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Rough Sledding Ahead at Muirfield

TROON, SCOTLAND | There are a number of things in abundance here in the country of the Home of Golf. Great courses for one. Green peas for another. And, of course, the place is overrun with betting shops. But there is one thing that the keepers of the game hold holy ahead of everything else: They are mad about the rough. On Scottish championship links, the long grass just off the fairways is just that — long and thick. Which makes it, besides the wind, the most penalizing aspect of links golf. Take a direction from the tee, say that hut in the distance for example. That’s your line, laddie. If you’re off 15 or 20 yards, you’ll get a shake of the head. “That’s not good,” they’ll say. Here at Royal Troon, host of the Open Championship in 2016, they grow the rough vicious, the place where errant shots go to die … and disappear. Not only can you not play it from the knee-high stuff, you’re likely not to find it. The worst of it is that, from all accounts, the rough at Muirfield — the site of this week’s Open Championship — is even worse. Rough on Scottish links courses comes in two types: there’s the long wispy marram grass that can reach two feet tall. But it’s not thick and you can play from it, even if you have little control over the ball. The worst part is the fescue undergrowth – lush green grass that can reach a foot or so tall. That’s the problem. If you find your ball, it’s a mightly lash just to get it out of the rough and back to the fairway without injuring yourself. And that’s not to mention the gorse — large, prickly bushes from which you can’t even fish your ball. The dilemma with links golf is that its biggest defense is the wind. So, if by chance, the wind doesn’t blow with sufficient force, the best players in the world can take a links apart with ease. Therefore, to provide still another defense, championship links courses have taken to growing brutal rough. “Just how strongly depends on the sort of weather we get, how warm and wet it is, but you will see the rough up, and by the large you’re unlikely to win an Open Championship at Muirfield from the rough,” said Peter Dawson, executive director of the R&A, in May. “Well, slightly against the trend there has been some growth here,” he said. “It is starting to come through, and I know at many courses it hasn’t, but you’ll see quite a good sward out there and the rough is starting to regenerate. It does tend to happen very quickly, this, in May and June most years, and we’re confident it will happen again this year. It’s very weather dependent, obviously, just how much you get. But we’ll get plenty.” The rough at Muirfield, which last hosted an Open Championship in 2002, was cut down during the winter to encourage regeneration and new growth. And, grow it has. The formula for growth is rain in the spring, which the east coast of Scotland has received, and sun to encourage the grass to pop, which Scotland has had in abundance these past two weeks. And, according to anecdotal reports, there is plenty of rough at Muirfield. In fact, it could make the brutal six-inch rough at Merion for the U.S. Open look like your backyard. The rough is a constant at Muirfield, but there have been other changes made to the course by renowned British architect Martin Hawtree in 2011. In general, the changes to the golf course have reflected new back tees on seven holes – the second, the fourth, the ninth, the 14th, the 15th, 17th and 18th, lengthening the course slightly to 7,245 yards. There also was a considerable amount of just tightening in the bunkering around the greens, Dawson said, requiring somewhat more accurate approach play than was required previously. Preparation has been taking place to get the fairways firm and fast like a links should and to get the greens at an Open Championship speed without risking them being out of hand in case the wind blows significantly. “I think that is one of the big issues is the weather,” said Jim McArthur, chairman of the championship committee.


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