The Primary Rough on Golf Courses

Members of a television crew measure the primary rough at a golf course
Measuring the primary rough at a golf course (notice that the grass almost completely covers their shoes). David Cannon/Getty Images

What is the primary rough on a golf course? As its name ("primary") implies, it is the main rough, the most common rough, on the course. The rough most likely to be encountered by golfers, should their golf balls stray into any rough.

The "primary rough" is also that rough on a golf hole that is the highest, thickest, most punitive rough of all of the maintained (watered and mowed) areas of the golf course.

Height of the Primary Rough

How high to grow the primary rough is a decision entirely up to the superintendant and maintenance staff at any given golf course. But the USGA's guidelines are for primary rough to be around two inches to 2.75 inches in height.

Where Is the Primary Rough on a Golf Course?

Picture the fairway. The grass right next to the fairway - abutting the fairway - is often what's called the "first cut of rough" or the "intermediate cut." Grass that is a little bit higher than the fairway grass, but not very punitive.

And outside the intermediate cut of rough comes the primary rough, which is higher than the first cut. But, important disclaimer: Not all golf courses use an intermediate cut; some go directly from fairway grass to primary rough. In fact, more golf courses are switching to that arrangement. (And many, many golf courses use a primary cut height lower than the USGA's recommended 2-inches, especially for daily, as opposed to tournament, play.)

If there is rough anywhere on the golf course that is even higher and more punitive than the primary rough, it is almost certain to be wild, natural, unkempt (as in not watered or mowed) grasses and other vegetation on the edges of play, or used as a hazard to be played over.

It should be noted that not all golf courses distinguish between different cuts of rough; many courses have only one type of rough, or even no rough.

Also note, again, that using the term "primary rough" implies that said rough is maintained; that is, that it is watered and mowed in order to grow it to the course's desired height and thickness.

  • Also Known As: "Primary rough" might be referred to as the "primary cut" or "primary cut of rough."