News & Opinion

How rough is too rough for PGA Tour?

2014 BMW International Open
Deep rough can force even the world’s best players to downshift a gear and emphasize accuracy.

In response to a plea from Ernie Els that the PGA Tour should take a page from Jack Nicklaus’ recent Memorial Tournament and use taller rough to rein in the game’s bombers, John Hawkins and Mike Purkey debate the pro-growth strategy

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Do you agree with Ernie Els’ recent assertion that the PGA Tour should be “growing rough up to your knees” at standard events?

Hawk’s take: Easy for him to say. Els can mosey on over to the Champions Tour as soon as it returns to action and find a couple of million in earnings reserved in his name. Seriously? I hear what he’s saying, but I don’t want to watch guys chopping it back to the fairway any more than I want to see them bludgeoning 7,400-yard courses to death. There’s a happy medium on this issue, and the Tour probably needs to do a better job of finding it.

Last week’s gathering at Muirfield Village was pretty close to ideal in terms of implementing the rough as a deterrent. Harsh but playable. The fact of the matter is, most of the game’s top players hit it a very long way and miss a lot of fairways. Entertainment value comes into play here; a sensational recovery shot after a crooked drive is one of the most appealing aspects of pro golf.

The Masters really doesn’t grow rough, and that tournament does rather nicely. The U.S. Open grows the grass too long and has been known to put viewers to sleep with its tedious nature. At the 1999 British Open, the R&A let Carnoustie superintendent John Philp run amok with his 7-inch hay and bowling-alley landing areas. The playoff that Sunday evening featured three guys at 6 over par.

Too hard is worse than too easy. It also takes a lot longer to finish. If you enjoy watching people struggle, perhaps you should head down to the nearest homeless shelter.

Purk’s take: Like a lot of things you see and hear these days, Ernie Els should not be taken literally. Knee-high rough would grind the game to a halt. But I understand what he’s saying, which is that to protect the game for elite players, PGA Tour setups need to be markedly tougher.

For instance, make fairways 30 yards wide and the rough 3 inches from the tee to the 280-yard mark. From 281 to 320 yards, the fairways could be 25 yards wide and the rough 4 inches. Past 320 yards, 20-yard fairways and 5 inches of rough. And it also depends on the agronomy of the course. Bermudagrass and kikuyu rough wouldn’t need to be that high.

Els wants a “serious” premium on accuracy, and this would do it. If you hit it more than 300 yards and dead straight, you’re rewarded. More than 300 and crooked, you pay. It’s as simple as that.

Jack Nicklaus dictated that Muirfield Village be set up for the Memorial Tournament with firm greens and plenty of rough, which he said is exactly the conditions he likes best. And the scores reflected his efforts. Jon Rahm won at 9 under par, and even par tied for 10th. Not exactly the U.S. Open but close.

No one wants the Open every week on the PGA Tour, but no one wants the game’s longest hitters to bash it as far as they can with impunity. Setting up courses this way would be the ultimate risk-reward. You pull your driver, you take your chances.

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