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Course Ratings FAQs

Q: What is SLOPE?

A: Most golfers believe that the higher the Slope Rating, the more difficult the golf course. This may or may not be true, depending on what level of golfer you are. The Slope Rating for a golf course tells you how difficult the golf course is for a bogey player (about a 20 handicap for a male golfer) compared to a scratch player. The higher the Slope Rating, the harder the course is for the bogey golfer, relative to the difficulty of the course for the scratch golfer. Slope Ratings can range anywhere between 55 and 155, with the average slope rating in the United States being approximately 120.

The Slope Rating is used to convert your Handicap Index into a Course Handicap. This allows the player to receive enough strokes from a particular set of tees to play at the same level as a scratch golfer from the same set of tees.

The Slope Rating is derived from the following mathematical formula:
(Bogey Rating - Course Rating) x 5.381 = SLOPE

When your course is rated, a scratch rating and bogey rating are both determined from each set of tees. The scratch rating is the same as the Course Rating. From both the bogey rating and the scratch rating, the formula above is used to determine the Slope Rating.

Why all of these numbers? The system was developed to allow a player to take their Handicap Index to almost any course in the world and be able to compete on an equal level with other golfers.

Q: Who rates a course?

A: An experienced staff member, trained under the USGA’s Course Rating System, leads the SCGA’s Course Rating Team. All golf associations have been trained to use the exact system used in Southern California.

There are approximately 60 volunteer committee members throughout Southern California who assist the SCGA staff in evaluating a course. Everyone on the committee has been trained in course rating procedures and has attended a course rating seminar.

Q: How is a course rated?

A: All courses rated under the USGA Course Rating System use the same parameters established by the USGA. A male scratch player is defined by the USGA as an amateur golfer who has reached the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. On average, he hits his tee shot 230 yards in the air with 20 yards of roll. His second shot travels 200 yards in the air with 20 yards of roll, allowing him to reach a 470-yard hole in two shots. The male bogey golfer is defined as having a Course Handicap of about 20. He can hit his tee shot 180 yards in the air with 20 yards of roll. His second shot travels 150 yards in the air plus 20 yards of roll for a total distance of 170 yards. He can reach a 370-yard hole in two shots.

There are five playing length factors that are considered for each hole (roll, elevation, wind, dogleg/forced lay-ups and altitude). After evaluating these factors, the overall or effective playing length of a golf course is either lengthened or shortened from the physical yardage.

In addition, there are 10 obstacles evaluated on each hole. Each obstacle is given a numerical value ranging from 0 to 10 (0 being non-existent, 10 being extreme). To avoid subjectivity, the values assigned are taken from a table in the USGA Course Rating Guide. These values are based on the distance between the obstacle and the center of the landing zone or target.

For example, assuming there are no effective playing length corrections, the team of course raters would first evaluate the landing area for the bogey golfer 200 yards off the tee. In this area, the team would measure the width of the fairway, the distance from the center of the fairway to the nearest boundary line, trees, hazard line and whether there are any bunkers nearby. The same procedure would be done for the scratch player’s landing area 250 yards off the tee. This evaluation process is repeated until the group reaches the green. The green width and depth are then measured, along with the amount of water and/or number of bunkers surrounding the green, and the distance to the nearest boundary line.

This process is repeated for each set of tees on every hole. Through this data, a scratch rating and a bogey rating are achieved. The two numbers are then used to calculate the Slope Rating.

Q: What if our course is not in its typical playing condition the day you rate it?

A: With more than 400 courses throughout Southern California, it would be physically impossible to rate every course during its prime season. Therefore, courses are rated as if normal mid-season playing conditions existed (conditions at the time of year when most rounds are played). For the majority of the golf courses in Southern California, mid-season conditions with respect to fairways, length of rough, foliage and speed of greens exist between spring and fall. For courses in Palm Springs, mid-season conditions occur during the winter months.

Because the USGA requires all courses to be rated at least once every 10 years, it is important for the team of course raters to obtain accurate, mid-season course conditions. Prior to rating a course, the SCGA sends a course condition questionnaire to the club’s superintendent and head golf professional to ensure the course is rated under the correct parameters.

Q: How often is a course rated?

A: The USGA requires all authorized golf associations, including the SCGA, to periodically review the ratings of their courses and to revise them if necessary. The USGA has licensed the SCGA to rate courses according to its guidelines. If your club is a member of the SCGA, you are required to comply with the guidelines that the USGA has created for the SCGA to follow.

The SCGA is required to re-rate a golf course within a 10-year period. All newly constructed golf courses change as they mature. The SCGA rates these courses five years after the first rating to account for these changes.

If there have been any significant changes to your course, the size of the greens have changed, greenside or fairway bunkers have been added or removed, or a new set of tees has been added, your course may be in need of a rating adjustment. The course probably does not need a full course rating, and an SCGA representative can be sent to view the changes made on the course. These changes are entered into the USGA Course Rating Program to calculate an updated Course Rating and Slope Rating.

Q: How do the Course Rating and Slope Rating affect my handicap?

A: To fully understand how Course Rating and Slope Rating ultimately affect your Handicap Index, you must first understand how a Handicap Index is calculated.

Using equitable stroke control (the maximum score you can take on a hole for posting purposes), a player takes their adjusted gross score and subtracts the Course Rating, multiplies that number by 113 (the Slope Rating of a course of standard difficulty) and divides by the Slope Rating of the tees played (rounded to the nearest tenth).

Handicap Differential = (Adjusted Gross Score - Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

A player’s Handicap Index is based on the best handicap differentials in a player’s scoring record. If a player had 20 scores in his file, the best 10 handicap differentials would be used to calculate their USGA/SCGA Handicap Index. These 10 differentials would be totaled and divided by the number of differentials used (10), multiplied by .96 and rounded to the nearest tenth.

It is important to remember that the Course Rating affects a player’s Handicap Index much more than the Slope Rating. Often, players focus too much on what the slope rating is when it is the course rating that drives the system. For example:

Course A 69.3/125 Player shoots 85 Handicap differential = 14.2 [(85-69.3) x 113 / 125]

Course B 71.1/117 Player shoots 85 Handicap differential = 13.4 [(85-71.1) x 113 / 117]

Some players think that if their golf course’s SLOPE is too high, they will not be competitive when visiting another club. This is not necessarily true. The above example shows the significance Course Rating has on a player’s handicap differential, compared to the Slope Rating.

Q: Why is our course rated so high?

A: Golf courses are rated based on the measured length of the course from each set of tees. The measured length of a particular set of tees is taken from the permanent marker to the center of the green.

Accurate permanent marker placement is essential to an accurate course rating. Permanent markers are to reflect the average placement of the movable tee markers. Permanent markers should be placed on the teeing ground at a spot where the movable tee markers can be placed on either side to consistently reflect the overall length of the hole and course.

Inaccurate placement of the permanent markers is more likely to have a greater effect on a player’s handicap differential than any course obstacle. For instance, if a course consistently placed their movable tee markers in front of the permanent markers by an average of 10 yards per hole, the golf course would play almost one shot easier than the rating indicates. This practice would result in an artificially low Handicap Index.

The USGA recommends placing the permanent markers in the middle of every teeing ground. When two tees share one teeing ground, the teeing ground should be divided in thirds. This process maximizes the ability of the golf course to use the entire teeing area and gives the best chance of reflecting the overall yardage.

At no time should a permanent marker be less than three yards from the front or less than four yards from the back of a teeing area. Courses are encouraged to consult the SCGA for assistance in determining accurate placement.

Q: Who allocates handicap stroke holes?

A: The SCGA does not assign handicap strokes to individual holes as a result of the course rating. The rating of your golf course will have no effect on which hole is more difficult, nor does the individual handicap selection process influence your overall Index. The allocation of handicap strokes is the responsibility of the club and can be accomplished through specific means.

Here are some quick guidelines for establishing your club’s handicap holes:

A handicap stroke hole is a hole on which a player is entitled to apply a handicap stroke or strokes to their gross score. The idea behind handicap stroke allocation is to provide an equal playing field for golfers of different handicap levels. A handicap stroke should be assigned to a hole where it is most likely to be needed by the higher-handicapped player in order to obtain a half in singles or four-ball match play. Difficulty in making a par on a hole is not a true indication of where an extra stroke is needed.

Allocate strokes based on the tee markers used most often by the majority of your play. Usually, longer holes are harder for higher-handicapped players. These holes are usually the lower-handicapped holes where they would receive a stroke.

The lower-handicap stroke holes should be avoided at the end of each of the nine holes, simply because it would be unlikely that players would have the opportunity to use them. Also, low-handicap strokes should not be used on the first or second hole, to avoid the effects they could have on a playoff.

These are just some of the recommendations found in the USGA/SCGA Handicap Manual. Please refer to the USGA Handicap System Manual or the USGAs Web site for further help in determining handicap stroke allocations.

Q: Does the SCGA measure courses?

A: The SCGA Course Rating department provides clubs with a course measuring service as part of their membership. This service is available regardless of whether your course is new, existing or renovated.

Because yardage affects the Course Rating so heavily, it is extremely important that a course is measured properly and accurately. Measurements are made from the permanent monuments at the teeing ground to the center of the green along the intended line of play. A hole with a dogleg is measured to the bend in the fairway and from that point to the back and front of the green to achieve a true yardage to the center of the green.

An accurate placement of the permanent markers is critical. An inaccurate placement will result in a Handicap Index that is either too high or too low. The USGA requires the monuments be set at a minimum of four yards from the back and no less than three yards from the front of the teeing area. Preferably, the monuments would be set in an area where the movable markers can be balanced on either side, ensuring an accurate playing length.

Q: Why did our Course Rating and Slope Ratings change?

A: Changes in Course Ratings and Slope Ratings usually occur following a re-rate. These changes can be attributed to a number of possibilities.

Ratings usually change due to the effective playing length of the golf course. Even though the changes might not seem significant, it is important to note that yardage is the predominant factor in calculating a rating. Increasing the effective playing length of the course by 88 yards adds three-tenths of a stroke to the USGA Course Rating and one SLOPE point.

When rating a golf course, effective playing length is accounted for by factoring in roll, wind, dogleg/forced lay-up, elevation and altitude. These factors can significantly increase or decrease the overall playing length for a golf course from each individual set of tees. The majority of the effective playing length factors are accounted for during the rating process. SCGA course raters are equipped with altimeters to evaluate elevation differences and altitude. A club representative usually provides wind speed.

Change to the rating numbers may occur from adding or subtracting obstacles. Generally speaking, changing obstacles has less influence on the Course Rating and Slope Ratings than effective playing length. Losing one tree or adding one bunker usually has a negligible effect on the overall Course Rating. It is always recommended that the club contact the SCGA if they feel significant changes have occurred and a re-rate is needed.

The maintenance of a golf course may cause the Course Rating and Slope Ratings to change when a course is re-rated. Increasing the speed of greens or height of rough are common reasons rating numbers change. For example, increasing the speed of the putting greens from 9’5” to 10’5” will increase the Course Rating two-tenths and the SLOPE by one point.

Every year, the USGA Course Rating Committee meets to discuss changes to the existing rating procedures. Although the formulas used to compute the final numbers are never altered, the techniques to obtain the numbers may be changed. Usually, these modifications are only minor adjustments that are meant to perfect the existing system currently in use. Other times, clarification is needed to better stress a point regarding how a rating is done. In either case, the modification to the rating procedure can be another reason for a Course Rating to change.