It Helps to Think of 'Fescue' on a Golf Course as the 'Double Rough'

Hitting out of fescue grass rough
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Fescue is a type of grass, and in the golf world, it is most commonly found on links courses or links-style golf courses.

Golf course fescue is usually grown in the second cut of rough or beyond (such as in unmowed native areas). When golfers think of fescue, they picture a sturdy grass that turns golden and can grow three feet high. It may also be used as an ornamental grass to frame a feature like a bunker.

Golf fans most commonly encounter fescue at golf courses in the British Open rotation, where is it frequently makes up the rough.

Not So Rough

Golf course fescue isn't limited to the higher grass areas. It can also be mowed very low and used as the fairway grass. This isn't common, but Whistling Straits is a famous course with fescue fairways.

Another famous course with fescue fairways is Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open Championship. In fact, Chambers Bay is all fescue: fescue rough, fairways, teeing grounds, and even putting greens. Actually, the tees and fairways have a blend of fescue and a bit of Colonial bentgrass, just for appearances.

Many Types of Fescue

While tall, willowy stalks of grass may come to mind when a golfer hears "fescue," the term actually describes a broad group of grasses. And what most golfers find themselves hitting out of is likely a combination of several types of fescue. 

The names of the many different types of fescue are colorful and descriptive. Here are just a few:

  • Sheep’s fescue
  • Creeping red fescue
  • Hard fescue
  • Chewings fescue
  • Kentucky‐31
  • SouthEast
  • Bulldog 51
  • Rebel
  • Apache
  • Houndog

Why Golf Courses Use Fescue

Golf courses choose fescue for its ease of maintenance and, therefore, its ease on the budget—fescue saves money. The fescue grass grows slower than other types of grass, meaning it doesn't have to be mowed as often, and "natural" areas off to the sides of the playing ground may not be mowed at all. Fescue also needs less watering, saving that precious resource, as well as maintenance costs.

It may not look as pretty as some of the lush deep green grasses on many championship courses you see on television, but fescue provides a fine playing surface when used on tees, fairways, and greens, and it offers its own beauty when used for rough and natural areas.

Tall fescues, which comprise various varieties, perform well in cooler climates and are used for both their aesthetic value and their shade- and drought-tolerance. More recent varieties create more desirable denser turf with a finer texture. 

For teeing grounds, there are mixtures of 100 percent fescue for a dense and consistent surface. For example, one such mixture includes three complementary species of fescue: slender creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, and hard fescue.

Each variety is selected for its desired qualities. Hard fescue, for example, can survive the wear and tear of golf carts and mowers and grows earlier in the season than other varieties. Chewings fescue provides better color in spring, while slender creeping red fescue offers better color in summer and autumn.