Water management and turfgrass breeding efforts focused on water conservation can benefit from a better understanding of drought stress physiology because it relates to visual quality. In a repeated study under controlled conditions, ‘Argentine’ bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge), ‘Floratam’ st. augustinegrass [Stenotaphrum secundatum (Walt.) Kuntze], and ‘Empire’ zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica Steud.) were subjected to drought stress as defined by the normalized transpiration ratio (NTR) of drying to well-watered plants. Differences in total water extracted from the soil as the soil dried to stomatal closure were not different among grasses; however, zoysiagrass had the slowest water use rate and less firing under increasing drought stress than the other grasses. Optical sensing of the normalized difference vegetation index from the turf canopies was not an effective predictor of drought stress for either study. In both studies, severe wilting and some firing occurred in bahiagrass and st. augustinegrass when NTR was 0.3. Zoysiagrass was not severely wilted until 0.1 NTR and exhibited little firing even after drying had continued for an additional 7 days past 0.1 NTR. After 7 days at well-watered status after drought stress to a severity of 0.1 NTR, all grasses were able to recover to an acceptable visual quality rating. This recovery from severe wilt and some canopy firing (except for zoysiagrass), indicating that a return to well-watered soil after severe stress, can result in acceptable turf recovery.