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Mission Improbable


One of the hot topics of discussion around the NCGA lunch table has been how drastically the course conditions at Pebble Beach changed in preparation for the U.S. Open. Trust me when I say the course hardly resembles


it up in recent weeks (or at least as sorry as I can feel for anyone who gets a chance to play Pebble). Their score has virtually no chance of making a dent on their next handicap. So how does the NCGA


go about determining


season” (mid-season being defined as that time of year when the most rounds of golf are posted, i.e., July). Whether or not the course is in normal mid-season condition on the day of our visit has no impact on the overall evaluation. Our course condi-


tion review begins and ends with the golf course superintendent. We rely on the superintendent to provide the various mow- ing heights, target green speeds and wind speed/


course conditions impact the ratings?


Imagine that your club’s biggest tournament of the year is coming up and that your tournament commit- tee and superintendent have decided to spice things up a bit. Suppose they start by


moving all the tees to the very back of the pads adding a good 150-200 yards to the everyday back- tee yardage. Next, suppose they tem-


porarily narrow the fairways by 10 yards and raise the rough height a good inch. Next, picture the greens


being firmed up and then adding a foot of speed through a regimen of double-cutting and rolling. Lastly, imagine all the toughest hole locations. You know the ones in the corners and right behind the deepest bunkers. Total damage inflicted. . .


Pebble Beach before the U.S. Open


the test of golf a guest of the Lodge would have experienced last June or will experience a year from now. The new “way back” tees,


the new bunker complexes, the much, much, much narrower fairways that hug the cliffs, the longer, steel wool-like rough, the slightly faster and firmer greens all contribute to a course that is playing multiple strokes tougher than the NCGA course ratings currently in place (75.5/145 from the U.S. Open tees). I almost feel sorry for some of the “civilians” that have teed


course conditions when it performs a rating? After all, even non-U.S. Open courses have varying conditions throughout the long season. What if the greens are abnormally fast or slow on the day of our visit or the wind is blowing from the wrong direction? What if we are in the midst of an El Niño year or a drought that impacts the severity of the rough? You will be happy to


know that the answer is grounded in common sense. We focus on the average or normal conditions that the course maintains “mid-


direction the course experi- ences in July. We trust that the superintendent will provide accurate informa- tion and will avoid any temptation to exaggerate these critical measurements or confuse peak conditions with normal conditions. One exaggeration and the accuracy of the ratings will suffer. Lastly, we rely on the superintendent to main- tain uniform conditions as much as possible through- out the season. The more uniformity, the longer the course ratings will preserve their accuracy. Just how much can


drum roll please! The course rating could be off by 2.5 strokes or more and the slope rating could be invalidated by more than 10 points. How would you like to see what your handicap looks like after a steady dose of rounds under these conditions? Now narrow the fairways


even more and grow the rough even longer to a point where you a) might not find your ball or b) might hurt yourself in extricating it. That’s what Pebble was like in June. So good luck posting a


score in the same zip code as your handicap!


by Jim Cowan Director of


Course Rating & Handicapping


E-mail: jcowan@ncga.org


SUMMER 2010 / NCGA.ORG / 71


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