What Is The Rough In Golf?

The rough in golf terminology is an area where the grass on a golf course has been deliberately allowed to grow long

Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava trying to locate his ball in the rough on the 5th hole of the Old Course at St Andrews during The Open Championship of 2015. What is the rough in golf article.
Tiger Woods and his caddie Joe LaCava trying to locate his ball in the rough on the 5th hole of the Old Course at St Andrews during The Open Championship of 2015
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is the rough in golf?

The rough in golf is the area of grass that typically borders a fairway but which is deliberately kept longer than that of the fairway grass.

Fairways tend to be closely mown but the grass in rough areas is left to grow longer, although it may also be cut and tended occasionally. The idea is to punish inaccurate shots that fail to make the fairway as shots from the rough are normally tougher to play well than those from the fairway.

Sometimes the grass bordering a fairway has a ribbon termed the first cut of rough which is only slightly longer that the fairway. Then, further away from the fairway, and beyond the first cut area, is an area of grassland which is longer, or deeper as golfers term it.

The first cut of rough can sometimes be relatively straightforward to play from. Indeed, when the first cut is only an inch or two longer that the fairway, the golf ball can sometimes sit up on a fluffy section of grass and so it can be as easy, or even easier, to play from there as from a bare lie on a fairway as the ball has been, in effect, teed up. 

But extracting a ball from deep rough and getting it onto fairway or green can often be almost as much case of hacking and hoping as one of skill. Though skill helps. As does having a good technique from the rough.

Most golf courses have rough, but not all. Some have tree-lined fairways bordering their fairways. Augusta National is famous for its lack of rough, as pine needle-strewn areas under trees border several fairways. Some desert courses, such as the spectacular golf courses in Arizona, have desert areas bordering the fairways instead called waste bunkers. Other courses favour large water hazards abutting their fairways. A number of courses mow all their grass areas short so as to keep the pace of play up, so that time is not consumed by players spent looking for lost balls.

What slang terms do golfers use for the rough?

Golfers have quite a few nicknames for deep rough, including cabbage, jungle, spinach, broccoli and hay.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.