How are golf courses rated for difficulty?

Does it ever occur to you just why your course has a standard scratch of one under or the reasons for a hole being a certain stroke index? Well there are several steps in these decisions but it is actually quite simple.

First of all you have a USGA Course Rating, otherwise known as a scratch score. This is the evaluation of the difficulty the course has for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions.

It is expressed as the number of shots taken by the scratch golfer. The length of the course and the number of obstacles come into account as they affect the scoring difficulty to the scratch golfer.

Then you have a Bogey Rating. The bogey rating is the evaluation of the difficulty the course has for a bogey golfer, a bogey golfer being any golfer with a handicap higher than scratch, under normal course and weather conditions.

Just like the scratch score, the bogey rating takes into account the yardage of the course and the number of obstacles that affect the scoring ability of the bogey golfer. This evaluation is not used in the calculation of the scratch score.

The Rating Process requires an in depth analysis of holes and takes into account the landing zones of both scratch and bogey golfer. The average drive distance of the scratch and bogey golfer determines the landing zone.

Has your course ever needed to be lengthened or had its standard scratch reduced? This is because when working out the landing zones, corrections need to be made in order to make a hole harder if it is deemed too easy. This can be done by moving the tee back or by adding an obstacle.

There are several Effective Playing Length Factors that need to be taken into account when rating a course. These are Roll, Elevation, Dogleg/Forced Lay-up and Prevailing Wind.

Roll is defined as how far the ball rolls on the tee shot for both scratch and bogey golfers and how this affects the playing length of the hole.

Elevation is the measure of how the elevation changes on a hole and how it affects the playing length of the hole.

How much a longer/shorter a hole plays because of a bend or because of a hazard such as water or bunkers is the measure of Dogleg/forced lay-up. Effectively anything that forces a golfer not to play a full shot or a hole that allows a golfer to cut a corner.

Any courses that are unprotected from the wind, such as a links course, must take into account the prevailing wind and the effect it has on the length of a hole

There are several Obstacle Factors that are also taken into account when determining the difficulty of a course and the first of these is Topography.

Topography is basically a fancy word for how much of a slope there is on the ground in the landing zone and how this will affect your stance for your next shot. It also takes into account whether the approach will be uphill or downhill.

The next factor is the Fairway. Things that are taken into account are the width of the fairway, the length of the fairway and if there are any trees, bunkers of punitive rough around the landing zone.

The Green Target is also another consideration when measuring obstacle factors. Things to take into account for this one are the green size, length of approach, how well the green holds and how difficult the normal pin positions are.

The thickness of the rough also has a part to play in the course rating. This comes under Recoverability and Rough. This, understandably, measures the recoverability of a shot that misses the landing zone or the green.

The simplest to work out are Bunkers. This is simply measured by their proximity to the target areas and how easy/hard it is to recover from them.

Recoverability and rough coincides with Out of Bounds/Extreme Rough. OB/extreme rough is he evaluation of the distance from the centre of the landing zone to the OB/Extreme Rough. Deep, thick rough and underbrush in trees are taking into consideration too as a ball is deemed virtually impossible to find if it falls in one of these places.

Of course there must be a rating for a Water Hazard and just like previous, it is the evaluation of the water hazard and its distance from the landing zone or green.

For those who play parkland course, Trees are a key factor in rating a golf course. The evaluation of the size and density of the tree, its proximity to a landing zone or green and the difficulty of the recovery shot all add to the rating of a course.

The Green Surface is also taken into account and is the evaluation of greens difficulty from a putting standpoint. The only two factors that affect this rating are the green speed and the contouring of the surface. The size of the green is considered irrelevant.

The final factor that comes under the obstacle category is Psychological. Any obstacles that cause “uneasiness of the mind” are taken into account when evaluating the psychological aspect of the course. This is purely mathematical and is added on after the on-course rating is complete.

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 added 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 the USGA Course Rating. Although a Bogey Rating is calculated it is not used to produce the Course Rating/Scratch Score.

Okay, so that last part frazzled our brains a bit too. If you’ve made it this far give yourself a pat on the back. For those who still have no idea, take comfort in knowing you’ll never (probably) have to rate a golf course for difficulty.

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