The Double Meanings of 'First Cut' in Golf

Golfer Steve Lowery plays from the rough during the PGA Tour Chrysler Classic tournament
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

"First cut" is a golf expression that has two, completely different and unrelated meanings. One refers to the rough on a golf course (the "first cut of rough") and the other refers to the trimming of golfers from a tournament field ("the first cut reduced the field from 100 golfers to 60").

First Cut of Rough

When applied to the rough on a golf course, "first cut" refers to the grass that is immediately alongside the closely mowed fairway.

That rough that adjoins the fairway is the first cut of rough.

If a golf course has only one height of rough, there is no need to specify "first cut." But if a golf course uses "graduated rough" or "step-cut rough" — meaning it has multiple heights of rough — then "first cut of rough" refers to the lowest height of rough. (The higher grass cuts outside the first cut are called the "second cut" or "primary rough.")

The first cut can also be called the intermediate cut, when multiple rough heights are in use. "Apron" is a term usually applied to greenside rough, but when there are multiple cuts of rough adjacent to fairways, the first cut is sometimes called the apron.

First Cut in a Golf Tournament

A golf tournament "cut" is the winnowing of the field to roughly half following, most commonly, the second round of play. A pro tournament, for example, that begins with 144 golfers might be cut to 70 golfers following 36 holes of play (those golfers who are cut stop playing; the remaining golfers continue to the next round).

Most golf tournaments have just one cut after 36 holes. But a handful have two cuts, a "first cut" after 36 holes and a "second cut" after 54 holes. These can also be called the primary cut and secondary cut.

This usage of first cut is less common than the one that applies to golf course rough because "double cuts" in tournaments are rare today.

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Kelley, Brent. "The Double Meanings of 'First Cut' in Golf." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2017, Kelley, Brent. (2017, September 2). The Double Meanings of 'First Cut' in Golf. Retrieved from Kelley, Brent. "The Double Meanings of 'First Cut' in Golf." ThoughtCo. (accessed September 26, 2017).