Golf is tricky. Immensely tricky. One of the trickiest games out there, they say. Anyone who has flopped a wedge before will tell you so. The root of that trickiness, however, is also the trickiest of delusions, as it is commonly attributed to the player’s brain, body, instruments or some tricky combination of the three. No, the trickiness doesn’t start there; it starts with the field of play.
The golf course is one of the only sporting arenas in the world cared for by one group, crafted by another, assaulted by its participants and manipulated by Mother Nature. Indeed, this is where you play one of the trickiest games in the world.
Encompassing most of this field of play, nearly all of it, is grass. Lots and lots of grass. It’s everywhere, yet its intricacies are often left misunderstood.
It might seem odd to begin by detailing a place where golfers despise landing, but the truth for most golfers is, rough is oftentimes the easiest area to find. It’s also the easiest to understand.
The rough is likely the longest grass you’ll find on the course without retreating to the woods and hazard areas. Anywhere from a few inches to a few more is normal length, depending on the specifications of the course (and maybe the mood of the maintenance director).
One very common rough grass is Kentucky Bluegrass. The grass on the high school football field? That’s likely Kentucky Bluegrass. The grass on the farm, being snatched up by grazing heifers? That’s likely Kentucky Bluegrass.
It grows well, and with enough water, will be long and dense enough to irritate both the golf club and whichever player is swinging it.
A rough grass like bluegrass is popular because it’s easy to care for. Water and sun, just like the front lawn, are the main ingredients. This low-maintenance is good for business, because that isn’t always the case in areas like the fairway.
Serving as the landing strip of every golf course, the fairway is every golfer’s happy place. Landing here constantly makes the game (seem so much) easier. It’s smooth, short and functions as an interstate toward the green.
Fairways come in many different variations. The cheaper level of them is just a much shorter rendition of the bluegrass found in the rough. Where the rough was maybe two-to-three inches, this’ll be much closer to three-quarters of an inch. The fairway that excites golfers, however, uses a different type of grass: bentgrass.
A creeping bentgrass is common for courses yearning that low, dense, rolling smoothness of turf from tee to green. The grass grows thick and more horizontal than vertical (unlike bluegrass); thick enough to resemble the consistency of a rug, with enough texture to slow the golf ball down, but not so much to keep it from bounding a few times closer to the hole.
Bentgrass fairways provide a different ball-striking experience, almost to the case that, once used to playing from them, playing anything else feels second rate. Owning bentgrass fairways is actually a bragging point for some courses. Sounds inconsequential, and it just might be, but to the golf nerd, this is the difference between a four-star and a five-star movie.
It’s the place we aim for: our luscious golf course dartboard. It’s the shortest grass on the property – often measured in thousandths of an inch – so it’s easy to understand its fussiness. When not cared for properly, the green is the first to show effects of improper affection.
Most courses employ a creeping bentgrass on their greens (tee boxes, too). That doesn’t mean they’re very similar to the fairway, however. Modern agronomy has created countless editions of bentgrass, some with greater durability, others with a tighter roll and feel, and some different in color.
When courses hit a dry spell, the greens are likely first to show it, which just adds to their importance and maintenance requirements. In moments like these, courses will do everything they can to keep their greens, well, green. Golf greens are the prized artwork in a course gallery, and if they aren’t special, those hob-nob artsy folk will know it, and they won’t be coming back any time soon.