Taking the rough with the smooth
It’s normal that in June the rough is at its thickest. The warmer weather encourages growth to kick in and the grass will be setting seed. This year is no exception. Despite the drying winds in spring there is ample moisture in the soil to encourage strong growth.
Last winter we spent many hours cutting rough areas back to the base, removing the cuttings to reduce nutrients then scarifying them to open the base of the sward up. This has helped keep the roughs more open, where you can find your ball more easily but still face a tough shot. However, it’s a programme that needs to be repeated over a number of years before it makes a huge difference. An example would be the 17th of the Old course where we’ve carried out this work over the last three winters.
On the Eden and Strathtyrum courses we’ve been doing the same thing on the first five yards either side of the semi rough and you can see the difference. Getting rid of the 100’s of tonnes of cuttings has been a challenge but it’s worth it!
An open sward of the finer grasses such as fescue or sweet vernal grass makes an ideal golfing rough, it’s relatively open, you get wild flowers and it’s good for nesting birds. When coarser grasses such as Yorkshire Fog and Cocksfoot invade, it becomes too lush and thick at the base, leading to lost balls and slowing up play. Cutting, collecting and scarifying is one method but spraying with a Graminicide to remove the coarser species is an alternative we’re experimenting with.
A dry summer would also help more than anything. That would put the lusher grasses under severe stress and burn them off. We tend to be in a 10 year cycle pattern in the St Andrews area with 2005 and 2006 being the last dry summers.
So is the rough better or worse now that in the past and if so, what has changed? Because of the mounding in particular areas, there are some places that can’t be cut and that’s always been the case.
In general the greenstaff are cutting more semi rough than they have ever done. Coming across course set-up guidelines from the year 2000, fairway widths then were on average 30 yards wide with 8 yards semi either side giving a total of 46 yards from rough to rough. Now the fairways are nearer 35 yards wide and the average distance from rough to rough is near 60 yards. Some holes such as 11 and 12 on the Jubilee and the 16th on the Eden are over 80 yards wide!
Perhaps how golfers manage their way round the course has changed over the years? We see a lot of amateurs, of all abilities, swinging so much harder these days and with larger sweet spots an off-centre strike can still travel 250 yards, just not necessarily in the direction we want it to!
Golf and nature have a lot in common, sometimes patience is the key. You only have to look to Merion at the weekend for evidence as Justin Rose’s fine victory was sealed by carefully planning and plotting his way round the dangerous final five holes.
Words by Gordon Moir, Director of Greenkeeping