what is a fairway in golf

What is a Fairway in Golf? (why is it called that?)

What is a fairway in golf? Imagine a simple black and white set of lines that comes into play in a recreational golf game. These lines mark where a player can stand on a course of any length, from a short 9-hole course, to a long 18-hole championship course…

So, what is a fairway in golf? The fairway is a marked stretch of the golf course between the tee box and the green.

You hear all these terms in reference to golf: green, tee, rough, fairway. Someone who doesn’t have a lot of golf knowledge might wonder what these terms mean. Today, we will dig into the meaning of the word, types of fairway grasses, and more…

What is a Golf Fairway, in Detail?

So, we know that the fairway is that stretch between the tee box and the green of the golf course. After you tee off, the fairway is the area you ideally want your ball to land in as opposed to other areas like a sand trap or the rough (the area that lines the fairways with longer, less maneuverable grass). The length of the fairway is usually somewhere between 30 and 50 yards.

The grass of the fairway is closely mown (specifically somewhere between half an inch and and inch and a quarter, depending on the type of grass), making it easy to hit the golf ball. The fairway is your goal landing spot because it is ultimately the path that will lead you to the hole. Because the rough is not mown as closely, the fairway can be seen as the obvious path any golfer would want to take. An interesting point to note is that you will always find a fairway included on a par 4 or par 5 hole, but a fairway may be conspicuously absent from a par 3 hole. The idea is that the par 3 hole is a short enough distance from the teeing ground to the putting green that the fairway is not needed here.

You’ll find that the width of the fairway can vary. It depends on the arrangement and style of the course and will also depend on the overall difficulty of the hole. A narrow fairway will make the shot more challenging. In these instances, the player must be extremely accurate when teeing off otherwise they risk the ball landing in the rough, making the next shot much more difficult. Obviously, the wider the fairway, the easier the shot because the golfer will have a much larger margin of error to work with.

Why is it Called a “Fairway”?

Believe it or not, the term “fairway” is actually not officially defined in the Rules of Golf handbook. The original term used by golfers was the “fair Green”. The actual word “fairway” did not start being used until the 1800s. Before lawnmowers, groundskeepers had no way to create the smoother playing area.

Interestingly, the word “fairway” was originally a nautical term defining a “navigable channel or a customary course.” Obviously, this fits well with the fact that the fairway of the golf course is the path a golfer takes from the tee box to the putting green.

Grass in the Fairway

golf fairway grasses

So why does golf course grass look so different from the grass we have in our yards?

That’s because it is!

Because the quality of the grass will influence the way the ball rolls as well as the way the player is able to hit the ball, you’ll usually find special species of grass on a golf course.

As you would expect, golf course grass needs to be able to hold up when faced with large amounts of foot traffic and when taking hits from golf clubs. The grass will obviously vary from location to location depending on how the grass responds to heat, cold, rain or snow.

Depending on the climate of the location of the golf course, some common golf fairway are:

  • Bent grass – This species of grass is found in nearly every country in the world. It’s ability to withstand high foot traffic makes it an excellent choice for golf fairways, teeing boxes and the greens. This type of grass is the deep green grass you’ll see and it is thick and springy. It is also sometimes used for home lawn grass. This type of grass does best in the cool summer and/or coastal locations – think along the North and Mid-Atlantic coast and coastal California.
  • Tifway 419 Bermuda grass – commonly known as Bermuda grass, this species is native to Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia, but has been introduced to the Americas. The Bermuda grass is quickly becoming popular for uses in sports fields and along golf courses. This type of grass has the ability to recover quickly when damaged. It also has the ability to survive in warmer areas. This makes Bermuda grass an attractive option for golf courses located in the south and southeastern United States. Bermuda grass is also drought resistant, making it a good choice for golf courses located in places such as Florida and Georgia.
  • Rye grass – Rye grass is actually the primary grazing option for animals in New Zealand. In The United States, this type of grass is usually found in cool summer regions. One of the more famous places you’ll find Rye grass is at several of the golf courses at Pebble Beach.
  • Kentucky bluegrass – Would  you be surprised to learn that Kentucky bluegrass is actually not native to Kentucky? In fact, the grass isn’t native to North America at all. It was brought over by the Spanish Empire to Kentucky along with several other grasses.
  • Zoysiagrass – This type of grass is another that is not native to North America. Instead, zoysiagrass comes from Asia and Australia. It can also be found on various islands of the Pacific. Zoysiagrass can tolerate a variety of temperatures, is resistant to weeds and diseases, and can stand up to heavy foot traffic. This makes it an excellent choice for golf course fairways and teeing areas.

While golf courses may seem basic, there is actually a lot that goes into the types of grasses used. Specifically for the fairway, there are several different options to choose from.

Conclusion: What is a Fairway in Golf?

For all you skimmers looking for “what is a golf fairway”:

A fairway in golf is a set of parallel lines that run from the tee box to the putting green. Although they can vary from place to place on a course, they are always marked on the course.

The fairway is not simply just part of the golf course, but the term has its own rich history in nautical roots, boasts a variety of grass types, and can come in varying widths and lengths.