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Golf Course Rating: How Difficult is this Place?

Don't score your round and focus on your short quality instead of quantity.

Every scorecard includes a pair of numbers next to the tees to help a player determine the difficulty of the golf course: rating and slope.  We mentioned these in a previous post Reading Between the Lins of a Scorecard.  Today, we will examine Golf Course Rating, what it means, how the USGA determines it and how it can help us mental prepare for the golf course before the first tee.

United States Golf Association (USGA) determines golf course rating in turn golf course ratings help the players compute their handicap.

Golf Course Rating Definition:

The definition of rating from is:

The evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as the number of strokes taken to one decimal place (72.5), and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring difficulty of the scratch golfer.

Before you ask, “Am I a scratch golfer?”  Here is the difference between a scratch golfer and a bogey golfer according to the USGA:

  • Scratch Golfer:  A male scratch golfer is a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. A male scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots. A female scratch golfer is a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. A female scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 210 yards and can reach a 400-yard hole in two shots at sea level.
  • Bogey Golfer: A male bogey golfer is a player who has a Course Handicap™ of approximately 20 on a course of standard difficulty. He can hit tee shots an average of 200 yards and can reach a 370-yard hole in two shots at sea level.  A female bogey golfer is a player who has a Course Handicap of approximately 24 on a course of standard difficulty. She can hit tee shots an average of 150 yards and can reach a 280-yard hole in two shots.

I am a bogey golfer and proud of it.

Golf Course Rating Calculation:

To determine the Rating of a course the USGA measures several factors for each hole on the golf courses.  The process examines every facet of a hole and its playability.

  • Effective playing factors: roll, elevation, dogleg/forced layup, prevailing wind, and altitude.
  • Obstacle factors: topography, fairway, green target, recoverability and roughs, water hazards, out of bounds, trees, green surface, and psychology.

To calculate rating, describe the equation as:

Each obstacle is assigned a value of 0 to 10, depending on its relation to how a scratch or bogey golfer would play the hole. When the evaluation is complete, the numbers for each hole’s obstacles are totaled and multiplied by a relative weighting factor. The weighted obstacle stroke values are applied to scratch and bogey formulas and then converted to strokes. Those strokes are added or subtracted from the Yardage Rating to produce a Bogey Rating and USGA Course Rating, and the difference between those two values multiplied by a constant factor is the Slope Rating.

I know this makes my head spin but I am sure the USGA has a wicked big spreadsheet to crunch the numbers.  The USGA evaluates each golf course every ten years in addition new golf courses complete the evaluation every five years.

What Golf Course Rating Mean to You and Me?

Now that we understand the math (Don’t worry no quiz today), what does a slope of 69.0 mean for the white tees at your local golf course?  It means that a scratch golfer should shoot a 69.0 at your golf course playing from the white tees. So what?  So buttons.  The lower the golf course rating compared to 72 to “easier” the golf course is.

I looked through the stack of scorecards and found the following golf course ratings from the white tees and compare them to my opinion of the golf courses.

So only one course do I disagree with this system for bogey golfers to use as a reference moreover you also see that of these four course none had the a golf course rating over 70.  Black tees will give you a golf course rating of 72.

Other Uses of Golf Course Rating

Players calculate their handicap utilizing the golf course rating as well.  The formula for computing handicap is:

Handicap = (Score – Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating

The handicap formula compares your score to the course rating or scratch golfer score and the difference between the two numbers represents the basis used to establish a factor to even us out by receiving extra strokes.

In conclusion, a golf course rating farther below 72 means an easier golf course.  If you see a golf course rating lower than 69 from the white tees, prepare for a fun day of lower scores.


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