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Penal Rough Envy

Randy Wilson


I dont like rough.  From my crusty old point of view, rough has damaged golf, especially the critical entry level point, the municipal course.


I havent always disliked rough.  I didnt know I hated it until the summer of 76, when the US Open came to the Atlanta Athletic Club.  One of Our Local Numbskulls (OLN) somehow managed to qualify and that meant we all had to traipse up there from our muni and watch him perform.



*Historical Side Note:  I never actually got to see OLN earn his spot in Atlanta golf history, because he did not last until Saturday and I was chained to course prep duty until the weekend.


According to the legend, Big Jack graciously invited OLN to play a practice round.  Using the swing method known as FAAH (Feet, Ass And Head) OLN outdrove Big Jack on one hole.  Naturally, as the big hitter of his day, Jack went straight to the longest ball.

the swing method known as FAAH (Feet, Ass And Head)

OLN seized upon this moment to secure immortality.


Ernest-T-Bass-150x150.jpgJack, OLN cackled in his voice that sounded a lot like Deliverance meets Ernest T. Bass, that aint yore ball, you back ere with the short-knockers! Hee-hee-hee!


Later that evening, OLN ran afoul of the local constabulary by operating a motor vehicle with parts of his neo-cortex paralyzed by another famous Jack, but OLN still made his tee time the next morning after intervention by powerful forces.

parts of his neo-cortex paralyzed by another famous Jack,

By the time I got to AAC, OLN had vanished into history, but I entertained myself by studying the magnificent course conditionsalthough by todays standards, those conditions would get the local goat track greenkeeper fired.  But it was 76 and grooming standards had come a long way.


I was awed by the look of AAC, except for the narrow, hallway fairways and the deep rough that looked like it had been juiced with gibberellic acid, several kilotons of chicken . . . stuff, and anabolic steroids.  It was Bermuda barbed wire.


That rough at AAC was so fearsome that it followed us home.


By the end of June, our muni golfers were aggressively petitioning Dad to mimic the AAC look by skinnying up the fairways and surrounding the greens and bunkers with deep rough.

The odd thing was the caliber of golfer demanding the deep rough.  (Im being kind when I say golfer, as they were actually of the Dirt Scraping Hacker family.)  These guys were, on average, 20-handicap balata slashers with minimal skill, yet they were adamant that Norm had feminized their once fierce and brutal Dick Wilson layout by mowing wall-to-wall.


At first, Norm refused.  (His background as a teaching proprior to escaping to life as a golf course superintendentgave him ample insight into what would happen.)


The Dirt Scraping Hackers persisted and vowed to go all the way to the county commission seeking to endow Mystery Valley with manful, manly, masculine rough.


Dad reluctantly crafted a US Open reproduction; it looked just like TV and garnered all sorts of positive comments from local sportswriters (who did not play golf) and the aforementioned Dirt Scrapers (who didnt really play golf either) and soon a national magazine jumped in and ranked us, which guaranteed the filthy stuff would remain.


Play slowed to a crawl.  The days of the 3 hour or less round were over at MV.  Scores shot up like the trajectory of a 1975 Royal golf ball. But worst of all, round numbers began to plummet.

The days of the 3 hour or less round were over at MV.

hydromulch-150x150.jpgThe following winter killed almost every blade of bermuda we had and Norm did not have to recreate the US Open conditions of the previous summer because he was too busy sprigging, seeding, hydro-mulching and filling out job applications.


Eventually I forgot about Penal Rough Envy Disease and spent many years happily mowing wall-to-wall, until decades later, while I was performing CPR on a scraggly muni . . . Penal Rough Envy resurfaced.


A local Walter Mitty Numbskull, with political connections, charged me with the heinous crime of failing to protect the course with penal rough.  Citing laziness on my part, he produced a letter purportedly written by a local sportswriter, but obviously authored by either his own self or a golfer friend, (the crayon always gives it away) claiming I was deliberately encouraging lower scores.


During the inquisition that followed, I admitted to encouraging lower scores and Walters head came off, thus delaying the proceeding for several days, until he healed up.  I further testified that I was managing a muni with a wide range of players, mostly of the entry level variety and not mostly scratch players as Walter implied, that the course was situated in a flood plain and during extended wet weather cycles, rough becomes impossible to mow and turns into hay.  In addition, I swore on a stack of scorecards that no financial good would come of toughening the course up.


I even quoted Alister MacKenzie:

Rough grass is of no value for protecting danger points; it has no effect in keeping people straight, but merely prolongs the length of time players are in the danger zone.

Walter the Numb immediately launched into his closing argument by accusing me of questionable canine heritage, low testosterone and demanded this MacKenzie fellow be fired for incompetence or incontinence, I cant remember which.


Logic did not prevail and county officials ordered me to implement deep and fibrous rough of a very penal naturewith a definable outlinein order to soothe the plaintiff.


Drawing on my calculus skills, I reasoned that since the ball is a little over 1.5" in diameter, the maximum height for rough should be no more than 1.5"in order to see the ball without driving around in the motorized sofa for five minutes.  Furthermore, the 1.5"ceiling allows the unskilled player to extricate the ball without needing wrist surgery, a hernia operation or a Johnnie Cochran murder defense when a playing partner says something snarky like, Youre still away.


Another point to consider:  Here in Georgia, freshly trimmed bermuda remains at 1.5" for less than six minutes and the contrast between sweeper-whacker friendly fairways mowed at 5/8" does not blend well with the need for the outlined rough.

. . . freshly trimmed Bermuda remains at 1.5" for less than six minutes

Therefore, I combined growth-retardant with iron and diluted turf paint to create an outlined rough of approximately 1 that appeared as rough, but played more like a muni fairway from 1965.



Satisfied, Walter the Numbskull gave me a grandfatherly pat on the back for coming around to the wisdom of a toughened up golf course.  He then told me about a course he played in Florida that was exceptionally tough due to the presence of alligators.


You want me to get some gators? I asked.


Uh, no, Walter stammered, thats not what I meant, I...


Hey, I interrupted, you know what would really make this course play tough?  Malaria.



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