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C The Rating Wars–Part 1


ourse and Slope Ratings serve as the foundation for the USGA Handicap System. They represent the standard that all scores are stacked up against. And yet there is an aura


of mystery surrounding their issuance, as well as a number of misconceptions about the role of the two separate components. Over the course of the


next few columns, I am going to try to demystify the process, and show you how the system works, how we arrive at the final numbers, and the pecking order between the Course and Slope Rating (hint, the Course Rating rules). But first we need to take


a step back and review how we got where we are today, and why a Course AND Slope Rating became necessary. It’s simple—the old


Course Rating System didn’t work. It didn’t work because it was one-dimensional. It only viewed the difficulty of a golf course through the eyes of a scratch golfer. That was fine if you were


a scratch golfer, and it was, as it turned out, positively wonderful if you happened to play all your golf at really tough courses. But it was not so swell if you tended to play easier courses, especially if your game was average at best.


The old Handicap


System also worked great, if you only played easier tracks. That is, if you were only competing against fellow members that played the


By JIM COWAN Director of


Course Rating and Handicapping


Email: jcowan@ncga.org


same course. But the minute the easier course player stepped outside this cocoon and competed against golfers from other, more difficult clubs, that player faced a built-in bias, with the odds firmly stacked against him or her. Here’s why: If you think


about it, it takes a much, much better player to score within 20 strokes of the Course Rating at a course


Course Rating and Handicapping


Spyglass Hill and had the misfortune of coming from an easy course. Sufficient de- spite evidence that 20 strokes was too many if you were a Spyglass member playing an easy course. The breakthrough in


bringing about a solution to these problems was the creation of an innovative new Course Rating System. A system that not only looked at the difficulty of a golf


trees, lateral water hazards, or OB? These obstacles are factored for each landing zone until we advance to the green.


That is just the begin-


ning. How difficult is the green to hit for both golf- ers (shot length vs. green size)? What percentage of the green is surrounded by bunkers? How deep are they? How fast and contoured are the greens?


Again, we


look at each hole and each shot.


The end


Green 70.0/81 Blue 70.0/113 Red 70.0/148


like Spyglass Hill, than it does at just about any other course you can think of. So under the old system, a 20-handicapper from Spyglass naturally had to be a superior player to a 20 from just about anywhere else. Superior, perhaps, by two, three, four or more strokes. The other major problem with the old system was that handicaps did not travel well. It seems quaint to think in these terms, but your 20 re- mained a 20 whether you were playing the toughest course in the world, or the easiest. In other words, a handicap of 20 strokes was thought to be sufficient at all courses. Sufficient despite evi- dence that 20 strokes wasn’t enough if you were playing


68 / NCGA.ORG / FALL 2013


course through the eyes of a traditional scratch golfer, but a two-dimensional system that also weighed how the course tended to play for a second individual—a 20-handicapper (or 24-hand- icapper for women). This individual we refer to as the “Bogey Golfer.” These days, when rating


a course, each hole and each shot is looked at through the eyes of these two golfers. That is, a separate and distinct evaluation of how the various obstacles on the hole impact both players is made. How wide is the landing zone that both players hit their tee ball to? What is the “lie” like? Is there a fairway bunker nearby? How far away are the


product is a Course Rating for both golfers (e.g., what both players will score in the better half of their rounds). At short, flat, wide-open courses with little difficulty, the gap between the two ratings will be less than


20 strokes. At Spyglass Hill, the gap might be as high as 27 strokes. The wider the gap, the higher the Slope Rating. The fun starts when both


ratings are plotted on a graph with the up-and-down axis representing scores in ascending order, and the lateral axis representing Handicap Index in ascend- ing order (see above). Guess what happens when the two plotted points are connected by a straight line and then this line is extended in both directions? You have just predicted what golfers at all handicap levels will score from these tees. And that’s a big deal.


In the next issue I’ll


explain why, and start rating some holes.


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