What Is the Rough in Golf?

If you play golf with friends, you’ve probably heard stories of how people get stuck in the “rough” and how hard it is to get out of it sometimes.

But for many golf newbies, the “rough” in golf is a pretty confusing and ambiguous term. Not everyone understands the rough, let alone where it is on the golf course.

Basically, the rough is the area on the course that isn’t the fairway. As the name suggests, it has rougher and thicker grass, which can be a crutch for golfers who miss the fairway and end up in this area.

The rough can vary from course to course. Some roughs will have relatively low grass and are easy to escape. But there are other roughs with really tall and thick grass that can be much trickier.

And in this article, we’ll take a close look at the rough. That way, you know exactly what it is and where to find it on the course, and the different types of roughs you might encounter on the course.

Read on to learn more.

What Is the Definition of Rough in Golf?

In golf, the rough is the length of grass that frames the fairway. You can find the rough on the borders of the fairway, and you can tell where it is by the length of the grass.

The grass on the rough is typically kept longer and thicker than that on the fairway. That way, it’s harder for golfers to make proper contact with the ball if they get stuck in the rough. This is meant to punish players that miss the fairway on their shot.

Each course may approach the rough differently. However, the grass right on the border of the fairway is kept relatively short and neat. That way, it isn’t as hard for golfers to get a good shot and escape the rough.

However, further away from the fairway, the grass is purposefully unkempt. These areas are much harder to escape as the tall grass makes it very hard to make contact with the ball.

That said, not all golf courses have a rough, even if most do.

When stuck in the rough, golfers can have a really hard time. In fact, getting stuck in the deep areas of the rough usually means hacking at the golf ball in desperation as opposed to skilful and calculated shots.

The Development of Rough in Golf

Golf is an old sport that can trace its roots all back to 15th century Scotland. And back in the day, golf courses didn’t have much of a fairway, let alone a rough.

This is because mowers and grass cutters were invented much later. So, to keep the grass in good shape, people had to resort to letting animals like sheep graze to clear up the grass. This means that golf courses weren’t as intentional as they are nowadays.

Once we developed mechanical ways to mow the grass, we were then able to shape our golf courses better. Through mowing, we created more intentional fairways with much better-kept grass and roughs with thicker and longer grass.

On top of that, mowers were able to create different types of roughs. Some roughs are higher and more difficult, while others have shorter and slightly mowed grass that are easier to escape.

While professional golf courses have very unforgiving roughs, that isn’t the case for the majority of public golf courses. Modern roughs on public courses are made to be more difficult than the fairway but not out of control where the golfer won’t be able to make their way out of it.

Professional golf courses and tournament courses wear their roughs like a badge of honor. For professional courses, a long and thick rough that’s hard to escape is a signature, such as the infamous rough on the U.S. open course which is usually up to 3 inches longer than the fairway grass.

What Is the Difference Between the Fairway and Rough?

The fairway is the main element of the general area on the golf course. The fairway is the ideal route from the teeing area to the green. The fairway has well-maintained grass that’s mowed. However, the grass is a bit longer than the grass on the green.

The area that borders the fairway is called the rough. Most courses look to punish the golfers that miss the fairway, which is why the rough has longer and thicker grass than the fairway.

The grass makes it harder to make proper contact with the ball, and golfers may end up wasting a couple of strokes just trying to escape it.

There are different types of roughs that you might encounter on the course.

The first one is called the “first cut” or the semi-rough. This is the area closer to the fairway that’s around 3 yards wide. This area has grass that’s slightly longer than the fairway but a bit shorter than the main rough.

The main rough is the area where the grass is much longer and thicker.

On top of that, some courses have what’s called an extreme rough. This is an area of unkempt grass further away from the fairway than the primary rough that has the longest and thickest grass.

Height of the Primary Rough

The primary rough borders the fairway but is a bit further out than the first cut. Typically, you can find the rough 3 yards or more away from the fairway. While the height of the grass on the primary rough can vary, most courses keep it between 2-6 inches.

The higher the grass, the harder it is to escape the rough. This is why it’s crucial for players to always aim for the fairway when playing golf. Landing in the rough can totally ruin your score, especially if you end up in the primary or extremely rough.

Again, rough heights vary from course to course.

Where is the Rough on a Golf Course?

Finding the rough on the course is really easy. The fairway is the main route to the green with short mowed grass that’s a bit longer than that on the green. The rough is the area that borders the entire fairway and is characterized by longer and thicker grass.


If you’re new to golf, it’s important to learn the terms and lingo. And one word you’re going to hear a lot when playing golf is “rough”.

This is the word used to describe the area bordering the fairway. It’s called the rough because the grass in this area is typically thicker and longer than the fairway, making it harder to make proper contact with the ball.

There are different kinds of roughs, and some courses won’t even have one.

However, if you’re playing on a course with a rough, it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. Some courses are notorious for a high and thick rough that’s almost impossible to escape.

So, if you want to hone your skills and keep your scores as low as possible, always try and avoid the rough when taking your shot.

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Jim Furyk

One of the PGA TOUR’s most recognizable and talented golfers, Jim Furyk was born on May 12, 1970 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It seems like Furyk was born to play golf; his father Mike as an assistant pro at Edgmont Country club, and young Jim was raised into the game. Jim Furyk’s only golf instruction came from his father; and many note that might account for his unusual—yet effective—swing. In addition to Edgmont Country Club, Mike Furyk also served as head pro at Uniontown Country Club.

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