Rough Justice


To borrow from the great Edwin Starr (sing it with me now):
Rough (ugh)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin (say it again yall)

No need to say it again. Like mosquitoes, cod liver oil and the alternative minimum tax, none of us can see any real good in the long grass that borders fairways. On some courses, it is allowed to grow into a stomach-wrenching evil ' and the members are actually proud of it.
Alister Mackenzie
The legendary Alister Mackenzie was no proponent of rough.
I will accept arguments that at the games highest level, high grass is necessary to adequately punish shots that go off line. Supporting that argument is the ability of elite players to spin (and therefore stop) the ball, which decreases greatly in the kind of flier lie often found in tour-level rough.
But for the rest of us ' whats the point? Isnt golf difficult enough? Doesnt life pack enough annoyances? On a well-designed golf course, an off-line shot is punishment enough for the recreational golfer. Anyone who has played in Scotland, or on some of the better-designed, older courses of the northeastern United States, knows that.
Golf course architects of the Golden Age knew it as well. Geoff Shackelford, the veteran golf writer, last year put together an intriguing little book called Lines of Charm (published by Sports Media Group of Ann Arbor, Mich.). Shackelford collected quotations from some of golfs best designers in the first half of the 20th century. Theres a whole section on rough. In the introductory remarks to that chapter, Shackelford writes:
'[Max] Behr was the first to protest the emergence of 'rough,' a tacked-on feature that has since become a standard component of modern design and prime element of the penal-school approach. To the Golden Age architects, rough did not exist on their pallet of design ploys.'
Shackelford did not use the word pallet by accident. These men ' Behr, Tillinghast, Mackenzie, Macdonald, and others ' were artists, and as such, they knew the value of restraint. And in this case, mowing.
Narrow fairways bordered by long grass make bad golfers, said Alister Mackenzie, co-designer of Augusta National and designer of Pasatiempo (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and many other great courses. They do so by destroying the harmony and continuity of the game and in causing a stilted and cramped style, destroying all freedom of play.
Amen, brother. Its bad enough to yank a ball 40 yards off line. Now you have to look for it too, and then hack it out of grass that feels like steel wire in a bad mood? Thats too much. And if rough is so necessary to good golf, then why did Augusta National stand up to the worlds best for generations without it?
Outside strategic concerns, theres the mere annoyance factor.
Long grass entails too much searching for balls, said the great and blustery Charles Blair Macdonald, designer of Chicago Golf Club and others. Mackenzie went on record with the same complaint in The Spirit of St. Andrews, the book in which much of his design philosophy is collected. The lost ball feature of rough is an ever-present evil, agreed George C. Thomas, designer of Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, the venue for this weeks Nissan Open on the PGA Tour.
Add the strategy layer: rough doesnt help there, either. Behr opined that rough cramps the architects style in creating future threats, because the next shot out of rough is often an escape, not an intelligent or courageous negotiation of a hazard or challenge further along the hole. The golf architectis not at all concerned with chastising faulty strokes. It is his business to arrange the field of play so as to stimulate interest, Behr wrote.
Again, can I get an amen from the congregation? If fun is the object ' and I defy you to convince me it isnt, even if you are out there to test yourself ' why spoil it with extra hay? The turf that borders the fairways need not be as closely mown as that of the promised land, but it need not be up around our ankles either. Perhaps an extra half inch to differentiate the secondary regions from the better targets ' but thats all. Imagine the speed-of-play benefits. Imagine the risk-reward shotmaking opportunities for those trying to return to a better line of play. Imagine using a golf ball until it wears out. Then imagine buying more because you want to play more because golf is faster, more rhythmic, more ' fun. Less rough equals more of a lot of good things.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your mowers.
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