Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC) are an important factor determining the nutritional value of grass forage and development of genetic markers for selection of WSC traits in perennial ryegrass would benefit future breeding programmes. Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for WSC have been published for an F2 ryegrass mapping family. Markers showing significant associations with these QTLs were used to design narrow-based populations with homozygosity for target QTLs. Founders were selected from within the mapping family. The divergent populations produced were analysed for WSC content in the glasshouse and the field. There was evidence of complex interactions between WSC content and other factors and traits, including the scale of assessment, time/degree of sward establishment and other forage quality parameters. Differences between the divergent pairs of the various populations were small. However, differences observed between the founder selection groups were maintained and the roles of the QTL regions in regulating forage WSC content were confirmed. In general, the individual divergent populations exploited only a limited extent of the large phenotypic variation available within the mapping family. However, this study sets the scene for exploring the opportunities for marker-assisted breeding strategies for complex traits in obligate out-breeding species, and the challenges of doing this are discussed.