needs to be avoided.

In deep rough take the sensible option and the most direct line back to the fairway.

The heaviest club in your bag – the pitching wedge or sand iron – will prove the best implement as it has sufficient loft to cut through the grass and dig in behind the ball to get it back into play.

Upright swing

Any professional golfer will tell you that the swing technique needs to alter slightly when you face a bad lie in the rough. Stand a little more upright at address to encourage a steeper take-away and sharper angle of attack into the ball.

Playing from heather

This is surely the toughest of all rough conditions. It’s beautful to look at but possesses wiry roots that can cause injury. Safety is always the best policy – no heroics. Pick out the nearest piece of ground with short grass – even if it’s behind you - and get the ball back into play.

Again, take the heaviest club in your bag and chop down hard at the bottom of the ball. With luck it will pop out back into play. When in heather take your medicine – and pray!

Open the face

It’s also a good idea when the ball is laying down in the grass to open the face (leading edge pointing slightly to the right at address for the right–hander) then re-grip and hold the club firmer.

As the clubhead comes into the ball, grass will act as friction and try to close the face. If it’s open already, it will tend to strike the ball square.

Rough: What you should know
Fairway metal from semi-rough.

What’s semi-rough

This is the grassy area immediately either side of the fairway, providing a 5-6 metre corridor of mown grass upto 5-6 centimetres in depth.

From the ‘semi’ or ‘first cut’ you can usually get the head of a fairway metal to the ball if required but remember that this type of grass will give you little back or sidespin control.

Golfers will tend to get ‘a flyer’ which means that the ball emerges with top spin and will roll further on landing. Take one or two clubs less than the distance demands (7-wood instead of 5-wood, or 8-iron instead of 6-iron) and allow for the extra flight and run.

Rough around the green

The penalties around the green can be severe. While the green itself and the fringes are usually well manicured, greenkeepers tend to leave the rough trimmed but lush from the water sprinklers. Miss the green and the ball settles in deep, demanding a lot of imagination and creative shot-making.

Clubs with loft and a sharp leading edge, like a 60-degree lob wedge or even a putching can prove the most effective tool.

Address the ball forward in your stance and play the shot as you would to escape from a sand trap. Open your stance and the face of the club and play it as you would to splash the ball from sand, with an out-to-in swing plane. The only difference is that it will pop out with little or no backspin and tend to bounce forward on landing.

Rough: What you should know
Lost ball – be methodical.

Searching in rough

Remember that you have five minutes, according to the Rules of Golf, to find your ball before you have to either replay another from the spot you first struck it or play the provisional ball you hit when you saw the original heading for trouble.

The five minutes starts from the time you reach the approximate area where your ball came to rest. If it’s in particularly hazardous ground, a good tip is to alert your playing partners that the clock is now ticking when you reach the area. In the meantime call the group behind you through if they are waiting to play.

Remember, too, that you must identify the ball as yours. This means that with your playing partners permission you can pick it out to check the markings but you must replace it in the identical position.

*Lead image supplied courtesy of Sports Photo Gallery.