The main purpose of the rough on a golf course is to penalize the player for an errant shot. That purpose is at odds with other goals of the golf course's management, namely keeping the speed of play acceptable, keeping players from losing balls and offering an attractive environment to the golfer. Golf course superintendents need a grass for the rough that will remain attractive when mowed at reasonably tall cutting heights and requires minimal maintenance. Different varieties of fescue meet these demands, under varying circumstances.
Tall fescue works well in the rough on courses in hot, dry sections of the Midwest. It roots deeply, making it quite drought-tolerant. It usually remains green even under hot, dry conditions. It can be maintained at a wide range of heights, but should not be kept shorter than 1-and-1/2 inches.
Chewings fescue is the only fescue that can tolerate maintenance at cutting heights below 1-and-1/2 inches. Its use in golf course roughs should be limited to the northern tier of the U. S. It is highly shade-tolerant, but cannot stand up to the heat and humidity of the Midwest, South, Plains or Southwest. It adapts to acidic soil and can survive with minimal nitrogen input.
Like chewings, hard fescue has a clumping growth habit. Hard fescue is slow to fill in, leaving the playing surface irregular until fully established. It has been widely used in secondary and tertiary sections of rough where it is mowed infrequently or not at all. With a similar growth habit to chewings, its use is predominantly in the upper Midwest and Northeast.
Red fescue is the only fine fescue that spreads by rhizomes, and does not grow in a bunching habit. It is more heat-tolerant than chewings or hard fescue. It performs well in shade and tolerates drought. Like hard fescue, it is attractive when left unmowed for deep roughs.